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Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Most Watched Summer Olympics of All Time

Aug 24, 2008; Beijing, CHINA; USA players Kobe Bryant (left), Lebron James (second left), Dwyane Wade (second right), and Carmelo Anthony pose with their gold medals following the mens basketball gold medal game against Spain at the Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. USA beat Spain 118-107 to win the gold medal. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Despite decreasing viewership in recent Olympic cycles, the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics will be using innovative strategies to try to bring in new Olympic viewers in the United States.

NBC is resorting to unprecedented celebrity endorsements to entice casual observers. Peacock will play a role in providing alternative streaming options, striving to replicate its success from the NFL Playoffs.

Now that athletes will receive a payday for their participation, this year’s Olympics hopes to recreate similar revenue and ratings as some of the all-time most-watched Summer Olympics.

The 1996 Atlanta Olympics is the most-watched Summer Olympics ever with an average viewership of 33.1 million American viewers. The 1996 edition celebrated the centennial of the Summer Olympic Games; the first Olympics were held in Athens, Greece in 1896.

The opening ceremony drew 39.767 million viewers who were captivated by Muhammad Ali performing the esteemed Lighting of the Olympic Flame.

Second on the list is the 1976 Montreal Olympics, which recorded an average viewership of 33 million. Montreal aimed to revamp the fun spirit of the Olympics after the tragic massacre and boycotts at the 1972 Olympics.

The city spent $1.5 billion in attempts to dazzle international visitors and viewers. The opening ceremony only attracted 13.87 million viewers, the lowest of any Olympics on the list.

Montreal paid a steep price for their extravagant hosting attempt: they were steeped in debt that took them 30 years to repay.

The 2012 London Olympics is third with 31.1 million in average viewership. London experienced an enduring positive economic impact after hosting its third Summer Olympics. The city generated $163.8 million in additional revenue through the Olympics. 

Highlights of the games include Michael Phelps adding six gold medals to his tally to equal a record 22 medals. Usain Bolt completed the “sprint triple” by winning the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 4 x 100 relay races.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics attracted the most global viewers with 4.7 billion worldwide, but was fourth in average viewership with 27.7 million in the United States.

Tokyo 2020 had the lowest average viewership on record with 15.5 million. But Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts expects this year’s Summer Olympics to redeem for the lackluster ratings of the last Olympics, particularly with a more friendly time zone for American viewers.

Ranking The Most Watched Summer Olympics Ever

Here is the list of the top 10 most-watched Summer Olympics based on average viewership. The list was compiled using historical data from Nielsen and SportsMediaWatch.

  • Updated: July 1, 2024
RankingYearHost CityAverage U.S. ViewershipTotal Global Viewers
11996Atlanta33.1 million3.2 billion
21976Montreal33 million1 billion
32012London31.1 million3.6 billion
42008Beijing27.7 million4.7 billion
52016Rio de Janeiro26.7 million3.2 billion
61992Barcelona25.9 million3.5 billion
71988Seoul25.3 million3.5 billion
82004Athens24.6 million3.9 billion
92000Sydney21.5 million3.6 billion
102020Tokyo15.6 million3.05 billion

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