Halftime: The 50 Most-Viewed Sporting Events of 2012 (So Far)

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With the MLB All-Star Game marking the unofficial halfway point of the sports calendar, here is a look at the fifty most-viewed sporting events of the year thus far.

As is typical, the NFL leads the list.The twelve most-viewed sporting events of the year were all NFL games, with the Super Bowl topping the list with a U.S. television record 111.346 million viewers.

Even two regular season games on New Year’s Day drew more viewers than any non-NFL event on the list.

Among the non-NFL programs, January’s Alabama/LSU BCS National Championship Game ranks thirteenth on the list, with an audience of 24.214 million viewers on ESPN.

Not far behind, the Kentucky/Kansas NCAA Tournament title game ranks fifteenth (20.869M), and the clinching game of the Heat/Thunder NBA Finals ranks seventeenth (18.416M).

Further down the list, the race portion of the Kentucky Derby ranks 24th (14.8M), the twice-postponed Daytona 500 ranks 27th (13.669M), and the final round of The Masters ranks 28th (13.487M).

50 Most-Viewed Sporting Events of 2012
Through Tuesday
* CBS/Turner Sports generally did not provide combined ratings and viewership for NCAA Tournament telecast windows this year. As a result, individual NCAA Tournament telecasts are listed.

# Date League Event Net Rating Viewers (000)
1 Sun., 2/5/12 NFL Super Bowl: Giants/Patriots NBC
47.0
111,346
2 Sun., 1/22/12 NFL NFC Champ.: Giants/49ers FOX
30.6
57,635
3 Sun., 1/22/12 NFL AFC Champ.: Ravens/Patriots CBS
27.4
48,676
4 Sun., 1/15/12 NFL NFC Divisional: Giants/Packers FOX
25.3
45,120
5 Sun., 1/8/12 NFL AFC Wild Card: Steelers/Broncos CBS
24.0
42,371
6 Sat., 1/14/12 NFL NFC Divisional: Saints/49ers FOX
20.5
35,601
7 Sat., 1/14/12 NFL AFC Divisional: Broncos/Patriots CBS
18.5
34,161
8 Sat., 1/7/12 NFL NFC Wild Card: Lions/Saints NBC
18.2
31,780
9 Sun., 1/15/12 NFL AFC Divisional: Texans/Ravens CBS
19.0
30,963
10 Sun., 1/8/12 NFL NFC Wild Card: Falcons/Giants FOX
17.3
27,735
11 Sun., 1/1/12 NFL Reg. Season: Cowboys/Giants NBC
15.7
27,624
12 Sun., 1/1/12 NFL Reg. Season: Regional CBS
15.1
27,004
13 Mon., 1/9/12 NCAAF BCS Champ.: Alabama/LSU ESPN
14.0
24,214
14 Sat., 1/7/12 NFL AFC Wild Card: Bengals/Texans NBC
13.5
21,893
15 Mon., 4/3/12 NCAAB Final Four: Kentucky/Kansas CBS
12.3
20,869
16 Sun., 1/1/12 NFL Reg. Season: Regional FOX
11.6
19,596
17 Thu., 6/21/12 NBA Finals: Thunder/Heat Game 5 ABC
10.9
18,416
18 Mon., 1/2/12 NCAAF Rose Bowl: Oregon/Wisconsin ESPN
10.2
17,558
19 Tue., 6/19/12 NBA Finals: Thunder/Heat Game 4 ABC
10.5
17,455
20 Thu., 6/14/12 NBA Finals: Heat/Thunder Game 2 ABC
10.4
16,670
21 Sat., 3/31/12 NCAAB Final Four: Kansas/Ohio State CBS
9.6
16,603
22 Tue., 6/12/12 NBA Finals: Heat/Thunder Game 1 ABC
9.9
16,195
23 Sun., 6/17/12 NBA Finals Thunder/Heat Game 3 ABC
8.8
15,549
24 Sat., 5/5/12 Horse Kentucky Derby (race portion) NBC
9.0
14,800
25 Sat., 3/31/12 NCAAB Final Four: Kentucky/Louisville CBS
8.4
13,908
26 Mon., 1/2/12 NCAAF Fiesta Bowl: Okla. St./Stanford ESPN
8.4
13,684
27 Mon., 2/27/12 NASCAR Sprint Cup: Daytona 500 FOX
8.0
13,669
28 Sun., 4/8/12 Golf (M) The Masters, final round CBS
8.0
13,487
29 Sat., 6/9/12 NBA ECF: Celtics/Heat Game 7 ESPN
7.7
13,346
30 Sun., 1/1/12 NFL Reg. Season: Regional CBS
8.1
13,331
31 Sun., 1/29/12 NFL Pro Bowl NBC
7.3
12,498
32 Sun., 3/25/12 NCAAB Elite Eight: Kansas/UNC CBS
7.1
11,683
T33 Thu., 6/7/12 NBA ECF: Heat/Celtics Game 6 ESPN
6.8
11,068
T33 Sun., 6/3/12 NBA ECF: Heat/Celtics Game 4 ESPN
6.8
11,068
35 Sat., 3/24/12 NCAAB Elite Eight: Ohio State/Syracuse CBS
6.7
10,949
36 Tue., 7/10/12 MLB MLB All-Star Game FOX
6.8
10,900
37 Tue., 6/5/12 NBA ECF: Celtics/Heat Game 5 ESPN
6.3
10,251
38 Sun., 7/1/12 Olympics U.S. Olympic Trials (Gymnastics) NBC
5.9
10,021
39 Sun., 6/17/12 Golf (M) U.S. Open, Final Round NBC
6.0
9,633
40 Tue., 1/3/12 NCAAF Sugar Bowl: Michigan/Va. Tech ESPN
6.1
9,572
41 Wed., 6/6/12 NBA WCF: Spurs/Thunder Game 6 TNT
6.0
9,498
42 Sun., 3/4/12 NASCAR Sprint Cup: Subway Fresh Fit 500 (Phoenix) FOX
5.6
9,230
43 Mon., 5/28/12 NBA ECF: Celtics/Heat Game 1 ESPN
5.6
8,989
44 Wed., 5/30/12 NBA ECF: Celtics/Heat Game 2 ESPN
5.7
8,809
45 Sun., 3/18/12 NCAAB Third Round: UNC/Creighton CBS
5.7
8,799
46 Fri., 3/23/12 NCAAB Sweet Sixteen: Kentucky/Indiana CBS
5.2
8,702
47 Sun., 3/11/12 NASCAR Sprint Cup: Kobalt Tools 500 (Las Vegas) FOX
5.2
8,528
48 Mon., 6/4/12 NBA WCF: Thunder/Spurs Game 5 TNT
5.5
8,507
49 Fri., 1/6/12 NCAAF Cotton Bowl: Arkansas/Kansas St. FOX
5.0
8,363
50 Sun., 5/6/12 NASCAR Sprint Cup: Aaron’s 499 (Talladega) FOX
5.1
8,348

(Numbers from various sources, including Sports Business Daily, Son of the Bronx, ESPN and Turner Sports)

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  • Bobbyr1969

    Since NFL is so dominant in TV ratings, I’d like to know what this list would look like if you excluded NFL. I mean, when your regular season games are blowing away championships from the other sports, I think we can just note that you kick @$$ and then figure where everyone else stands. 

  • sam

    Football is maybe the only somewhat popular sport in the US and i’m not even sure about that because a lot of people watch the SuperBowl for the show and commercials.

    Basketball and Baseball are niche sports. They are lucky when they get 20 million viewers out of 315 million americans. That’s less than 7%. Meaning 93% of americans don’t care about these 2 sports. Regular season games of MLB and NBA average 2 to 3 million viewers. That’s less than 1% of Americans.

    It’s really low compared to the ratings major sports get in Europe. The average English or French guy care much more about soccer, rugby or formula 1 than the average Amercian guy cares about MLB, NBA or even NFL.

  • evo m.

    @ea14579b4b786f94fdb459f1b7626c27:disqus  It’s an over simplification to say Europeans care more about sports than Americans based solely on TV ratings. Ratings in the US and the UK are wildly different. Top non-sports shows in the UK generally get about 13M viewers, or 21% of the population. Top non-sports shows in the US get about 20M viewers, or about 7% of the population. Would you say that the average Brit cares more about dancing and singing competitions than their American counterpart? The fact is there are more people with satellite/cable in the US than in the UK, so viewing figures are more diffused. There are just way more options. 
    Also, I get the impression sports in the US are much more regionalized, especially basketball and baseball. For example, there are probably a lot of Lakers or Celtics fans that wouldn’t be very interested in a Heat/Thunder Finals. 

  • Bobbyr1969

    @ea14579b4b786f94fdb459f1b7626c27:disqus  I think it’s absolutely stupid to suggest people only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. That’s an ignorant myth. No one watches four hours of TV for commercials. There is no data to back up your speculation.
    You may not like it but the reality is that the sport is enormously popular in this country. And the ratings are only an average. The Superbowl generally peaks with about 160-170 million viewers. The World Series and NBA finals have between 50 to 80 million people who watch some part of those events (again the ratings are an average not a total). Further, there are 300 channels to chose from when it comes to TV viewership these days. 

    National TV ratings for the NBA and MLB are also deceiving because, on any given night there are millions across the country who are watching their local teams play on local channels. National TV ratings are depressed because of this. Remember NBA, MLB, and NHL all suffer from a saturation of games. The national rating is a subset of fans not all fans.

    As to your point that sports are more popular in europe, I’d like to see you back that up. Here are some facts: the NFL has the highest average attendance of any pro sports league in the world. The SEC and Big Ten football have the highest average attendance in the world of any sport, pro or amateur. Major League Baseball draws 73 million total fans to its ballparks each year averaging more than 30,000 fans per game, that is the highest total attendance of any sports league on earth. 

  • JakeFrankie

    NFL is once a week, Not saying it’s not America’s sport. But MLB has 162 Games (plus playoffs), NBA has 82 games (Plus playoffs). There’s a lot of games coming at you all the time. Take into account the local channels (Which MLB does great in), There’s plenty of people watching NBA games on there computer, as NBA League Pass you can watch on your iphone now a days. 

    Anybody who thinks EVERYONE who watches the Superbowl because they “love the NFL” is naive. There’s nothing to watch on TV that night all re-runs, There’s plenty of Superbowl parties before to go too. I highly doubt everyone who watches Superbowl is a fan of the NFL or Sports. Commericals are a big part of the Superbowl that’s a fact. NFL games are extremely long these days, NFL too me is boring but too each it’s own I guess.

    Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, There’s no debating that. But people in Europe people live and die by there Soccer teams. People go crazy for there teams, the love and passion of European Football is second to none. (South America loves there soccer too as does much of the world).

    NBA is extremely popular worldwide, MLB has countries that are in love with Baseball. NFL is a American sport that’s all it will ever be, Nobody outside of the states gives a crap about it. That’s why Basketball and Hockey are played in the Olympics. Baseball has the World Baseball Classic.

  • http://twitter.com/BenSchleuss Ben Schleuss

    Ah, no Soccer? The Champions League final has drawn 200-300 million people since 2009? So it should be #1 and my guess is there would be a number of other soccer games on here as well, right?

    Or maybe some qualifiers need to be added???

  • Malcolmkass

    Wow, as much as people complained about the BCS championship, still outdrew the NBA finals?

    • Paulsen

      That’s no surprise. The BCS title game is almost always the most-viewed non-NFL sporting event in a given year.

  • PaulStein

    this is only in America right?

    • Paulsen

      Correct, these are based on U.S. Nielsen ratings.