In case you haven’t been on a deserted island the past couple years, you may have heard about this little cable television thing called Game of Thrones. The only reason social media exists in April 2019 is to share Game of Thrones fan theories, death pools, memes and more. (Oh, and there’s that small pocket of individuals that brag about how counter-cultural they are because they don’t watch it.)
Just how popular is Game of Thrones? As per HBO, the Season 8 premiere on Sunday night set a ratings record for the network with 17.4 million viewers. Via Variety:
According to figures released by HBO, the Season 8 premiere drew 17.4 million viewers across all platforms (linear, HBOGO and HBO NOW), including 11.8 million who watched on the linear channel. And that is only those who watched Sunday night. Expect the total viewers to go up considerably once delayed viewing is factored into the final numbers.
While GOTmania is sweeping the nation, it got us thinking about how these massive viewership numbers would translate to the sports world while also taking advantage of some good old fashioned search engine optimization so that our website can capitalize on it. (What, can you blame us?)
In an age of DVRs and streaming platforms and everything being on demand, live sports has been the kingpin of linear television as the most reliable audience driver. And while GOT numbers will continue to grow as those numbers are included, it’s an astounding number for the debut that really can only match up with live sporting events, at least when it comes to a cable television series on a premium channel like HBO.
So what sporting events have drawn a similar amount of viewers? Of course pretty much every NFL game of note is going to surpass it, but you may be shocked at what’s in the same neighborhood or slightly below. Thanks to Sports Media Watch’s list of the Most Watched Sporting Events of 2018, here are some significant telecasts from 2018 that averaged around 17 million viewers.
World Series Game 5: 17.9 million
World Cup Final: 17.8 million
NBA Finals Game 1: 17.7 million
Winter Olympics Night 13: 17.6 million
Alabama-Georgia (SEC Championship Game): 17.5 million
Villanova-Michigan (National Championship Game): 16.5 million
Kentucky Derby: 15.0 million
The Masters Final Round: 13.0 million
(This does come with the caveat that some of these numbers don’t include streaming audiences, which were a key part of the HBO audience. However, streaming was smaller for some of the sports events where it was measured, clocking in at around 250,000 viewers for the World Series Game 5 and 120,000 for the Kentucky Derby, so it seems unlikely it provided as much of a boost for any of these as it did for Game of Thrones.)
Those are some pretty huge sporting events! Overall, the Game of Thrones premiere was roughly on par with the NBA Finals and World Series. The 2018 NBA Finals were down in ratings compared to previous years with a sweep and the Cavs and Warriors meeting for the fourth straight year. It garnered an average of 17.5 million viewers. The World Series was down at an average of 14.1 million viewers for a five game series between the Red Sox and Dodgers. Most of the Winter Olympics telecasts would outrate GOT, although there were a couple nights later in the games that would dip below the threshold.
With the proliferation of Netflix and other streaming services, there’s a case to be made that the Game of Thrones final season may be the last social viewing experience that we have where we all are glued to the same series at the same time. Ultimately, that’s the draw of live sports, isn’t it? There is no binge watching an NFL season or the Winter Olympics. It will be interesting to see if the GOT numbers can raise to even higher levels throughout its final season. Now if we could only get Cersei those elephants.