CORRECTED - Soccer-Champions League final tops Super Bowl in TV survey

Sun Jan 31, 2010 1:39pm EST

(Corrects grand prix to Bahrain and deletes 'season-ending' in final para)

By Simon Evans

MIAMI Jan 31 (Reuters) - UEFA's Champions League final has for the first time replaced the NFL's Super Bowl as the most-watched annual sports event, according to a survey.

The yearly report from London-based Initiative Futures Sports and Entertainment, found that both events continue to grow but the European soccer final is growing faster.

With 2009 not including a 'mega event' -- a Summer Olympic Games or a soccer World Cup or European championship -- it offered a chance to measure the two biggest annual sporting events.

The Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United, on May 27, drew an average audience of 109 million while the Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals on February 1, attracted three million less.

In terms of 'total audience', the amount of people who watched part of the event, the difference was larger with the Champions League pulling in 206 million throughout the game while the Super Bowl managed 162 million.

While the Super Bowl's audience was overwhelmingly domestic, UEFA's product appeared to be doing better in the battle for viewers globally -- in non-World Cup and non-Olympic Games year.

"The Champions League has been better able to exploit the large burgeoning populations of the Asia-Pacific region," said Kevin Alavay, the report's director, who noted the presence of global brands such as Barcelona and Manchester United helped UEFA.

However, the good news for the NFL was that the 2009 figures were the most-watched Super Bowl.

The report also showed the Super Bowl had the lowest ratio between average and total audience figures among top events -- in other words, a much larger percentage of fans watched all of the Super Bowl than all of the Champions League programming -- a key factor behind the American event's huge appeal to advertisers.

But European soccer was clearly outpacing the NFL in the key growth markets.

"While the Super Bowl has secured free-to-air broadcasting deals in a number of important European markets such as the UK, France and Germany, it's distribution and popularity in the key Asia-Pacific region lags far behind the UEFA Champions League," said the report.

The report, in its seventh year, is based on official data from national bodies and measures 'at-home viewing'.

Alavay said the continued growth of the Super Bowl and the Champions League final was particularly impressive in a time of fragmentation in television audiences caused by digitalisation.

"The value of these properties is actually growing disproportionately and in an area of digitalisation they are more than bucking the trend," he said.

Formula One's Bahrain Grand Prix was in third place with an average of 54 million, while the men's 100 metres final from the Athletics world championships was fourth with 33 million.

(Editing by Alison Wildey. To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)