LANE ONE: In international sport, there’s the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup and then there is everything else

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It wasn’t that long ago that the International Olympic Committee was a small, uncommunicative, sometimes sullen organization that rarely spoke up outside of its 10-times-a-year magazine, Olympic Review. Not any more.

On Wednesday, the IOC’s Web site proclaimed:

“Olympic Games confirmed as the world’s most appealing sports and entertainment event“

The story was sharing proprietary consumer research from Publicis Sports & Entertainment which shows that the Olympics came across best in a rating of “the appeal of leading global and national sports and entertainment events.”

One would have expected that a ranked list of events and how appealing they were would be shown, but this was not provided and the link for more information was to a 12-slide presentation of the Beijing 2022 Audience & Insights Report.

There, we found out that the Beijing Olympic Winter Games were “followed” by two out of three people among the 9,601 folks aged 13-65 in 16 countries or territories polled by Publicis. And more importantly that:

● The global audience on television – over-the-air, cable and online – was an impressive 2.01 billion for the 2022 Winter Games, up 5% from the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang (KOR).

● Cumulative watch time on rights-holding broadcaster channels was 11.88 billion hours, up 18% over the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games.

● Total global coverage by broadcasters was 62,305 hours of over-the-air and cable television and 120,670 hours on digital channels.

Olympic audience reporting is not new and the IOC has provided this kind of data since the 2000 Sydney Games. But the statement that the Games is the “most appealing” event in the world – without any back-up – is unusually cheeky, especially for a usually sober organization like the IOC.

What you did not see was a bald, boastful claim that the Olympic Games is the “biggest” or the “best.” And good for the IOC on that. Because there are other contenders.

As for the most athletes, Tokyo had a reported 11,319 total competitors, contesting 339 events, but the Paris 2024 organizers and the IOC are committed to reducing that number to 10,500. The 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia had 11,300 athletes contesting 465 events, the most of any multi-sport event.

As for television viewing and the postponed Tokyo Games, held in 2021:

● The global TV audience was 3.05 billion, down 5% from the 3.20 billion who saw the 2016 Rio Games.

● Cumulative worldwide watch time on rights-holding broadcaster channels was 21.3 billion hours, down 29% from the 30.0 billion hours reported for Rio 2016.

● Total coverage offered by broadcasters was 150,426 hours on over-the-air and cable television and another 217,512 hours on digital channels, both up about a third from 2016.

That’s a lot bigger than the Winter Games, and far more than any other event on the planet, except for one: the FIFA World Cup. For the 2018 edition held in Russia, FIFA also released an audience report from Publicis Sports & Entertainment, which noted:

● The global TV audience on television was 3.572 billion, slightly higher than for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

● Cumulative worldwide watch time on rights-holding broadcaster channels was 34.66 billion hours, down from the 36.52 billion hours for Brazil in 2014.

● Total coverage by broadcasters – live matches, replays and highlight programs – was 90,424 hours on over-the-air and cable television, down 7.8% from the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

At the World Economic Forum in May, FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI) said the 2022 World Cup will break all records:

“The last FIFA World Cup was watched by four billion people, the last FIFA Women’s World Cup by 1.2 billion people.

“This World Cup in Qatar will be watched by five billion people, way above half of the world’s population. All these people who follow and pursue the same passion, they all feel the same way and they all know that football has this uniting force.”

An interesting table in the 2021 World Athletics Annual Report on “Share of Voice and Tonality” showed the shares of worldwide coverage, ostensibly in “mainstream and social media” from January to October in 2021, with football at 61%, the Olympic Games (and the IOC) at 23% and the next closest being athletics at 4%, followed by rugby at 3%.

Hey, 61% is a lot, and a lot more than everyone else combined. Wow.

The IOC can legitimately claim to be the most inclusive multi-sport event in the world, with the most delegations attending, just ahead of the World Athletics Championships, which has had more than 200 countries attend its events in 2013 (203 in Moscow), 2015 (205 in Beijing) and 206 in 2019 in Doha. The Rio 2016 Games had 207 delegations, including the IOC’s Refugee Team and 206 in Tokyo last year.

So there’s a lot for the IOC to talk about, and the Olympic Games is the originator of the concept of an international, multi-sport Games that brings the world together in one place at one time – starting in 1896 – which is eight years before FIFA was founded and 34 years ahead of the first FIFA World Cup, in 1930.

But as it stands today, and heading into next month’s extravaganza in Qatar, Zurich-based FIFA has the most-watched sporting event in the world, challenged only by its fellow Swiss sports organization in Lausanne.

Rich Perelman

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