Super Bowl vs Champions League final: which is the most watched sporting event?
Kansas City Chiefs emerged victorious over the Philadelphia Eagles, while Man City beat Inter Milan in Turkey... but which game had the most eyes on it?
The 2023 Super Bowl, a spectacular clash that witnessed the Kansas City Chiefs triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles, not only secured its place as the most-watched Super Bowl ever, but also crowned it as the reigning champion of all television programs in US history. That was in February, and we had to wait until June to find out just how close UEFA’s Champions League final -- where Man City sneaked past Inter Milan 1-0 -- got in viewership to answer the question on many a fan’s lips: which of these sporting events has the most television followers. Past years had already given us a pretty big clue, to be honest.
TV viewers: Super Bowl vs Champions League final
As it turned out, the showpiece final of the NFL was clocked up by Statista as having an impressive 115 million viewers across the United States on 12 February. As stated above, this meant it was the most-watched ever, replacing the thrilling showdown of 2015, when the New England Patriots swooped in to snatch victory from the Seattle Seahawks. An additional 40 million were calculated to have watched Kansas win in other countries giving a total global audience of around 155 million.
Over in Istanbul on Saturday 10 June, it was Turkish delight for Pep Guardiola’s petro-fuelled squad, finally adding the trophy that all the investment had been geared up for. The expected 450 million viewers is awaiting confirmation from the device counters but there is little doubt that the final figure will be a few times that of the US headline act.
Super Bowl vs Champions League final: recent comparisons
Last year, European competition came to a close with Real Madrid lifting a 14th European Cup / Champions League title in a game that drew rapt attention across the world, a single goal enough to kill off Liverpool. While worldwide viewing figures are difficult to ascertain, with many countries relying on estimates rather than concrete information, the best numbers show a viewership of an estimated 700 million viewers, a remarkable figure by any standard, and shows the draw of the Spanish club especially against The Reds who also have a huge global reach.
However, such is the global appeal of soccer, and the diversity of nationalities in any given team in the modern game, that even when sides from the same country meet in a European final, interest transcends the teams themselves. This is one of the reasons that soccer hugely outstrips football in terms of global audience figures, even when the football game we are talking about is the Super Bowl.
The 2022 Super Bowl between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals was watched by two-thirds of Americans, according to research by the Nielsen Group, pulling in an estimated 208 million viewers. That marked a turnaround for the NFL from previous years, when figures in the US had failed to break the 100-million mark: the 2021 Super Bowl contested by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs was watched by just over 96 million people.
Around the world, it is estimated 30-50 million more viewers watch the Super Bowl on streaming services or apps. The 2017 face-off between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons had 172 million viewers worldwide, making it the previously most watched Super Bowl in history.
International soccer rules the TV roost
The Champions League final generally averages around 400 million viewers – the estimate for the 2021 final can probably be attributed in part to the coronavirus pandemic – around four times as many as the Super Bowl on an annual basis and is watched in an estimated 200 countries worldwide. But when international soccer is concerned, those figures go through the roof.
FIFA estimated that the 2022 World Cup final between France and Argentina (Mbappé vs Messi) had around 1.5 billion viewers globally, with 25.8 million in the US. The 2018 World Cup final between France and Croatia pulled in 517 million viewers worldwide, while the Euro 2020 final between Italy and England had an audience of 328 million.
By comparison, while the Super Bowl has steadily climbed in viewership, it has only just recently broken the 100 million ceiling. Another problem with comparing the Super Bowl which is annual, to either the World Cup or Euro final is that these events are only once every four years. A true like-for-like comparison is the Champions League Final, which like the Super Bowl, is an annual event.
And there is no question at all, like for like, standing toe to toe, the Champions League final is in an entirely different weight class to the Super Bowl. Even if you factor in the extra international viewers, your maximum figure for the Super Bowl is a worldwide figure of no more than 260 million, around a third of the Champions League. Bow to the champ, tip your hat, the fight is done.