The Super Bowl is the most watched event of the year. Everyone knows something about it, whether it’s the halftime show or the game itself. Even the advertisements are keenly watched, and they are specifically noted for being the most expensive advertising airtime available for purchase. But is the Super Bowl the most watched event in the world, as so many Americans are led to believe? Perhaps not.
The last Super Bowl, Super Bowl 50, was a very large television event, bringing together a heavily popularized group of rookies against a legendary quarterback almost certainly playing in his last game. 111.9 million viewers were estimated to have watched that game. The largest Super Bowl viewing audience ever came the year before, when 114.4 million viewers watched the Seattle Seahawks take on the New England Patriots. It was the most watched Super Bowl in the history of the NFL. Damn.
But. 1 Billion viewers watched the 2014 World Cup Final. If that number hasn’t sunk in yet, just really give it some good thought for a second. 1 billion viewers. The world’s population is just slightly above 7 billion. 1 out of every 7 people on earth was watching the World Cup Final. And considering the percentage of people around the world without access to TV, who either heard it on radio, or basically didn’t even have the possibility of watching it, that statistic is almost misleading. Though only coming once every four years, the World Cup, and the World Cup Final in particular draws the largest TV audiences in history, greater than the 3 most recent Super Bowls combined.
And what a game the Final was! Lionel Messi, arguably one of the world’s most recognizable athletes led the Argentinian national team against the German superteam which trounced the hosting Brazilian team 7-1 in the match prior. After going 0-0 in regular time the match was won in the closing minutes of extra time when Mario Goetze struck a beautiful shot past Sergio Romero to seal a 1-0 win for Germany. It was a final for the ages.
Unfortunately, out of those 1 billion viewers, the US pitched in 26.5 million. That’s seriously low when you consider our proportionate size in the population of the world. Even in the women’s world cup, in which our team was playing, received only 23 million viewers.
As an admittedly massive fan of the sport, I struggle to contain my disappointment at the level of information so many Americans manage to retain about the world’s undisputedly most popular tournament. I think a lot of Americans forget it when it comes around, and miss an opportunity to connect to the rest of the world.
The World Cup is more than just a tournament. Once every four years we forget our differences as nations, and we meet up for the greatest competition in the world. Issues in politics, economics, trade, even wars are put on hold, and we get to connect as humans, across barriers that are never otherwise so ubiquitously transcended. The World Cup connects the human race in a way that is wholly unique. Even the Olympics, by a virtue of being centered around multiple events rather than one game, fails to connect people across borders in the way the World Cup does. It is the time when you can feel the soul of the world pulsing as one. And we miss out. We miss out big time.
I’m not denying that American football is fun to watch; I was one of those 111.9 million viewers for Super Bowl 50. The Super Bowl is a giant of an annual sporting event. But every four years, let’s try to not ignore the World Cup. It has benefits that extend beyond sports into the intangible elements of our culture. And futball is awesome.