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The most watched sporting event in the world

Other RSS / / 11 October 2008 / Leave a Comment

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If the question on Who Wants To Be A Milionaire was "Which sporting event attracts the most live spectators?" and the answers were: The Olympic Games, the football World Cup, the F1 season or the Tour De France, what would you go for? Alister Morgan plays quizmaster.

Apparently there's nothing like actually being there. TV audiences are on the rise but have they also rekindled a demand for watching sport in the flesh? Juggernaut sporting events, (like the Olympics and the Fifa World Cup), attract spectators and TV audiences in the millions which begs the question: What sporting event draws the largest audience of spectators?

Most people plum for the Olympics Games. It's an excellent guess when you consider that 11,000 athletes recently travelled to China to do battle during two weeks of competition. Millions of Olympic spectators watched the drama and that's without counting the crowds watching the Journey of Harmony - the tragically ironic name given to the Olympic Torch's 130 day journey across 137km to Beijing.

The well of Olympic spirit may have dried up years ago but the brand remains as strong as ever. I don't want to get too fluffy about it but the triumph (and failure too) of the human condition keeps us all transfixed. After years of training and sacrifice which athlete will win, which will lose and which will get busted for doping?

Overall 8.3m tickets were sold at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, 6.7m at Sydney 2000 and 3.8m in Athens 2004. At the recent 2008 Beijing Games 6.8m tickets were sold to domestic and foreign spectators securing one of the largest audiences ever for a sporting event.


By comparison, the 2010 Fifa World Cup will attract around 3m ticket holders. It's an impressive number but nowhere near the size of an Olympic Games where 302 events took place across 28 sports in China. Football tournament attendances are obviously restricted to fewer matches and limited stadium capacity but a TV audience of 26.29 billion people watched the 2006 Finals in Germany making it the world's most viewed sporting event on TV. What's the attraction? Most sporting fans (outside of America) already know the answer. When US sports fans realise that the beautiful game tag has nothing to do with David Beckham global domination will be complete.


To be fair America has plenty of fantastic sports to keep them occupied and few other sports attract bigger crowds than motorsport. The Indianapolis 500 attracts around 400,000 spectators while the Superbowl draws around 80,000 fans in person and a TV audience of one billion. On this side of the pond Wimbledon had almost 500,000 at this summer's tournament while attendance figures for the recent Spanish F1 race were 132,600.

Many consider F1 to be the world's most-watched sporting event but another, (slightly less technically advanced), takes the title - The Tour De France. In terms of spectators watching the action a staggering 15 million come from far and wide for a glimpse of Le Tour. Over 23 days and 21 stages people travel for a fleeting interaction and they'll be joined by a TV daily average of 4m additional fans.


The attraction of Le Tour has been well-documented since it's inception in 1903 - it's undeniably one of the hardest undertaking a professional sportsman could ever sign up to. Better still the classic simplicity of cycling should be relevant to anyone who lives on dry land and ever rode a bicycle. As a brand the Tour De France has extremely high global awareness - 96% recognition in Germany, France and Belgium and 95% in England, Italy and Spain. Even America loves the event with 56% awareness and a great tradition of cycling that produced Lance Armstrong and others.


There is one final point about Le Tour that, in part, explains its enduring popularity - it's free to watch! The event requires huge funding to operate and produces huge revenues and it's hard to imagine any other sport providing free access to its marquee event. It should not be assumed that such huge crowds will always be interested (especially if cycling fails to put its house in order) but as long as cycling maintains contact with its own conscience the gargantuan crowds will keep returning.

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