Many studies over the years have almost certainly proven that football is the most popular sport in the world.
Thought to have been invented around 1863, it is the simplicity of the game that has contributed to its astronomical growth over the past 160 years. Anyone can watch the game and understand what’s going on at a basic level, and it can be played almost anywhere. According to Nielsen data, more than 40% of the world’s more than eight billion people claim to be fans.
The sport’s pinnacle, the World Cup final, drew a record global audience in 2022, with an estimated 1.5 billion people watching Argentina beat France in a thrilling match in Qatar. [Source: FIFA]
Compared to other major sporting events, the audience numbers are truly enormous. The 2022 NFL Ultimate Bowl between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals has reached 153 million globally [Source: Adobe Analytics]. The season finale of the Formula 1 2021 season in Abu Dhabi drew 108.7 million [F1] viewers. By comparison, the last day of the 2022 Masters in Augusta was seen by 13.1 million [USA Today Sports]. These sports have international acclaim, but the numbers don’t lie: their reach is not on par with football.
“Football is really watchable because it brings people together,” said Euronews correspondent Cinzia Rizzi.
“You can watch a football game on your couch with family or friends, basically people. And it’s easy to understand. The rules aren’t as complicated as sports like Baseball or Rugby, and as Pele said, ‘it’s a good sport. it’s a game’.”
Football is broadcast on an average of 643 million homes a year [Sporting Index], but as the way we consume content in general changes, so does the way we consume football. From a cinema and TV perspective, we live in the age of online streaming platforms. Terrestrial television is becoming less popular with the younger generation and we are now seeing a change in where fans can watch their favorite sport.
In the United Kingdom, the Premier League debuted online streaming. It was a popular move that made the game more accessible to viewers. During game weeks, Amazon only owns the rights to all games shown on the Prime website and apps. The multinational tech company brought in game rights for two rounds per season in 2019 and is expected to bid for more games when the next round of bidding opens in 2024.
In the US, Apple has also switched to streaming football. They previously bought the broadcasting rights of baseball games and launched the ‘MLS Pass’ for the 2023 season. The streaming service allows viewers to watch all MLS games for $99 per season. But the difference between this and the Amazon deal in the UK is that the Apple deal is global. It can really lay the foundation for how football will be delivered to a worldwide audience in the future.
Premier League rights are costly, but if a company like Apple is interested enough to try to buy some, it’s clear that a company of that size can afford it.
The way we consume football is changing, an ever-changing industry like the rise of fan media and mainstream football broadcasting.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a major shift in the type of content these “fan channels” produce. At a time when fans were not allowed to enter stadiums for their own safety, fans still yearned for the experience of watching matches on TV as part of a community. Due to the demand, the era of watching fan-created content was born. Typically, one or two football fans live stream their reactions to a match.
“It’s a great way to engage with viewers,” said Paul Machin, co-founder of Liverpool fan channel The Redmen TV. “It’s something that isn’t mainstream.”
“It means you can have that lively interaction with people. And we have people who are there for each of these shows. It doesn’t matter who presents them. They’re there like clockwork and contributing to the conversation.”
The way we consume football is changing dramatically. As we move into the digital age, football broadcasting is slowly starting to catch up. But one thing will never change, and that’s how many people love the sport.