Football versus Football, who wins in the popularity stakes?

The Premier League is back, and the media over here have gone football crazy. Last weekend we saw wall to wall coverage in the UK as Manchester United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool started their seasons at packed grounds across England.

The media focus and fan frenzy got me thinking about how football in the UK compares with football in the States in terms of relative popularity in their home markets.

Undoubtedly, both are hugely successful sports that dominate their local media markets. In the UK football is way ahead of other sports in terms of profile, but isn’t always the most popular sport watched on television. In 2013, Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win was watched by 17.3 million people while the Champions League Final this year, shown on free to air TV, only averaged 4.9m people. Football finals including English sides, such as Chelsea or Manchester United in recent years, increase viewers to around the 8m mark.

Compare that to the most popular UK TV series (Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Eastenders) that average between 5 and 7m and you can see that week in, week out, football is not huge in terms of audience figures.

In the States, however, there is a different story. The 2013 NFL Regular Season averaged 17.6 million viewers per game. In Autumn of 2013, NFL games accounted for 34 of the 35 most-watched TV shows in the US, beating all the prime time entertainment shows, including the likes of The X-Factor. And NFL games nearly tripled broadcast primetime viewership with games on CBS, FOX and NBC averaging 20.3 million viewers – 190 per cent higher than the average primetime viewership among the four major over-the-air networks (7.0 million average on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC). The Super Bowl in 2013 saw 108m tune in, while in 2014 111.5m watched the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos; the biggest television audience in US history.

Yes, there are five times more people in the States, but this is still impressive on all accounts, particularly with a fragmented television market in the States.

NFL games are bigger than anything else in the US market and that’s not the case for football in the UK. Most tellingly though, over the past decade, the average viewership of NFL games on broadcast television has increased 31% from 15.5 million in 2003 to 20.3 million in 2013. That’s stellar.

Categories: A Brit view of the NFL

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