Sports Numberwang

I’m really only posting this, because I spent a bit too much time putting together a Thread of a response to a clickbait-y post about the major sporting events’ viewerships. I really shouldn’t rise to the bait, but…

The Threads algorithm threw up this post. (A reminder that “Verified” just means someone who is willing to pay money for a blue tick. It does imply any special knowledge).

Last weekend was the Super Bowl, and it did indeed record a record audience of 123m according to CBS who used Nielsen data and streaming data.

The NFL is a predominantly US sport, with a fanbase that is mostly in the US. However, it does get shown globally, and the first thing to say about this post is that it’s comparing a domestic US audience figure (for a domestic US sports event), with seemingly global viewership numbers for global sporting events.

But simply put, these figures are all completely bogus.

I have no idea where the original poster may have got them from, but they’re not numbers that anyone serious is talking about.

Let’s run through them, starting with the Men’s FIFA World Cup Final, most recently in Qatar 2022. FIFA itself put out a press release called “The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in numbers“. It includes a section on audience figures which says 5 billion people engaged with the World Cup across an array of platforms and devices – although it didn’t specify exactly what constituted an “engagement.” I’m guessing it’s everything from watching a game on television, to seeing a Messi goal on TikTok right through to a broadcast clip on a news bulletin. It might even be seeing a logo for the competition on the side of a Coke can. I don’t know. Given that the population of the planet is around 7.9 billion, that means most people engaged in some way.


FIFA also claims that nearly 1.5 billion watched the World Cup Final.

To start with, that’s 2.5 billion less than the number in the post above. And I’d strongly question that number. FIFA gives some limited audience data from a number of countries. Unsurprisingly, in many countries, the biggest audiences were for matches involving those countries’ games, and not necessarily the final. Nevertheless, being generous with our scoring, that gives us around 411 million viewers with many more countries not counted. Maybe many in China and India tuned in. But, you know, maybe not. 1.5 billion has a “finger in the air” feel to it. No methodology for getting to that number is provided. Also, it’s not 4 billion.

Moving onto cricket, a sport that is insanely popular in India, and is the 2nd, 3rd or 4th most popular sport in a handful of other countries. 2.6 billion feels very “toppy.”

The population of India is around 1.4 billion, and yet press reports suggest that even in cricket mad India, where the final featured the home country, and was played in that country (handy for timezones), the audience was 300 million on TV (Update: That seems to be the maximum across the entire fixture. There were 130 million watching concurrently at its peak), with some tens of millions more on streaming (the report mentions a concurrent 59 million peak, but that’s not an average across the who fixture. Also, there may be duplication). Even if we generously push that closer to 400m, we still need to find another 2.2 billion somehow. And while cricket is popular in countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, we’re not going to get anywhere close to that.

Also, the ICC has not mentioned a 2.6 billion number. They do mention lots of other “viewing minutes”, but even in its short-form, cricket is not a short game.

What about 1.1 billion viewers for the Rugby World Cup Final?

Again, it’s nonsensical. Rugby is most popular in a very limited number of countries, none of which have colossal populations. The “big numbers” press release post tournament talks about 1.33 billion “viewing hours” across the 48 fixtures. But with each match taking at least two hours once you’ve factored in play stoppages, halftime, and pre- and post- match viewership, you end up with a significantly smaller number if you assume the majority of viewers watched more than one match.

1. 1 billion viewers is not mentioned by the RWC.

Every country measures TV viewership differently (it’s complicated in 2024), with many not having sophisticated systems in place to provide the kind of data that the US is able to.

The organisers of major events like FIFA or the ICC have their own methodologies to generate big numbers to show to sponsors and broadcasters, but even with their official numbers, you need to look very carefully.

So basically, this post is nonsensical.

It’s comparing a US domestic audience with made-up global audiences.

It’s comparing a US domestic sports event with international sports tournaments.

And no. I don’t know why I spent so much time taking it remotely seriously.