Cricket Council (ICC) should get a pat on the back for this one. Just when sports pundits were writing off the gentleman's game after the disappointing ICC World Cup in the West Indies, the game's shortest and newest avatar, Twenty20, has emerged as one of the 10 biggest global TV draws last year.
According to a report tracking television sports viewership, the final between arch rivals India and Pakistan was watched by a total of 40 million people across the world (average 20 million), putting the game in the company of other highly watched sports on television such as American football, soccer, F1 racing and tennis.
Initiative's global sports consultancy division, Initiative Sports Futures, has published its 2007 ViewerTrack global trends report, ranking the world's most watched live TV sports events. The top 10 events, drawn from a pre-selected list of 15 events viewed worldwide, are chosen for both their sporting importance and commercial value.
Even though 2007 was the inaugural year for the Twenty20 format, it still managed to beat the ICC World Cup Final between Australia and Sri Lanka in the TV viewing stakes. This reflected the unique appeal of the Indian team to cricket fans as also the success that Twenty20 cricket has had in attracting fans to the sport.
Leading the field as the most watched sports event of 2007 is the NFL Super Bowl with a total live viewership of 142 million people. Even though more than 90 per cent of its global TV audience comes from one single country - the US - it is consistently the world's most watched TV sporting event in odd-numbered years. In even-numbered years, it gets beaten in terms of TV audience by at least one event from among the FIFA World Cup Final, UEFA European Championships Final and the IOC Summer and Winter Olympics opening ceremonies; none of the other quadrennial or annual events can compete with the unique appeal of the NFL Super Bowl. An average live global audience of 97 million people watched the Indianapolis Colts defeat the Chicago Bears in 2007.
Last year's Brazilian Grand Prix managed a podium finish along with the UEFA European Champions League Final (AC Milan vs Liverpool). The two events managed an average global live viewership of 78 and 72 million, respectively. Rugby (the IRB World Cup final), athletics (the IAAF World Athletics Championships - men's 100 metres final), baseball (the MLB World Series game 4), handball (the IIHF World Men's Handball Championship final), golf (US Masters) and tennis (Wimbledon: men's singles final, Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal) take the next six places, followed by cricket.
De Souza says, "Initiative Sports Futures' league table of the most popular televised sporting events of the year is very different from that which would be produced if based on typically reported audiences. It is vital to draw these differences between actual and reported TV audiences to the attention of sponsors. Reported audiences often reflect the potential number of viewers or include news clips within the total audience figures. Given that people seeing a sports event on the news are often 'accidental' viewers, it is important to distinguish between them and people who make an active decision to watch a sports event live. Using the latter approach, Initiative's research shows which events draw a true global audience, and which ones struggle to gain an audience beyond a handful of countries."