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By Thomas Llewellyn on

From Rio to Russia: Coverage of the FIFA World Cup

How has TV coverage changed as the World Cup has grown? We take a look at some of the facts and figures.

The FIFA World Cup is the planet’s largest sporting event, followed by billions of people around the globe. Even in the most underdeveloped countries, you will be hard-pressed not to find a football shirt featuring Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

The 2018 tournament in Russia was the 21st World Cup and, as the event has developed, worldwide TV coverage has become ever more important.

Why is TV coverage so important?

The prime reasons are audience size and financial value. Approximately 3.2 billion people tuned in to watch the Rio de Janeiro tournament, with this figure expected to rise to 3.4bn viewers for Russia 2018.

Financially, the World Cup brand value has risen by £45m since 2014 to a staggering £176m. This correlates with the television rights that are bought and sold by the major worldwide networks. For example, the American broadcasting company Fox paid £326m to cover the Russia World Cup, while Telemundo, giant of the Spanish networks, paid close to half a billion pounds.

Record-breaking viewing figures

Previous FIFA tournaments have consistently brought in hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide. The 2014 Brazil World Cup was the largest sporting television event of all time: nearly half the world’s population tuned in, with an incredible one billion people watching the final between Germany and Argentina.

Broadcasters increased their television coverage by 36% from 2010, resulting in 98,087 hours of footage. This significant increase in exposure meant that online and mobile services also saw substantial growth, with an estimated 280m people watching on smaller screens.

Panoramic photo from the stands during France v Ecuador in Rio
Panoramic photo from the stands during France v Ecuador in Rio

The 2018 World Cup in numbers

The 2018 Russia World Cup broke all types of records—for both audience size and financial value. Approximately 200 territories covered at least one game, with over 40 countries providing live commentary, bringing the event to around 3.4bn people across the globe. Specifically, the tournament captured more attention in the UK than both the London Olympic opening ceremony and the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, with 24.2m people watching England’s semi-final game against Croatia.

Across the world, countries experienced huge audience sizes for the final, with a combined 52.5m people watching across the UK, Spain, Italy and Germany. Even ‘across the pond’ in the US, over 14 million people tuned into France’s win against Croatia.

However, it was China that led the way in terms of viewer numbers, with 56m people watching the final. With seven of the official 2018 World Cup sponsors coming from China, sporting coverage has grown exponentially.

French president Emmanuel Macron celebrates his country's first goal in the final against Croatia
French president Emmanuel Macron celebrates his country’s first goal in the final against Croatia

What about online coverage?

Television will continue to dominate future coverage of the world’s most prestigious sporting event, with FIFA set to generate £1.25bn from TV coverage rights before Qatar host the next tournament in four years’ time.

But there’s also growing demand for online streaming. With approximately 59% of audience members being under 34 years old, this type of service is expected to increase significantly in popularity by 2022. Streaming service Akamai saw its online traffic exceed the entire 2014 tournament within the first ten days of football in Russia. The BBC had over 66m requests for coverage via mobile or iPlayer, and reported an additional figure of more than 49m unique viewers on the BBC Sport website.

Unfortunately, football didn’t ‘come home’ in the end, but our exhibition Action Replay offers the perfect opportunity to learn more about where sporting television coverage first started—and where it could head in the future.

Action Replay is open at the National Science and Media Museum until 23 January 2019.

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