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Watching Brief (Vol.48) Special Focus: International TV Sports Viewing – Review of 2012

Pauline McVey, analyst for SportBusiness Intelligence, reviews the most-watched events of 2012 across 10 of the world’s biggest media markets

Watching Brief’s annual international survey of most-watched sports programmes of 2012 confirms, yet again, the pulling power of football and its unwavering appeal to television audiences worldwide.

In partnership with Eurodata TV Worldwide, the survey, which reviews 10 markets from around the world, shows that in the six biggest European markets surveyed – France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the UK - football’s European Championship delivered the top sports audience of the year in all but the UK.

The other major event of the year – the Olympic Games – featured heavily in France and the UK with the closing ceremony being the most-watched event in the latter, as well as in Australia and Japan. 

The analysis reviews the top five most-watched sports programmes in each market, showing what some of the most popular properties are.  In the case of the top European markets, the rankings exclude Euro 2012.  Matches from the tournament would have otherwise have dominated the rankings.

Nevertheless, other football attracted the top audiences in most other cases.  Champions League ties, national team World Cup qualifiers and matches from the domestic cup and league competitions are among the most-watched events. 

Only on a few occasions did other sport attract more viewers than a football match.  A top boxing bout between Vitali Klitschko and Dereck Chisora in Germany, the Abu Dhabi Formula One grand prix in Italy and Russia’s victory over Slovakia in the final of ice hockey’s World Championship, broke football’s monopoly in those markets.

In the UK, in addition to the popularity of a home Olympics, the allure of a first British finalist in 76 years meant the Wimbledon men’s final was also in the adjusted top five rankings.

Football also proved to be the main draw in Japan and South Africa, while in the US and regional Australia, where football is not as popular, American football and rugby league respectively dominated viewing.

Beyond Europe
In the US, the New York Giants’ Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots was not only the top sports audience of 2012, but also the most-watched programme in US history, drawing 111.989 million viewers (72.6-per-cent share) on NBC. Viewing for the finale to the American football season has now increased for seven years in succession. The next largest sports audience of 2012 was for the Giants defeat of the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football Conference championship play-off, drawing 57.76 million on Fox (41.7-per-cent share).

In Japan, commercial broadcaster TV Asahi had a particularly successful year with its coverage of the national football team’s qualifying campaign for the 2014 Fifa World Cup Cup accounting for four of the five most-watched sports programmes of the year. The match away to Australia in June delivered the top sports audience of the year, as 8.73 million viewers (48.1-per-cent share) tuned in. Public-service broadcaster NHK’s highlights coverage of the Olympic Games opening ceremony took fifth spot.

South African viewers preferred coverage of domestic football ahead of their national team’s exploits, with the Carling Black Label Cup, a charitable exhibition match, and the top-tier league, the Absa Premiership, drawing larger audiences than South Africa’s international friendlies against Mozambique and Zambia.

Regional audiences in Australia (i.e. excluding the five main cites of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth) were highest for rugby league’s State of Origin series. The annual three-match series between the representative teams of Queensland and New South Wales filled the top three spots, while the National Rugby League grand final and day two of the Olympic Games rounded off the top five programmes.

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