• Loading stock data...
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

Related lists:

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Teenage Sprinting Prodigy Sues Gatorade After Positive Test

Issam Asinga alleges Gatorade gave him contaminated gummies.

Everything To Know About the Jaylen Brown–Nike-Olympic Beef

It starts, as it often does, with a carefully parsed emoji.

Hardly Any Russians Are Set to Compete at the Paris Olympics

Russian athletes are pulling out of Paris in protest of IOC restrictions.
May 2, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Referee Kenny Bayless (center) separates Manny Pacquiao (left) from Floyd Mayweather during their boxing bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Most Watched Boxing Matches Ever

The most-watched boxing match was the 2015 bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao which drew 4.6 million PPV buys.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

Warner Bros. Discovery Faces Final Decision on NBA Rights


Featured Today

Jan 7, 2024; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley (0) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Nissan Stadium.

Without Hard-Line Bans, Pro Athletes and Personnel Will Keep Betting on Sports

Penalties often aren’t stringent or consistent enough to deter banned behavior.
Oct 2, 2021; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goddell speaks during the Don Shula Celebration of Life at Hard Rock Stadium.
July 13, 2024

The NFL Is Confident It Can Overturn the Sunday Ticket Verdict

The league may have good reason to believe it can win.
July 8, 2024

NFLPA Report Cards Have Become the ‘Talk of the Locker Room’ Across..

NFLPA report cards have become the ‘talk of the locker room.’
July 7, 2024

The New College Sports Insiders Are Graphic Designers

Joe Tipton and Hayes Fawcett have become premier news-breakers on social media.
July 10, 2024

‘Where’s truTV?’ March Madness Channel Is Now TNT Sports’ New Star

Warner Bros. Discovery will make its sports emphasis on truTV ‘even more pronounced and consistent.’
July 11, 2024

Will They or Won’t They? TNT Must Match Bids or Say Goodbye to NBA

A spurned media partner has sued the league before.

TopSpin 2K25 Brings the Legends of Tennis to Your Living Room

2K sports is reviving a classic with TopSpin 2K25.
July 10, 2024

NBA Agrees to $76 Billion in Media-Rights Deals, but TNT Still Looms

Welcome back, ‘Roundball Rock.’ Farewell, ‘Inside the NBA’?
Stadium with NFL logo at the mid-field line
July 10, 2024

‘Nonsensical’: NFL Blasts Massive Jury Award in Latest Sunday Ticket Case Filings

The league asked for a new trial and called the damages ‘indefensible.’
July 8, 2024

Fox Sports Is Winning Its Bet on Soccer Media-Rights Deals

The network has media rights to Copa América and Euro 2024.
July 8, 2024

Paramount and Skydance Unite: Major Shifts Loom for CBS Sports

The deal worth more than $8 billion will bring significant shifts to the parent of CBS Sports.