Halftime: The 50 Most-Watched Sporting Events of 2014 (So Far)


At the unofficial halfway point of the sports calendar, here is a look at the most-watched sporting events of the year so far. Click here to jump straight to the list.

The first half of 2014 was a bit atypical thanks to the Winter Olympics and World Cup. Those two events accounted for exactly half of the 50 most-watched sports telecasts this year — eighteen for the Olympics and seven for the World Cup — and 11 of the top 12 non-NFL events. The Opening Ceremony of the Olympics (31.7M) and the Germany/Argentina World Cup final (26.5M) rank as the two most-watched non-NFL sporting events of the year.

There have been other oddities. Horse racing placed higher on this year’s list than the NBA Finals, as The Belmont Stakes drew 20.4 million viewers (#26) and Spurs/Heat topped out at 18.0 million (#33). NASCAR and golf both plummeted out of the top 50 as the Daytona 500 (9.3M) and The Masters (11.0M) suffered sizable declines. The NFL Draft — not even an actual sporting event — managed to crack the list with 12.4 million viewers on ESPN and NFL Network.

Even in an atypical year, the NFL was still dominant. NFL games took up the top eight spots on the list, led by the Seahawks/Broncos Super Bowl — the most-watched program in U.S. television history. Every NFL game played in 2014 had more viewers than the most-watched World Cup match.

This year’s list also includes several events outside of the top 50.

50 Most-Watched Sporting Events of 2014 So Far

# Sport Event Net Rtg. Vwrs.
1 NFL Seahawks/Broncos
Super Bowl 48
FOX 46.7 112.19M
2 NFL Seahawks/49ers
NFC Championship
FOX 28.5 55.91M
3 NFL Patriots/Broncos
AFC Championship
CBS 28.1 51.30M
4 NFL 49ers/Packers
NFC Wild Card
FOX 25.8 47.10M
5 NFL Chargers/Broncos
AFC Divisional
CBS 23.1 41.21M
6 NFL Saints/Eagles
NFC Wild Card
NBC 19.1 34.36M
7 NFL 49ers/Panthers
NFC Divisional
FOX 19.9 33.30M
8 NFL Colts/Patriots
AFC Divisional
CBS 17.8 31.69M
9 Oly. Opening Ceremony NBC 17.0 31.69M
10 NFL Saints/Seahawks
NFC Divisional
FOX 18.1 31.10M
11 NFL Chargers/Bengals
AFC Wild Card
CBS 18.9 30.90M
12 NFL Chiefs/Colts
AFC Wild Card
NBC 16.0 27.58M
13 World Cup Germany/Argentina
ABC, UNI N/A 26.50M
14 Oly. Primetime (2/9) NBC 14.4 26.32M
15 CFB FSU/Auburn
BCS Championship
ESPN, ESPN2, ESNWS 14.8 26.06M
16 Oly. Primetime (2/8) NBC 13.9 25.12M
17 World Cup USA/Portugal
Group stage
ESPN, UNI N/A 24.76M
18 Oly. Primetime (2/11) NBC 13.7 23.72M
19 Oly. Primetime (2/17) NBC 13.8 23.55M
20 Oly. Primetime (2/13) NBC 13.4 22.94M
21 Oly. Primetime (2/10) NBC 12.8 22.40M
22 World Cup Belgium/USA
Round of 16
ESPN, UNI N/A 21.57M
23 Oly. Primetime (2/16) NBC 12.1 21.27M
24 CBB UConn/Kentucky
Final Four
CBS 12.4 21.20M
25 Oly. Primetime (2/12) NBC 12.1 20.81M
26 Horse Belmont Stakes NBC 11.9 20.40M
27 Oly. Primetime (2/20) NBC 12.2 20.29M
28 Oly. Primetime (2/19) NBC 12.2 20.19M
29 Oly. Primetime (2/6) NBC 11.3 20.02M
30 Oly. Primetime (2/14) NBC 10.9 19.11M
31 Oly. Primetime (2/18) NBC 11.2 18.93M
32 CFB Mich. St./Stanford
Rose Bowl
ESPN 10.2 18.64M
33 NBA Heat/Spurs
NBA Finals Game 5
ABC 10.3 18.00M
34 Oly. Primetime (2/15) NBC 9.6 17.10M
35 World Cup Netherlands/Mexico
Round of 16
ESPN, UNI N/A 16.96M
36 CFB Oklahoma/Alabama
Sugar Bowl
ESPN 9.3 16.34M
37 CBB Kentucky/Wisconsin
Final Four
TBS, TNT, TruTV 9.2 16.25M
38 World Cup USA/Ghana
Group stage
ESPN, UNI N/A 15.94M
39 Horse Kentucky Derby NBC 9.4 15.30M
40 NBA Heat/Spurs
NBA Finals Game 2
ABC 9.0 15.13M
41 Oly. Closing Ceremony NBC 8.7 15.12M
42 NBA Spurs/Heat
NBA Finals Game 4
ABC 9.3 14.96M
43 Oly. Primetime (2/21) NBC 8.8 14.93M
44 NBA Heat/Spurs
NBA Finals Game 1
ABC 9.0 14.85M
45 NBA Spurs/Heat
NBA Finals Game 3
ABC 9.0 14.78M
46 CBB Kentucky/Michigan
Elite Eight
CBS 8.9 14.64M
47 World Cup Germany/USA
Group stage
ESPN, UNI N/A 14.16M
48 Oly. Primetime (2/22) NBC 7.8 13.28M
49 World Cup Germany/Brazil
ESPN, UNI N/A 12.40M
50 NFL NFL Draft
Round 1

(Ratings/viewership from various sources, including ESPN, Univision, NBC Sports, Sports Business Daily, Awful Announcing)

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  • pamotorman

    the reason no NASCAR races are here is because you can go out and sit by any interstate highway and see what you see in NASCAR. a parade of cars just following the leader. there is most likely more passing on the interstate. making all cars equal does not make for exciting racing.

    • John Smith

      Yes, and having 3 cars on the lead lap at the end of a race is so much more exciting. Hilarious how Dale Sr fans whine about the good ole days being gone since the good ole boys no longer win.

      • sbx2424

        It’s not possible to have only three cars on the lead lap anymore, they have that lucky dog, which every time they throw caution, people get their laps back. But the good old boys aren’t the only ones whining, just look at all the empty seats, but if those are the good old boys were showing up definitely damaging the sport.

      • pamotorman

        my first race was darlington 1955 when we drove 2 55 chevys there to race and we did this till 1957 so I have been around a long time. NASCAR wants every car to have a chance to win so they keep coming back. it has kept the cars coming back but not the fans. racing is exciting when like dale sr. came from 16 th place in a couple of laps to win. racing is passing 2 or 3 cars at a time going into a turn not waiting till a driver to make a mistake.so you can pass. racing should be ingenuity in action and NASCAR allows no ingenuity.

  • Mikey1109

    I still say a big part of the problem is the rick hendrick/jimmy johnson show. Why bother watching when you know who is more than likely to win. It has been the same old lousy story 6 of the last 8 years.

    • sbx2424

      I don’t attribute that to Rick Hendrick and Jimmy Johnson, I attributed it to NASCAR, they’re the ones came up with this ludicrous Chase. You really don’t even need to run 36 races. All you have to do is run the Chase… call it a season! The first 26 races you don’t even need to watch you just need to see if your guys going to make it in the top 12 or 20 or 30. I don’t know what they’ve expanded it to now!

      • Mikey1109

        I don’t think you can blame all of the championships on the chase format. Even before the chase started in 2004 hendrick won 5 of 9 championships (4 Gordon and one T Labonte) from 1995 to 2003. Granted that’s not as good as 6 out of 8 but they still won their share of championships.

      • Brad Lawrence

        Agreed. The chase stinks and has robbed a lot of drama out of the season.

  • John Smith

    Yes, the chase is a little artificial perhaps. But if you didn’t find the ’11 Chase exciting, keeping in mind that it was only 3 years ago, you either don’t like racing or you don’t like Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards.

    And as for the lucky dog, they just need to tweak it so that you get your lap back if your the first car a lap down on the track *behind the leader* (as that’s what they used to do ‘back in the day’ anyway…i.e. slow down…and you were a d*ck if you didn’t).

    The empty seats…well…that’s a marketing issue. But just make sure you know it peaked in the 2000s, not the 90s, 80s, 70s, etc. It hasn’t changed *that* much since the 48 started stringing together championships.

    Then again, motor sports may be played. F1’s having the same problem. Hell, spectator sports in general (except NFL, who can still charge what they want) are all struggling. Could be changing tastes, could be the fact that you can sit on your butt at home for free and get better coverage of sports in sparkling HD. And replays. And live pause.

    • Brad Lawrence

      Sorry John, I didn’t like the ’11 chase. I didn’t like any of the chases, and I especially hate this new format. I miss the days when all the races mattered the same. The title didn’t always come down to the final race or two, but so what. The most deserving team won the title. The team that did it all year, and all kinds of tracks.