It’ll come as no surprise to most American sports fans that the most-viewed sporting event of 2014 was Super Bowl XLIIX, which saw the Seattle Seahawks rout the Denver Broncos, 43-8. The game attracted roughly 112.2 million viewers, according Nielsen’s “Year in Sports Media Report,” which was released on Wednesday.
It might raise eyebrows, however, to know that even the AFC Wildcard game last year between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts was watched by more people (27.6 million) than the World Cup final (26.6 million), the NBA Finals (15 .6 million), the World Series (13.8 million) and just about every other televised sporting event of 2014. In fact, the only event to trump it was the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which garnered roughly 31.7 million viewers, according to the Nielsen report.
Clearly, America’s sports preferences are lopsided. Of the four major professional leagues in the United States, the NHL pulled up the rear in terms of viewership. The highest-rated game according to Nielsen was the Stanley Cup Finals between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings, which attracted around 5 million viewers over five telecasts June 4-13.
MLS soccer also struggled for viewers, losing consistently to telecasts of Premier League and Liga MX games. The MLS Cup between L.A. Galaxy and New England Revolution on Dec. 7 was the highest-rated MLS showing, earning roughly 1.6 million viewers. The good news is that number is the highest it’s been since 1997; the bad news is that number is still only about half as much as the highest-rated Liga MX game, which took place on Dec. 14. Roughly 3 million people tuned into watch Club America take on Tigres UANL in that match.
NASCAR and golf, meanwhile, saw large increases in viewership, according to the report. Roughly 5.2 million people — the most in three years — tuned in to the season finale NASCAR race at Homestead-Miami on Nov. 16. That was tied for just the fifth-highest rated event, however. The Daytona 500, for example, drew in roughly 9.3 million viewers.
Likewise, more than 8.3 million people watched Irish golfer Rory McIlroy win the PGA Championship, a figure that’s up 49 percent from 2013, according to Nielsen. And that wasn’t even the highest-rated golf tournament. Around 11.1 million people tuned in for The Masters on April 13.
The Most-Watched Events Divided by Sport, Including Winter Olympics, According to Nielsen
- Opening Ceremony, Feb. 7, NBC: 31.7 million
- Gold medal coverage of the first-ever figure skating team event, Feb. 9, NBC: 26.3 million
- Sage Kotsenburg wins 1st gold medal of Olympics in Men’s Slopestyle, Feb. 8, NBC: 25.1 million
- Germany vs. Argentina final, July 13, ESPN/Univision/UDN: 26.6 million
- USA vs. Portugal group match, June 22, ESPN/Univision/UDN: 24.8 million
- USA vs. Belgium round of 16 match, July 1, ESPN/Univision/UDN: 21.6 million
- Super Bowl, Broncos vs. Seahawks, Feb. 2, Fox: 112.2 million
- NFC Championship, 49ers vs. Seahawks, Jan. 19, Fox: 55.9 million
- AFC Championship, Patriots vs. Broncos, Jan. 19, CBS: 51.3 million
- NBA Finals, Spurs vs. Heat, five telecasts from June 5-15, ABC: 15.6 million
- NBA Christmas Day game, Heat vs. Cavaliers, Dec. 25, ABC: 9.3 million
- Eastern Conference Finals, Pacers vs. Heat, six telecasts from May 18-30, ABC/ESPN: 7.2 million
- World Series, Giants vs. Royals, seven telecasts from Oct. 21-29, Fox: 13.8 million
- MLB All-Star Game, July 15, Fox: 11.4 million
- Wildcard Games, Athletics vs. Royals & Giants vs. Pirates, two telecasts on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, TBS/ESPN: 5.4 million
- Stanley Cup Finals, Rangers vs. Kings, five telecasts from June 4-13, NBC/NBCSN: 5 million
- Winter Classic, Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings, Jan. 1, NBC: 4.4 million
- Western Conference finals, Blackhawks vs. Kings, seven telecasts from May 18-June 1: 2.4 million
- Liga MX, Club America vs. Tigres UANL, Dec. 14, Univision/UDN: 3 million
- Liga MX, C.F. Pachuca vs. Club Leon, May 18, Unimas/UDN: 2.5 million
- Liga MX, Club Deportiva Guadalajara vs. Club America, Mar. 30, Unimas/UDN: 2.3 million
- Daytona 500, Feb. 23, Fox: 9.3 million
- Phoenix, Mar. 2, Fox: 8.9 million
- Talladega, May 4, Fox: 6.9 million
- The Masters, Apr. 13, CBS: 11.1 million
- PGA Championship, Aug. 10, CBS: 8.3 million
- U.S. Open, June 15, NBC, June 15: 4.6 million
- U.S. Open Women’s Final, Serena Williams vs. Caroline Wozniacki, Sept. 7, CBS: 4.5 million
- Wimbledon Men’s final, Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic, July 6, ESPN: 2.4 million
- U.S. Open Men’s Final, Marin Cilic vs. Kei Nishikori, Sept. 8, CBS: 2.2 million