Superbowl is not the greatest show on earth

February 5, 2010

North Americans call it “the greatest show on earth” but in reality not much of the world is really paying attention to the Super Bowl.

Sunday’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints will be broadcast in 230 countries and territories but the evidence indicates that in most parts of the world few people will be organizing their days around the game.

Once regularly described as having a “potential global audience of a billion,” conjuring up images of sports bars around the world packed with NFL fans tucking into chicken wings, the figures indicate something different.

The annual survey by Initiative Futures Sports and Entertainment showed last year’s Super Bowl was beaten into top spot in annual sports events, for the first time, by the final of European soccer’s Champions League. Last year there was no soccer World Cup or Olympics which regularly beat Super Bowl.

Last year’s Super Bowl was watched by a global audience of 162 million but the vast majority of those tuning in were in the United States with neighbors Canada and Mexico the next biggest markets.

There is no doubt Super Bowl is the biggest sports and television event in the United States but it is limited in its global impact by a kickoff time which is unsociable in many parts of the world and rules that casual fans find unfathomable.

Not that the NFL is not trying — the game kicks off at 7am Monday in Beijing and NFL China is hosting parties and the New England Patriots cheerleaders will be in attendance after completing a nine-day tour of China.

Sports fans in Beijing certainly know the game is on — the NFL’s China operation has paid for billboard advertising on the Beijing subway and online.

But in the end, like most of the Super Bowl parties in the world, China’s will be attended by expat Americans and people educated in the States.


In India, the NFL was even dropped by television network Ten Sports at the end of the 2008 season because the viewing figures were so poor, with a Target Rating Point of 0.01.

“It didn’t go that great over here,” said a Ten Sports spokesperson. Although ESPN-Star has now picked up the league it remains a tiny niche audience who watch.

“Friends of mine who returned from the States followed NFL for some time but they soon lost interest as the rest of us only relate to cricket, soccer, tennis and motorsports,” said Chennai-based sports fan Vasanth Chandrasekaran.

U.S. sports events certainly have the ability to penetrate the Asian market — baseball fans in Tokyo will get up early to watch World Series games but not many do the same for the Super Bowl.

The NFL targeted Europe heavily in the past, even creating a developmental league, NFL Europe, in 1995 but that venture, despite some successes, was closed down in June 2007.

The league featured franchises in the Netherlands, Germany, Britain and Spain and while London continues to receive attention with a regular season NFL game every year, Germany is arguably the strongest market for the sport.

“We have some fan bases in Germany where people know the game, know the rules and are excited about the Super Bowl,” said Philipp Hofmeister, NFL commentator with ARD television, in Miami to cover the game.

“Super Bowl Sunday says something to people by now and so you will find a bunch of parties at sports bars.”

But in most of the world the NFL and its premier game, remains well outside the sports mainstream as Indianapolis Colts right tackle Ryan Diem found out after winning the Super Bowl three years ago.

“After we won the Super Bowl, my wife and I went to Australia and New Zealand. I was wearing my Super Bowl hat and there were only a handful of people who recognized it and who knew who the Colts were, which was a little surprising,” he said.

The odds may be stacked against the NFL ever becoming a truly global league but the league continues to make efforts with educational programs all over the world, through the Internet and television.

Ultimately though there is no better vehicle for winning new fans than the Super Bowl itself as Saints cornerback Jabari Greer noted.

“We realize that when the Super Bowl is on it is the only game in the world at that time and we really want to put on a great show,” he said.

PHOTO: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (R) talks with Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore during a workout at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie, Florida February 4, 2010. The Colts are preparing for the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV Sunday. REUTERS/Hans Deryk


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Posted by uberVU – social comments | Report as abusive

“rules that casual fans find unfathomable”

That really sums it up, and the incessant interruptions, both not unlike US foreign policy.

It looks more like a huge advertising campaign from the outside.

The US elections campaigns should be the biggest show, on aggregate.

Posted by Ghandiolfini | Report as abusive

[…] know, I know. The “Super Bowl as the most watched TV event in the world” myth has already been busted. But it’s kind of disappointing that the authors of that Reuters story didn’t say by […]

Posted by Super Bowl ‘10 most watched television event ever!* (*excluding several other television events) « some canadian guys writing about soccer | Report as abusive

Who cares? Only disgruntled soccer fans. Soccer is played everywhere so the “Champions League” should beat the Super Bowl every year. If the stats are slanted are whatever fine because if the Super Bowl in reality beat the CL any year says a lot. Comparing it to the Olympics? The Olympics? So I guess one will look down on the Stanley Cup because more may view the Olympic Gold Medal Round? Compare the NFL to individual leagues. The cricket leagues the individual soccer leagues, basketball, etc etc. Out of seasonal professional sports leagues what gets the most attention. That’s what you compare it too. But in the end it’s pointless argument. It’s a single country sport because only one has it in their culture and has the infrastructure to support such a league. That, and the zealot soccer fans are afraid to sit through a few games understand the complexities of the sport. Show me a person complaining about American Football and I will show you someone who is completely ignorant of the sport and pissed off at the attention it gets.

Posted by Cyrus_Roy | Report as abusive

I used to watch the NFL, and I still sometimes watch the CFL (that’s the Canadian version, for any who don’t know). I used to even like it.

But now? I’ve moved on. It’s very overrated. For example, there was a study done by the Wall Street Journal that pointed out how little of a game was actually played. Their number was 11 minutes. That’s 11 minutes of action in a game that claims to be 60 minutes long. Heck, there were 17 minutes of replays. More replays than actual play is just…well, boring. I turned on the Super Bowl, left it on while I used my computer for about 10 minutes, then turned it off because of how boring it was. There’s as much downtime as in Baseball, and that’s saying something.

So Cyrus_Roy, I can tell you most of the rules, and I don’t care about the attention it gets (hockey gets more all year, except for the super bowl, and that’s what I love). I can even tell you that the NFL rules originated because the field at…Harvard, I believe…anyways, it was smaller than the field at McGill University, in Montreal. The first game in the US was played between the 2 schools, and they had to modify the rules because of the smaller field, and then they chose to change a couple other rules (rules that were never changed in Canada, such as the number of downs or the size of the ball).

So I’ll complain about the NFL because it’s a boring sport played with a lot of overweight people. It’s a game that is popular because of the amount of advertising they can fit into it (which is also why soccer is not popular in the US), and because people like to see hard hits and collisions. I cannot, and will not, deny the skill of the athletes to do what they do, but I also can’t be bothered to watch it.


p.s. The Champions League is only in Europe, so other places have no reason to watch it other than the skill of the players. The World Cup final is a better comparison, and it demolishes the Super Bowl every time.

Posted by Viruk42 | Report as abusive

[…] Likewise, while you can find an NFL game on a satellite channel in most parts of the continent, the numbers watching are miniscule. Indeed, even the Super Bowl fails to make much of a dent in the ratings charts – despite the hype that it … […]

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