Kovacevic: Not so Super on global stage

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 11:15 p.m.

It won't matter much if the matchup is Joe Flacco vs. Colin Kaepernick, anymore than if it would have been Peyton vs. Eli Manning, anymore than when it was Trent Dilfer vs. Kerry Collins. The event, as ever, is the thing. Roughly half of our nation's TV sets will tune in for Super Bowl XLVII, hours before and hours beyond.

It's what we do.

It's who we are, really.

It's so big, in fact, that we even find fresh ways each year to somehow blow it out proportion.

How often, in the relentless run-up to kickoff, can we expect to hear some Chris Berman or other boom out that it's the “world's greatest sporting event” or “the most watched” or “the most lucrative?”

Always bugs me, probably more than it should.

So I try each year, as I will here, to look outside our boundaries — customs officials can confirm that, yes, there really is a rest of the world out there — for some perspective.

Football, our football, is huge in our country. It's the national pastime, actually, with apologies to baseball. According to the site Sports Media Watch, the 12 most watched sporting events in the U.S. for 2012 were NFL games, as well as 14 of the top 16. Baseball managed to place only its All-Star Game in the top 50.

But on a global scale, even the mighty Super Bowl, with a worldwide audience of 111.3 million last winter, would struggle to crack the special teams.

Where to start?

The most watched event in human history, according to Nielsen, was the multi-day broadcast of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. As many as 4.7 billion watched, roughly 70 percent of the planet. China Central Television estimated that, in the host nation alone, 984 million saw the Opening Ceremony.

You might dismiss the latter as more show than sport, but you'd have to say the same for the Super Bowl's seven-figure ads and halftime acts, right?

Sticking strictly to sport, the world's football championship is the overwhelming winner. Soccer's quadrennial World Cup was watched by 3.2 billion in 2010, according to FIFA. The Spain-Netherlands final drew 909 million.

Here again, you might downplay that — and the Olympics — because they're every four years. Fair enough. So let's stick to annual events.

Let's also remove individual sports such as tennis, even though Wimbledon and the other Grand Slams are big draws globally, and track and field, which can have tens of millions watching but for only 10 seconds.

Let's throw out all competitions between sovereign nations, if only because one of the most difficult ratings to confirm is the estimate that anywhere between 400 million to 1 billion — largely in India and Pakistan — tune in for the Cricket World Cup each year.

Keeping it as simple and fair as possible, then, let's limit this to club-vs.-club, annual sporting events.

The Super Bowl still loses.

In 2009, it was passed by the UEFA Champions League final, the European soccer club championship. According to The Independent of London, the title game that year between signature franchises Manchester United and Barcelona drew 109 million to edge the 106 million for the Steelers beating the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. And the gap's only grown since.


Again, think simple: The Champions League's numbers are spread worldwide. The Steelers-Cardinals was the most watched Super Bowl in history at the time, but two-thirds of the audience was in the U.S., much of the rest in Canada and Mexico. Not much room to expand there.

That's something to remember, by the way, when the Steelers and Vikings fly over to London this fall: There's a ton of additional money out there to be had — whether pounds, Euros or yen — and the NFL would be fools not to chase it.

It's similarly foolish, for that matter, for fans in our country to keep pretending — or outright portraying — that our sports are the only ones of consequence.

Most valuable franchise in the world?

Manchester United, at an estimated $3 billion, well ahead of the Cowboys' $2.1 billion.

Best athlete in a team sport?

Lionel Messi, the elegant Argentine who scored a soccer-record 91 goals for Barcelona last year.

Best athlete in an individual sport?

Take your pick between Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, Serbian tennis ace Novak Djokovic or our Serena Williams.

Look, the Super Bowl's a great event. And if Kaepernick can unleash his inner Charlie Batch on the Ravens, it might even be a great game.

Just not the only one in town.

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