World Cup final ‘will vie for record of second most-watched event in human history’

By Nick Harris

10 June 2010

The World Cup final on 11 July will vie with the 2002 World Cup final for the record of being the second most-watched live televised event in human history – behind the 2008 Olympic Games opening ceremony – according to Kevin Alavy, a leading authority on global TV viewing patterns in sport.

The tournament as a whole is expected to achieve record global viewership for one sporting event, rising by five per cent on 2006. “This reflects the unstoppable rise in the popularity of football,” Alavy says.

Alavy is a director of international analysts, Initiative Futures Sport + Entertainment, a firm that collates reliable data from organisations such as Nielsen and BARB for 55 major TV markets accounting for more than 90 per cent of TV households.

Initiative consider “in home” viewing only, and measure “average” audience, which is those who watch a programme in its entirety, and “reach”, which is those who watch at least a part.

The Beijing Olympics opening ceremony was the most-watched event in human history, with an average TV audience of 593m and a reach of 984m. With “out of home” viewing, it became the first “genuine 1bn” spectator event.

The previous most-watched event was the 2002 World Cup final between Germany and Brazil in Yokohama, Japan, which drew an average audience of 348m people. (Reach wasn’t measured at that time).

The last World Cup final, between Italy and France in Germany in 2006, attracted a global average of 322m viewers, and a reach of 638m.

Alavy recently revised this 2006 figure slightly upwards (the reach was previously 609m) owing to new technologies allowing more accurate retrospective numbers. And yet he still expects the 2010 event to be up five per cent up on the last World Cup.

The event is attracting more women than ever before, a 41 per cent audience share in 2006 that Initiative think will be 42 per cent this year.

The World Cup’s audience is also getting richer, posher, or both. As recently as 2002, “upmarket viewers” (or ABC1s as they’re known in Britain) were one per cent less likely to watch the World Cup than non-upmarket viewers.

By 2006, upmarket viewers were six per cent more likely to tune in, and Initiative think this will rise again. “We think it’s part of the gentrification of the game,” Alavy tells sportingintelligence. “It’s also getting more expensive in general to follow, so the audience for football is changing slightly for that reason.”

Alavy forecasts that 2010 World Cup matches will see average audiences of around 125m people per match; or in terms that will shock most American TV viewers, 64 Super Bowl-size TV audiences inside a single month.

“No other media property delivers the same spikes in audience delivery, day-after-day, sustained over a month as the Fifa World Cup,” says Alavy. “In that sense, the World Cup can be described as the largest shared experience in the world – with all the communications implications and benefits that brings.”

As for the final, Alavy thinks the average audience will probably be between 330m and 350m people, perhaps higher. “But there can be a significantly different figure, depending who is in that final, of course,” he says.

The biggest numbers of all would be delivered, he says, if Brazil met England, a match-up only feasible if one or other fails to top their group and yet both go undefeated thereafter until the final.

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