Saturday, February 3, 2007

A little bit short of a billion

I don't know where the NFL gets its statistics. I'm not quite sure if they think that since they are the leading sports league in the United States that gives them the right to embellish several key figures.

When I read that the NFL claims a potential 1 billion people around the world will watch the Super Bowl, I sighed. One billion people? To watch an American football game? Of course, the NFL commissioner drops that number and everyone runs with it.

I tried to do some research to see if that number had some basis to it but I was having problems. Then I found out why. Seems that, while it's easy to figure out an American viewing audience, the task of figuring out how many people watch the Super Bowl outside of the U.S. is not quite as easy.

Yes, it will be televised in 232 countries. Yes, it will be broadcast in Korea live for the first time. Yes, it will be broadcast in 33 languages. No, that does not mean 1 billion people will watch the Super Bowl.

I found this interesting story online. It debunks some myths about the Super Bowl, not just those regarding television viewership. The writer, Bill Briggs, says that at most there were 151 million viewers tuned in to last year's Super Bowl based on statistics he found (apparently, he's a better researcher than me).

The NFL is king in America but it wants to spread its tentacles worldwide. There have been preseason games over in Europe, Mexico and Asia and next season there will be a regular-season game in London. NFL Europe has found its niche in Germany and Holland and former NFL commish Paul Tagliabue said while in office that he would grant Mexico City an expansion team the next time the NFL expanded (though his successor Roger Goodell has made no such claim).

But while soccer is a minor sport here in the states, it is still king of the world. Nothing can touch it. Olympics come close but nothing can match the World Cup in terms of interest, marketing, appeal, prestige, etc.

Like I said earlier, I wasn't the best researcher. So I couldn't find figures for the 2006 World Cup and viewership. But I did find some stats for the 2002 World Cup (maybe it takes FIFA four years to compile such statistics).

Anyway, according to FIFA, a cumulative total of 28.8 billion people watched Korea/Japan 2002. Divide 28.8 billion by 64 (the total number of games) and each game had an average viewing audience of 437 million, or thereabouts. And for every Paraguay-Slovenia match, there was a Brazil-England.

Astounding as those figures are, just factor in the kickoff times (early in the morning throughout Europe, in the middle of the night across the Americas) and the frenzied passion the World Cup stirs is evident, a passion that the Super Bowl will never stretch across the American borders.

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