The 50 Most-Watched Sporting Events of 2012

Posted by | January 4, 2013 at 9:15 AM

The National Football League and the London Summer Olympics utterly dominated the list of the most-viewed sporting events of 2012.

The NFL and the Olympics accounted for 49 of the 50 most-viewed sporting events of the year [click here for list]. Super Bowl XLVI earned the top sports TV audience of the year — and the top U.S. television audience of all-time — earning 111.3 million viewers on NBC February 5.

The NFL attracted the top five audiences of the year, with the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics ranking sixth (40.7M). While the NFL attracted the largest audiences, more than half of the top 25 belonged to NBC’s primetime coverage of the Summer Games.

The only non-NFL, non-Olympic program in the top fifty was the Alabama/Louisiana State BCS National Championship Game (24.2M), which tied for 39th place. The next-best non-NFL, non-Olympic program was the Kentucky/Kansas NCAA Tournament National Championship Game (20.9M), which tied for 59th place.

Because the NFL and the Olympics dominated so thoroughly, a list of the top 50 non-NFL, non-Olympic programs has also been provided [click here], as well as a list of the top TV audiences by sport [click here].

The 50 Most-Watched Sporting Events of 2012
For regionalized windows, featured game and percentage of markets listed [ex.: Titans/Eagles (75%)]

# Date Sport/Event Game/Race Net Rating Viewers
1 Sun., 2/5/12 NFL: Super Bowl Giants/Patriots NBC
47.0
111.3M
2 Sun., 1/22/12 NFL: NFC Champ. Giants/Niners FOX
30.6
57.6M
3 Sun., 1/22/12 NFL: AFC Champ. Ravens/Patriots CBS
27.4
48.7M
4 Sun., 1/15/12 NFL: NFC Divisional Giants/Packers FOX
25.3
45.1M
5 Sun., 1/8/12 NFL: AFC Wild Card Steelers/Broncos CBS
24.0
42.4M
6 Fri., 7/27/12 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony NBC
21.0
40.7M
7 Tue., 7/31/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
21.8
38.7M
8 Thu., 8/2/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
21.1
36.8M
9 Sun., 7/29/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
19.8
36.0M
10 Sat., 1/14/12 NFL: NFC Divisional Saints/Niners FOX
20.5
35.6M
11 Sat., 1/14/12 NFL: AFC Divisional Broncos/Patriots CBS
18.5
34.2M
12 Sat., 1/7/12 NFL: NFC Wild Card Lions/Saints NBC
18.2
31.8M
13 Mon., 7/30/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
18.0
31.6M
14 Sun., 8/5/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
17.5
31.3M
T15 Sun., 1/15/12 NFL: AFC Divisional Texans/Ravens CBS
19.0
31.0M
T15 Sun., 8/12/12 Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony NBC
17.0
31.0M
17 Wed., 8/1/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
17.9
30.8M
18 Sun., 12/30/12 NFL: Reg. Season Cowboys/Washington NBC
17.0
30.3M
19 Tue., 8/7/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
17.6
30.1M
20 Wed., 8/8/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
16.8
29.1M
T21 Sat., 7/28/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
15.8
28.7M
T21 Thu., 11/22/12 NFL: Reg. Season Washington/Cowboys FOX
13.5
28.7M
23 Fri., 8/3/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
16.2
28.5M
24 Sat., 8/4/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
15.9
28.0M
25 Sun., 1/8/12 NFL: NFC Wild Card Falcons/Giants FOX
17.3
27.7M
T26 Sun., 9/9/12 NFL: Reg. Season Steelers/Broncos NBC
16.5
27.6M
T26 Sun., 1/1/12 NFL: Reg. Season Cowboys/Giants NBC
15.7
27.6M
28 Thu., 11/22/12 NFL: Reg. Season Texans/Lions CBS
13.9
27.3M
29 Sun., 1/1/12 NFL: Reg. Season Chiefs/Broncos (68%) CBS
15.1
27.0M
T30 Sun., 12/16/12 NFL: Reg. Season Steelers/Cowboys (90%) FOX
16.2
26.9M
T30 Sun., 10/28/12 NFL: Reg. Season Giants/Cowboys FOX
16.0
26.9M
32 Mon., 8/6/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
15.8
26.6M
T33 Sun., 9/9/12 NFL: Reg. Season Niners/Packers (87%) FOX
15.4
26.4M
T33 Sun., 12/30/12 NFL: Reg. Season Packers/Vikings (82%) FOX
15.3
26.4M
35 Sun., 11/25/12 NFL: Reg. Season Niners/Saints (93%) FOX
15.0
24.9M
T36 Sun., 12/9/12 NFL: Reg. Season Saints/Giants (91%) FOX
14.8
24.5M
T36 Sun., 10/7/12 NFL: Reg. Season Broncos/Patriots (81%) CBS
14.5
24.5M
38 Sun., 11/11/11 NFL: Reg. Season Cowboys/Eagles (85%) FOX
14.7
24.3M
T39 Sun., 12/23/12 NFL: Reg. Season Giants/Ravens (83%) FOX
14.2
24.2M
T39 Sun., 11/4/12 NFL: Reg. Season Steelers/Giants FOX
14.7
24.2M
T39 Mon., 1/9/12 NCAAF: BCS Champ. Alabama/LSU ESPN
14.0
24.2M
42 Sun., 9/23/12 NFL: Reg. Season: Texans/Broncos (64%) CBS
14.4
24.0M
43 Wed., 9/5/12 NFL: Reg. Season Cowboys/Giants NBC
14.7
23.9M
44 Sun., 11/18/12 NFL: Reg. Season Colts/Patriots (51%) CBS
14.5
23.6M
45 Sun., 12/16/12 NFL: Reg. Season Niners/Patriots NBC
13.9
23.2M
T47 Sun., 10/21/12 NFL: Reg. Season Jets/Patriots (92%) CBS
14.0
23.0M
T47 Sun., 12/2/12 NFL: Reg. Season Steelers/Ravens (93%) CBS
13.9
23.0M
49 Thu., 8/9/12 Summer Olympics Primetime NBC
13.6
22.9M
T50 Sun., 9/30/12 NFL: Reg. Season Giants/Eagles NBC
14.1
22.8M
T50 Sun., 10/14/12 NFL: Reg. Season Giants/Niners (77%) FOX
13.7
22.8M

The 50 Most-Watched Sporting Events of 2012 (Excluding the NFL and the Olympics)

# Date Sport/Event Game/Race Net Rating Viewers
1 Mon., 1/9/12 NCAAF: BCS Champ. Alabama/LSU ESPN
14.0
24.2M
2 Mon., 4/3/12 NCAAB: Final Four Kentucky/Kansas CBS
12.3
20.9M
3 Thu., 6/21/12 NBA: NBA Finals Thunder/Heat G5 ABC
10.9
18.4M
4 Mon., 1/2/12 NCAAF: Rose Bowl Oregon/Wisconsin ESPN
10.2
17.6M
5 Tue., 6/19/12 NBA: NBA Finals Thunder/Heat G4 ABC
10.5
17.5M
6 Thu., 6/14/12 NBA: NBA Finals Heat/Thunder G2 ABC
10.4
16.7M
7 Sat., 3/31/12 NCAAB: Final Four Kansas/Ohio State CBS
9.6
16.6M
T8 Tue., 6/12/12 NBA: NBA Finals Heat/Thunder G1 ABC
9.9
16.2M
T8 Sat., 12/1/12 NCAAF: Reg. Season Alabama/Georgia CBS
9.8
16.2M
10 Sat., 11/24/12 NCAAF: Reg. Season Notre Dame/USC ABC
9.4
16.1M
T11 Sun., 10/28/12 MLB: World Series Giants/Tigers G4 FOX
8.9
15.5M
T11 Sun., 6/17/12 NBA: NBA Finals Thunder/Heat G3 ABC
8.8
15.5M
13 Sat., 5/5/12 Horse: Triple Crown Kentucky Derby NBC
9.0
14.8M
14 Sat., 3/31/12 NCAAB: Final Four Kentucky/Louisville CBS
8.4
13.9M
T15 Mon., 1/2/12 NCAAF: Fiesta Bowl Okla. St./Stanford ESPN
8.4
13.7M
T15 Mon., 2/27/12 NASCAR: Sprint Cup Daytona 500 FOX
8.0
13.7M
17 Sun., 4/8/12 Golf (M): The Masters Final Round CBS
8.0
13.5M
18 Sat., 6/9/12 NBA: East Finals Celtics/Heat G7 ESPN
7.7
13.3M
19 Thu., 10/25/12 MLB: World Series Tigers/Giants G2 FOX
7.8
12.3M
20 Wed., 10/24/12 MLB: World Series Tigers/Giants G1 FOX
7.6
12.2M
21 Sun., 3/25/12 NCAAB: Elite Eight Kansas/UNC CBS
7.1
11.7M
22 Sat., 11/3/12 NCAAF: Reg. Season LSU/Alabama CBS
6.8
11.4M
T23 Thu., 6/7/12 NBA: East Finals Heat/Celtics G6 ESPN
6.8
11.1M
T23 Sun., 6/3/12 NBA: East Finals Heat/Celtics G4 ESPN
6.8
11.1M
T25 Sat., 3/24/12 NCAAB: Elite Eight Ohio St./Syracuse CBS
6.7
10.9M
T25 Tue., 7/10/12 MLB: All-Star Game A.L./N.L. FOX
6.8
10.9M
27 Wed., 10/27/12 MLB: World Series Giants/Tigers G3 FOX
6.1
10.5M
28 Tue., 6/5/12 NBA: East Finals Celtics/Heat G5 ESPN
6.3
10.3M
29 Sun., 7/1/12 U.S. Olympic Trials Gymnastics NBC
5.9
10.0M
T30 Sat., 11/10/12 NCAAF: Reg. Season TAMU/Alabama CBS
6.1
9.6M
T30 Tue., 1/3/12 NCAAF: Sugar Bowl Michigan/Va. Tech ESPN
6.1
9.6M
T30 Sun., 6/17/12 Golf (M): U.S. Open Final Round NBC
6.0
9.6M
T30 Tue., 12/25/12 NBA: Reg. Season Thunder/Heat ABC
5.1
9.6M
T34 Wed., 6/6/12 NBA: West Finals Spurs/Thunder G6 TNT
6.0
9.5M
T34 Sat., 11/24/12 NCAAF: Reg. Season Michigan/Ohio St. ABC
5.8
9.5M
36 Sun., 3/4/12 NASCAR: Sprint Cup Subway Fresh Fit 500 FOX
5.6
9.2M
37 Mon., 5/28/12 NBA: East Finals Celtics/Heat G1 ESPN
5.6
9.0M
T38 Wed., 5/30/12 NBA: East Finals Celtics/Heat G2 ESPN
5.7
8.8M
T38 Sun., 3/18/12 NCAAB: Third Rd. UNC/Creighton CBS
5.7
8.8M
T38 Tue., 12/25/12 NBA: Reg. Season Knicks/Lakers ABC
4.8
8.8M
41 Fri., 3/23/12 NCAAB: Sweet 16 Kentucky/Indiana CBS
5.2
8.7M
T42 Sat., 10/27/12 NCAAF: Reg. Season Notre Dame/Okla. ABC
5.2
8.6M
T42 Mon., 12/31/12 NCAAF: Peach Bowl Clemson/LSU ESPN
4.8
8.6M
T44 Mon., 6/4/12 NBA: West Finals Thunder/Spurs G5 TNT
5.5
8.5M
T44 Sun., 3/11/12 NASCAR: Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 500 FOX
5.2
8.5M
T44 Sat., 11/24/12 NCAAF: Reg. Season Florida/FSU ABC
5.1
8.5M
47 Fri., 1/6/12 NCAAF: Cotton Bowl Arkansas/K-State FOX
5.0
8.4M
T48 Sat., 11/17/12 NCAAF: Reg. Season Stanford/Oregon ABC
5.1
8.3M
T48 Sun., 5/6/12 NASCAR: Sprint Cup Talladega FOX
5.1
8.3M
T50 Mon., 1/2/12 NCAAF: Outback Bowl Mich. St./Georgia ABC
5.1
8.2M
T50 Sun., 3/25/12 NCAAB: Elite Eight Kentucky/Baylor CBS
5.0
8.2M

Most-Watched Events By Sport/League

Sport Date Event Net Rating Viewers
NFL Sun., 2/5/12 Super Bowl: Giants/Patriots NBC
47.0
111.3M
Olympics Fri., 7/27/12 Opening Ceremony NBC
21.0
40.7M
NCAAF Mon., 1/9/12 BCS Champ.: Alabama/LSU ESPN
14.0
24.2M
NCAAB (M) Mon., 4/3/12 Final Four: Kentucky/Kansas CBS
12.3
20.9M
NBA Thu., 6/21/12 NBA Finals: Thunder/Heat G5 ABC
10.9
18.4M
MLB Sun., 10/28/12 World Series: Giants/Tigers G4 FOX
8.9
15.5M
Horse Sat., 5/5/12 Triple Crown: Kentucky Derby NBC
9.0
14.8M
NASCAR Mon., 2/27/12 Sprint Cup: Daytona 500 FOX
8.0
13.7M
Golf Sun., 4/8/12 The Masters: Final Round CBS
8.0
13.5M
Tennis (M) Sun., 8/5/12 Olympics: Murray/Federer NBC
5.5
8.2M
Tennis (W) Sat., 8/4/12 Olympics: Serena W./Sharapova NBC
5.6
7.9M
IndyCar Sun., 5/27/12 Indianapolis 500 ABC
4.3
6.8M
NHL Mon., 6/11/12 SCF: Devils/Kings G6 NBC
3.1
4.9M
MMA Sat., 1/28/12 UFC on FOX 2 FOX
2.6
4.7M
NASCAR Nationwide Sat., 2/25/12 Drive4COPD 300 ESPN
2.9
4.4M
Int’l Soccer (W) Thu., 8/9/12 Olympics: USA/Japan NBCSN
2.7
4.4M
Int’l Soccer (M) Wed., 2/29/12 Friendly: Mexico/Colombia UNI
2.0
4.3M
NCAAB (W) Tue., 4/3/12 Final Four: Baylor/Notre Dame ESPN
2.7
4.2M
MLS Sat., 12/1/12 MLS Cup: Galaxy/Dynamo ESPN
0.5
797K
WNBA Wed., 10/17/12 WNBA Finals: Fever/Lynx G2 ESPN
0.5
778K

(Numbers from various sources, including Sports Business Daily, ESPN, Turner Sports and TV Media Insights)

  • Alan

    Paulsen – Shouldn’t the Clemson/LSU Chick-fil-A Bowl (12/31/12) be on your list of the top 50 Most watched Non-NFL/Non-Olympic sporting events of 2012? It had a viewership of 8.6 Million according to this: http://www.sportsmediawatch.com/2013/01/ncaa-bowls-clemsonlsu-hits-record-high-on-espn-music-city-liberty-bowls-down/

    • Paulsen

      You are absolutely correct. Thanks for noticing that.

      • Alan

        No problem! Looks like it just slipped into 2012.

      • Alan

        BTW, I think all sports fans love looking at numbers like these so thank you very much! One thing I’d like to note though (especially in the case of College Football) is that 2012 covers part of both the 2011 bowl season and 2012 regular and bowl season. I think you’ll find much more interest in a post about the top 25/50 most watch College Football games of 2012-13 which includes the entirety of the season. Thanks again!

  • reppact

    Interesting to see that not a single NFL game from NFLN made the list. How far down are those games? Is there a list specifically for sporting events on NFLN?