Three in ten Americans who aren’t interested in sports will tune into the Olympics

Rishad Dsouza
July 22, 2021, 1:08 PM UTC

The Tokyo Olympics is right around the corner - finally. Yet conditions remain challenging in Japan, with organisers this month deciding to bar fans from attendance. But a YouGov Direct study reveals that interest in the event remains high in the United States.

About a half of Americans say they are likely to watch the Olympics (51%). So widespread is the appeal of the event that it attracts a high degree of interest, even from those who aren’t otherwise interested in watching sport. To be exact, three in ten Americans who say they are either ‘not very interested’ or ‘not at all interested’ in watching sports in general say they are likely to tune into the action from Tokyo (30%).

Notably, the likelihood of watching the Olympics is pretty consistent across all age groups. Overall, those aged between 18 and 29 express the highest interest levels compared to other groups (54%) with those aged 65+ a close second (53%).

A pure love of the Olympics drives much of the viewership interest

The study also dives deeper into the factors that underpin viewership interest. Almost a half of those who say they are likely to watch the Games do so simply because they ‘love’ the experience (45%) - with women more likely to say so than men (51% vs. 41%).

A similar portion of people say their interest is influenced by the prospect of watching the best athletes compete against each other (44%). About four in ten (41%) consumers appear to be driven by a patriotic sentiment, with men far likelier to watch for that reason (48% vs 34% of women).

Online streaming is popular, but nothing comes close to live TV viewership

About three-quarters of consumers say they will watch action from Tokyo live on their TV sets (74%), making it the most popular format by a broad margin. Half of those who are likely to watch the Games aim to catch up on the action via highlights and replays on TV (50%).

A third of to-be Olympics viewers plan to use live streams to tune in (34%). The gap between live TV viewership (59%) compared to viewing via live online streams (42%) diminishes remarkably among those aged between 18-29, from a 40-percentage point difference among the general population to a 17-percentage point difference.

Social media will also play an important role in helping fans stay abreast of the action. Roughly a quarter of those who are likely to watch the Olympics will consume Games-related content on social media channels (23%). Those aged 18-29 lead the pack on the social media consumption front, with almost a third of them (32%) saying they will use that as a medium to follow the Games.

While the absence of fans in the stands could dampen the spirits of the athletes and organisers, they can draw inspiration from the knowledge that millions of fans at home will be following the marquee event keenly.

Methodology: YouGov polled 1,200 US adults online on July 9, 2021 between 10:25 a.m.  and 2:57 p.m. ET. The survey was carried out through YouGov Direct. Results are nationally representative of adults in the US. The margin of error is 3.7% for the overall sample.