15 Revealing 2021 Sports Viewership Statistics

Is watching sports on TV still a thing in 2021? 

With the pandemic cancelling matches and the rise of streaming platforms, it’s natural to assume that the days of watching live sports on the telly are long gone. However, sport viewership statistics tell a different story.

In the UK, only 24% of fans stream matches compared to 55% who still watch sports on TV.

How is the situation in the rest of the world? Which sports events are the most-watched globally? 

Read on to find out. 

Eight Eye-Opening Sports Viewership Statistics 

  • The Euro 2020 Final brought in a peak audience of 31 million viewers on BBC and ITV.
  • With 3.5 billion viewers, the Tour de France is the most-watched sporting event across the world.
  • An average of 4.7 billion people worldwide watch the Premier League every year.
  • 32% of UK adults never watch live sports on TV. 
  • The NFL generates $4.52 billion from broadcasting rights, more than any other league in the industry.
  • The number of TV sports viewers dropped across all sports in 2020.
  • 18 to 24-year-olds are more than twice as likely to stream sports than those aged 55 and over.
  • 73% of sports fans in the UK want to watch sports on OTT platforms.

Sports Viewership Statistics in 2021

1. The Euro 2020 Final brought in a peak audience of 31 million viewers on BBC and ITV.

(The Guardian) (BBC) (The Times) 

Nearly 31 million Brits watched England lose to Italy, not including streaming services (the BBC alone had 6.9 million requests to its iPlayer stream) or people watching the match in public spaces. 

The BBC’s coverage of the match peaked at 25 million viewers during penalties, whereas ITV recorded 6 million peak viewers. 

This game outdid both the England vs Denmark semi-finals match and England vs Ukraine, which recorded average audiences of 23.86 million and 20.9 million, respectively. 

2. With 3.5 billion viewers, the Tour de France is the most-watched sporting event across the world.

(Roadtrips) (Statista) (MansionBet) (ICC Cricket)

The annual bicycle competition attracts massive audiences every year, bringing in 150 million viewers in Europe alone in 2021. On the list of most-watched sports worldwide, this preeminent cycling event is followed by:

  • The FIFA World Cup—3.3 billion viewers. The FIFA World Cup is one of the most popular sports events in the world, especially in the UK. In fact, the 1966 FIFA World Cup Final is still the most-watched sporting event in UK TV history. Back then, 32.20 million people watched England beat rivals West Germany 4-2. 
  • The Cricket World Cup—2.6 billion viewers. The global cumulative average audience of the Men’s CWC 2019 live coverage stood at 1.6 billion viewers, while the event was watched for a longer amount than ever before, amassing 13.7 billion global viewing hours.

Other sports on the list include the Summer and Winter Olympic Games (2 billion viewers each),  Women’s World Cup (1.12 billion viewers), boxing (1 billion viewers), the UEFA Champions League (380 million viewers), the Super Bowl (96.4 million viewers), and the World Series in baseball (14.35 million viewers). 

3. An average of 4.7 billion people worldwide watch the Premier League every year.

(Sporting Index)

Based on soccer viewership statistics, an average of 1.9 million people in the UK watched Premier League matches live on Sky Sports during the 2019/20 season.

2.7 million, on the other hand, watched the first game of the resumed season, broadcast on 17th June 2020. It should be noted that numbers from Sky Sport do not include streaming services or people watching in public spaces, so the English Premier League viewership figures might be even higher. 

4. 20% of British fans spend less than one hour a week watching football matches live on TV. 

(Statista)

Sports viewership statistics from the UK, collected in a Statista survey, show that the number of UK football fans who spent one to two hours a week watching matches live on TV reduced from 37% before the pandemic to 26% after COVID-19. The number of fans who watched more than five hours of football games on the telly remained the same before and after the coronavirus pandemic—11%. 

5. 32% of UK adults never watch live sports on TV. 

(Statista)

On the other hand, 16% said they watch live sports on TV at least once a month, and a further 26% stated that they tune in to sports events at least once a week, results from a Statista survey reveal. 

6. The global eSports audience size stood at 435.9 million in 2020.

(Newzoo)

Projected to reach an amazing 465 million viewers by the end of the year, eSports viewing numbers have skyrocketed lately. On that note, the number of eSports enthusiasts, i.e. those that watch more than once a month, is expected to go up to 229.6 million, an 8.7% year-on-year increase, whereas the number of casual viewers is projected to reach 235.5 million by the end of 2021. 

7. The NFL generates $4.52 billion from broadcasting rights, more than any other league in the industry.

(Statista)

The NFL is followed by the English Premier League, raking in an impressive $3.83 billion from broadcasting rights. The NBA ($3.12 billion) is third, while Spanish La Liga ($2.27 billion) and MLB ($1.65 billion) round off the top five. 

US Sports Viewership Facts and Stats 

8. Only 12% of people in the US watch live sports on TV daily.

(Statista) (SportsPro Media) 

Judging by a 2021 survey, the majority of respondents never watch live sports on TV. Only a small percentage of people watch sports on the television at least once a day, a trend found across all age groups, i.e. 12% of the 18 to 34 and the 45-64 age bracket each, 15% of 35 to 44-year-olds and 8% of 65+. 

Broken down by sports, US sport viewership stats look like this:

  • An average of 14.9 million people watched a regular season game in the NFL in 2020. Drawing in more than 100 million viewers in the US, the Super Bowl LIV was the most-watched sports event of the year. It also got the highest TV rating of 41.6, as per American football viewership statistics.
  • The average TV viewership of a regular season game in the NBA stood at 1.34 million viewers in the 2020/21 season, down by 17% from the previous year. 
  • The average TV viewership of Stanley Cup games in the US went down to 2.15 million a game in 2020, a significant decrease from the 5.33 million viewers recorded in 2019.
  • Live Sunday night Major League Baseball on ESPN saw an increase in average viewership numbers by 33% in the first two weeks of the 2021 season, going up to 1.58 million viewers from the 1.19 million recorded during the full 2020 season.

9. The number of TV sports viewers dropped across almost all sports in 2020.

(The Atlantic)

All sports saw a decline in rating or the number of viewers during 2020. More detailed statistics on sports viewership show ratings for the NBA and NFL Finals going down 51% and 61%, respectively. Ratings for the US Open and Kentucky Derby also declined, with the latter seeing the lowest TV audience in history at just 8.3 million viewers

10. Networks have more than $140 billion invested in media rights packages with major leagues over the next decade.

(The Hollywood Reporter)

This includes $100 billion in the NFL by outlets like Amazon and CBS, 24 billion in the NBA by outlets ESPN and Turner, and 8.2 billion in stock car racing by outlets like Fox and NBC. 

Live Streaming Sports Statistics

11. 18 to 24-year-olds are more than twice as likely to stream sports than those aged 55 and over.

(YouGov)

Unsurprisingly, younger generations are more likely to catch up with sporting events on social media (39% of 18 to 24 vs 16% of 55 and over), online (47% vs 22%) or via mobile app (28% vs 11%). 

12. Online sports viewership is still lagging behind live TV numbers. 

(YouGov)

Globally, 65% of adults follow sports on TV and only 39% stream sports. In fact, in every market, watching sports on TV is more popular than streaming, including:

  • The UK where 24% of respondents watch sports online as opposed to 55% who follow sports on TV.
  • The USA—17% stream sports, while 53% watch sports on television.
  • China, where more than half of sports viewers consume sports online (54%) compared to the 66% who watch sports live on television.

13. Amazon and DAZN have emerged as new players on the sports broadcasting scene even before the pandemic.

(Linklaters)

In 2019, Amazon bought exclusive broadcasting rights for 20 EPL matches, showing the Boxing Day fixtures on an online streaming channel for the first time in history. Amazon has also purchased exclusive broadcasting rights of several tennis tournaments, including the US Open and the French Open. 

DAZN, on the other hand, recently bought the exclusive broadcasting rights for the Brazilian Blast Premier League (engaging in Counter-Strike) as well as rights to show EPL matches in Canada, Spain and Japan. 

Sports Viewership Trends

14. 73% of sports fans in the UK want to watch sports on OTT platforms.

(SVG Europe)

A 2021 survey by Grabyo reveals that the majority of British sports fans would give up on watching sports on TV. 

The report also shows that:

  • 45% of fans are only paying for streaming services
  • Nearly 50% are watching sports on social media
  • 47% of those who would watch sports exclusively on streaming services are willing to pay up to £10/month, and 38% would pay up to £25/ month for a dedicated service.

15. Online gambling ad sales increased to $154 million in Q1 2021.

(TV Technology)

Going up from just $10.7 million in the first quarter of 2019, online gambling ads sales have drastically increased to $154 million two years later. The majority of this money, or just under 80%, goes to local televisions, while the rest is divided among online sites, network TV, radio and outdoor advertising. Spurred by this development and the fact that as many as 45.33% of Brits bet on sports occasionally, many broadcasters are now seeing a lifeline in the integration of online gambling and traditional TV sports broadcasts. 

Final Thoughts

As these sport viewership statistics clearly show, the number of viewers has significantly dropped in the last two years. The future, however, looks brighter. Sports are back on the schedule, traditional broadcasters are including more coverage of events, including eSports, and betting is becoming integrated with the viewing experience. All that remains is for these trends to boost viewing numbers. 

Sources:

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