The Super Bowl is Not Watched By Anywhere Near a “Billion People” Every Year

Daven Hiskey 14
Myth: The Super Bowl is watched by over a billion people every year.

This myth seems to get spread around by the media every year around Super Bowl time, as well as by fans themselves. For this amount of people to watch the Super Bowl, about one out of every seven people on the planet would have to tune in. This would be particularly remarkable considering only about one out of every seven people on the planet have access to the Super Bowl broadcast; so that would mean every single person who can watch the Super Bowl will. This further strains the “logic test” when you consider that would also mean all those people in those countries not the U.S. and Canada would suddenly have to become interested in American Football for one day of the year.

The myth comes from the fact that the Super Bowl is broadcast to around 225 countries with about one billion people in those countries having access to the broadcast. This quickly got misconstrued by the media to: “the Super Bowl will be seen by over a billion people in 225 countries”.

So how many people actually watch the Super Bowl? In recent years, that amount has varied from around 80-100 million people. That’s extremely impressive, but perhaps less so on a global scale when you consider that an estimated 98% of those viewers are from North America, with about 97% of that amount coming from the United States. Meaning, it would seem, at least as far as ratings are concerned, the networks are wasting their time broadcasting the game to the other 224+ countries, considering only a couple million people outside of North America watch the game every year.

It can’t be denied, though, that the game is a big deal in the U.S. with around 1/3 of the population tuning in to the game every year.

The NFL, of course, has no interest in dispelling this “billion” myth and broadcasting to all these other countries helps advertise the game to those countries, even if the ratings are extremely poor there. This also allows them to say “broadcast to potentially over a billion people in over 225 countries”, making the game seem more impressive and more of a big deal worldwide then it is.

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Super Bowl Facts:

  • It is illegal, according to the NFL, to show the Super Bowl on any screen larger than 55 inches. They also do not allow the Super Bowl to be shown at any venue that wouldn’t normally show sporting events, such as churches or the like.
  • The first two Super Bowl games were called: “The AFL-NFL World Championship Game”. The third Super Bowl was called Super Bowl III and that tradition of numbering it with Roman numerals, rather than by date, has stuck every since.
  • According to the USDA, Super Bowl Sunday is the “second highest day of food consumption in the United States, after Thanksgiving.”
  • The most people to ever watch a Super Bowl game was around 106.5 million people during Super Bowl XLIV (in 2010). This potentially beat the record, by the TV Show M*A*S*H, of 105.97 million people watching a broadcast, though, given the margin of error in the Nielsen estimates, this can’t be stated for sure. And, of course, it’s not an entirely fair comparison as M*A*S*H wasn’t available in nearly as many homes as the Super Bowl is every year, even within the U.S. itself. For reference, an estimated 77% of all TV sets in the United States tuned in to watch the final episode of M*A*S*H. The closest the Super Bowl has ever come to that number is 49.1% in 1982, aided by a large blizzard that day covering most of the north eastern part of the U.S. It is also generally thought that more people tune in worldwide to watch the final game of the World Cup than watch the Super Bowl.
  • The Super Bowl was created as a part of the merger agreement between the NFL and the AFL. While the agreement was being worked out, each year the AFL and NFL would play a championship game against each other. Once the merger was complete, this game would continue, but instead of being the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” it would simply be a game against the two conferences and was now called the “Super Bowl”, as stated above.
  • In the early days, Super Bowls generally featured college and high school marching bands for the halftime show. This gradually changed to featuring various singers and other such performers.
  • The first halftime show to feature only one performer was during Super Bowl XXVII when Michael Jackson was hired by the NFL to perform in order to boost ratings.

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14 Comments »

  1. Pete February 5, 2012 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    There are only 196 countries in the world.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven February 5, 2012 at 11:29 pm - Reply

      @Pete: In truth, there is no one “right” answer to the number of countries in the world. It largely depends on what country you are from as to how many countries are recognized in the world. That number as far as I can tell from several seemingly reputable sources ranges from 168-249. Again, this varies greatly depending on what country you live in and is based on how many sovereign states your country recognizes.

  2. Pandora February 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    @Pete LOL! Good catch.

  3. Fernando February 5, 2012 at 10:50 pm - Reply

    I’m from Argentina, and at least in this country, I don’t know a single person who ever watched that game. We don’t even like that sport. You might see a little article on local newspapers about the halftime show or maybe about the high cost of advertising, but nothing more than that. Moreover, most people barely know the Superbowl just because it is mentioned in some Simpsons episodes.
    I’m not sure what is like in the rest of the world, but I think people in the rest of latinamerican countries probably don’t watch it either.

  4. Rich February 6, 2012 at 5:52 am - Reply

    I would actually imagine that a few countries that really do enjoy sports watch the Super Bowl. Not a huge amount but more than the article states. Why? The same reason that Americans watch the final stage of the Tour de France or the World Cup. It’s sports and competition at its highest level and sports fans enjoy that level of competition usually no matter what sport it is. It’s why the Olympics are very popular, many of those sports are marginalized all over the world only to have them rise up every four years. People who act like Futbol and Football are in competition with each other are ridiculous, maybe over the use of the word to name their sport, that’s about it. Also, the NFL doens’t broadcast to those countries just so they can make you think that they are being watched by 1 billion people (although why would you dispel the rumour) but because there are Americans all over the world that want the opportunity to watch the game no matter where they are for that taste of home, even if the US isn’t home anymore. This article is weak with assumptions that make me question their facts. The beginning logic is sound, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the article contains facts. Sad reading.

    • darin June 25, 2013 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      On a related note, I wonder how many people did not watch very much of the olympics this time around because most of the online content was locked unless you also had an access code provided by your local cable provider

  5. satex February 8, 2012 at 6:02 am - Reply

    It’s also a myth when they say the world cup champhionship is watched by a billion people. The entire series is, which is like saying ‘a billion people watch the NFL season games’.

  6. Ram February 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    And for God’s sake phu-leeze stop calling yourselves “World Champions” on football..! The only world you are playing against is yourselves and North America is not “The World”! It is super annoying to hear that crap from every corner!

  7. SAMP July 29, 2012 at 10:55 pm - Reply

    HATERS ARE HATERS, NO MATTER WHAT
    COUNTRY THEY ARE FROM OR WHAT
    LANGUAGE THEY SPEAK!

  8. Realist October 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Any American who has actually spent time abroad knows that the NFL’s claims of “1 billion Super Bowl viewers worldwide” is a load of nonsense – even those who are fans of the NFL!

  9. Yer Pal June 21, 2013 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Canada has our own Canadian Football League. Most Canadians don’t give a shit about NFL or the Superbowl.

    • steven werner November 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm - Reply

      whoever said most canadians dont give a shit about NFL or the superbowl must be an old man living in a small town. The ratio of people in Canada who play fantasy NFL football and Madden compared to the canadian versions is a million to none. And how about those people who watch MNF at the bar, compared to those who go to watch Wendys friday night football at the bar??? thats also a million to none, they dont even show CFL with the volume on at any bar i know.

      -Steven “know it all” Werner

  10. Mark August 6, 2013 at 9:00 am - Reply

    Nobody watches the super bowl in europe

    • MADS February 3, 2014 at 12:55 am - Reply

      400.000 People in Denmark.

      Approximately 7% of the population watches the Super Bowl.

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