Sitting down over a few pints of beer and debating sports is an age-old tradition. Stats and opinions get thrown around, questioned, analyzed, and debunked. Who is the best player? What is the most popular sports in the world? Who makes the most money? What is the best sport?
Typically, these debates lack any final resolution. There’s so much opinion involved in the arguments that swaying the opinion of another person is next to impossible. But what if there was a way to rank the most popular sports in the world? What kind of formula would be used? Would this be completely based on opinion, completely based in fact, or a mixture of both?
Certainly, a list like that would spark some debate, right? Well, we never were the type to shy away from a healthy debate. Here are the top 10 most popular sports in the world!
Most Popular Sports in the World: Formula Used for Calculation
Of course, before we go listing out the most popular sports in the world from 1 to 10, we have to have some sort of guiding formula to build our list.
Balancing facts with perception and opinion is key. Simply throwing out stats to make a point is boring and removes the human element of the debate. However, foregoing stats in favor of opinion is also the wrong way to approach such an important list.
Here are the factors we will consider when building this list:
- Popularity based on viewership: For this aspect, we will consider television viewership as well as in-person attendance.
- Faces of the sport: Who are the big names in the sport? Are they household names that transcend their sport into fashion, popular culture, or politics?
- Revenue and salaries: Which sports pull in the most revenue from television deals, merchandise sales, ticket sales, and sponsorship agreements? We will also consider player salaries as part of this measurement. We will look at which sports pay their players massive, newsworthy salaries to draw in fans and win games.
- Reputation of the sport: Are there any challenges or controversies facing the sport? How does the general public perceive the sport?
- Accessibility: For this aspect, we want to ask ourselves how easily someone can begin playing the sport themselves. After all, a sport can’t grow without young athletes to replace retiring players.
With all of those factors in mind, we will rank each of the most popular sports in the world from 1 to 10 and provide our justification for doing so.
Of course, even with a clear formula for our rankings, there is still bound for debate. We’re prepared for the floodgates to open up and the comments to come rushing forth.
The 10 Most Popular Sports in the World
Let’s jump into it, shall we? Where will your favorite sports rank when all is said and done?
It should come as no surprise that the beautiful game ranks number one on this list. Regardless of personal opinions about the sport, there is no denying its worldwide popularity. From the United States to Japan to Brazil to Sweden and Russia, soccer is enjoyed by billions of people.
Part of the beauty of soccer is the accessibility for young players. Even in countries where poverty may run rampant, aspiring young players can find an open space, a ball, and practice their skills.
There is no denying the popularity of soccer when looking at revenue and player salaries, either. On the Forbes list of highest paid athletes, soccer players make up 3 of the top 5 spots. Teams will pay staggering transfer fees to bring in star players from other leagues around the world.
The only knock against soccer is the reputation surrounding its governing bodies. If there was a ranking for most corrupt and most popular sports in the world, then soccer would also likely land at number 1 on that list. Controversy continues to surround FIFA voting for World Cup locations. Bribery runs rampant with investigations often turning up evidence to prosecute.
Still, despite the black marks on the sport, soccer is the undisputed best sport in the world. It draws attention, viewership, money, and excitement in a way that no other sport can touch.
Next on our list of the most post popular sports is basketball. The United States is known as the home of the world’s biggest, most popular basketball league but this sport is truly popular everywhere around the globe. Over a billion people watch or play basketball regularly.
Like soccer, basketball is a very accessible sport for young athletes. A good pair of shoes, a hoop, and a ball are all that’s needed to start playing. Plus, there’s no shortage of big names for players to look up to.
Basketballs biggest stars are household names and can be seen in commercials, on awards shows, and even in movies. Modern stars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kyrie Irving have taken the torch from previous icons like Michael Jordan, Shaq, and Magic Johnson.
These big names are helping catch the attention of fans as basketball enjoys some of the highest television ratings since the late 90’s. Add in merchandise revenue from jerseys, signature shoes, and more; it’s easy to see why basketball enjoys a high ranking on this list.
A lot of people like to say that boxing is a dying sport as other combat sports like MMA begin to grow rapidly. However, boxing is just as popular as ever and still enjoys the title as the most popular combat sport in the world.
In fact, 132 million people paid the $99.99 pay per view fee to tune in and watch undefeated boxer, Floyd Mayweather, fight a professional MMA fighter. The numbers smashed estimates and don’t even include those who tuned in through other methods like illegal streaming.
Boxers also tend to transcend the sport. Muhammad Ali was an outspoken Vietnam War opponent and Manny Pacquiao became such an icon in his home country, he was elected as a senator.
While the sport is losing its name as one of the most popular sports in the world among amateurs who are becoming more concerned about head trauma and injuries, it is still incredibly popular among viewers. Surely this will be proven once again when the next big pay per view event is announced.
America’s favorite past time is also popular in other countries around the world. In fact, 26.5% of players in the MLB were born outside the United States. Countries like Cuba, Dominican Republic, Japan, and Korea are sending more and more players to the big leagues.
There are growing professional leagues around the world outside of the United States as well. Japan is known for their competitive professional baseball league and leagues are emerging in countries like Mexico as well.
However, the big bucks will always be earned in the MLB with some of the top players earning upwards of $30 million per year. It’s a major reason why top professional players in Asia often end up in the MLB.
Baseball has endured some issues in its past, most notably doping and drug use. However, the sport has remained very popular around the world. The MLB has seen a recent downward trend in viewership, but the trend is too short to point to as the demise of the game just yet.
What was once known as the sport of choice among Canadians and Nordic countries has been rapidly growing in popularity in the United States as well as emerging markets like China. In terms of revenue, the NHL is the 5th highest grossing professional sports league and most popular sports in the world.
With the NHL’s newest expansion team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals there was a bump in ratings that has been seen over the last few seasons.
That rating boost should come as good news to Rogers Communications, the Canadian telecommunications company that paid over $5 billion for a 12-year deal to secure broadcast rights.
While hockey may never surpass basketball and baseball for fans in the United States, the NHL is strategically growing the league by expanding into markets underserved by other major sports leagues. Las Vegas was a recent, successful example of this.
The big blemish on hockey right now is the two recent, lengthy lockouts that stalled play and turned out the lights on an entire season just a few years back. With another collective bargaining agreement expiring soon, one has to wonder if the NHL will continue building on recent success or take a step back with another lockout or strike.
Why Golf is Good for You? Golf is still the 8th most watched sport in the world which is impressive considering the rating struggles for the sport in recent years. Tiger Woods ushered in an unprecedented era of growth for the sport during the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
People were taking up the game at a record pace, sponsorship deals were breaking records, and golf courses were being built to accommodate the growing demand.
After the Tiger Woods scandal and his subsequent departure from the game due to recurring injuries, the sport saw a significant decline. 800 golf courses have closed in the last decade as people spend less time and money playing golf.
However, despite all of that, the game stayed strong. Now, new players are looking to take up the role that Tiger Woods left behind. Young stars like Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Speith, Justin Thomas, and Rickie Fowler are capturing the excitement of fans once again.
Also, it helps that Tiger Woods is back and playing once again. In fact, his return amounted to a 190% year over year viewer increase at the Hero World Challenge.
Playing golf with kirkland golf ball is definitely a sport that has seen better days. With that said, there is no denying that the sport is on an upward trend right now.
Cricket is a hard sport to place on this list. It is so incredibly popular with 2 billion people regularly watching the sport. However, in places where the sport is not popular, viewership is next to none.
The sport is highly accessible in countries where it is popular, but in other areas, you would be hard-pressed to find a cricket pitch where you could practice your skills.
Despite the popularity of the sport, the highest paid cricket players earn smaller salaries than hockey players, baseball players, and basketball players.
Plus, the faces of the sport may be popular among cricket fans but they are not known outside of the sport. While someone who doesn’t watch basketball surely knows who LeBron James is, a non-cricket fan would struggle to name even one player from the sport.
Ranking this sport as 7th most popular sport in the world on the list seems like a safe bet. The sport is undeniably popular but doesn’t seem to have a lot of notoriety beyond the fan base. Certainly, if there was a sport that could rapidly move up this list in future rankings, it would be cricket.
Much like cricket, football is a sport that could arguably be ranked higher on this list. The NFL pulls in over $10 billion in revenue per year and the Super Bowl is the most watched single sporting event in the world.
However, outside of North America, attention dedicated to NFL and college football drops dramatically. The NFL has tried to grow the sport in new markets with yearly games played in the UK as well as Mexico.
While NFL viewership is still very strong, it is slipping. In fact, viewership numbers have not been this low since 2008. Concerns about player protesting, head injuries, and other aspects of the game have driven some viewers away and slowed the rapid growth of the previous decade.
Of course, NFL football won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. However, with fewer youth players taking up the sport, fewer viewers tuning in on a regular basis, and continuing controversy surrounding the sport; this could mark the beginning of a slow decline for America’s most popular sports league.
Mixed Martial Arts
MMA has seen a rapid rise with the UFC becoming a household name for combat sports entertainment. The action is raw and violent but there is a beauty to the battle as well.
The UFC has been valued at $4 billion, greatly surpassing the $1.5 billion valuation given to the WWE. This is impressive growth for a sports body that was founded relatively recently in 1993.
The sport has also started churning out massive stars that are becoming household names. Connor McGregor even appeared in front of more than 100 million fans to compete in a pay per view boxing match with Floyd Mayweather that captured the attention of the entire sports world.
MMA certainly has a lot of room to grow in popularity. However, there are a lot of questions surrounding the sport. Fighters often have short careers and parents may be hesitant to let their children begin training for such a violent sport. Can the recent growth of MMA continue for years to come? That’s a question only time will be able to answer.
If any entry on this list is going to garner a lot of debate, it will surely be this one. Many will argue E-Sports don’t belong on a list with “real” sports. However, there is no denying the popularity and growth of E-Sports.
It is estimated that the E-Sports market is going to surpass $1 billion in revenue this year. With mainstream sponsors like Toyota, E-Sports has shown it can appeal to more than just gaming-focused brands.
Popular games like Overwatch bring in tens of millions of viewers for tournaments and streams each week. That growth is just the beginning as new E-Sports titles and leagues enter the market.
Plus, with the average age of E-Sports viewers being around 28 years old, the sport offers up a highly sought after demographic for marketers looking for new ways to reach potential customers.
Whether you believe E-Sports are real sports is somewhat irrelevant. The growth of the games and the fan base is undeniable. It will only be a short time until traditional sports leagues are looking over their shoulders as advertiser revenue begins to disappear in favor of more modern marketing methods.
Most Popular Sports in the World:What Do You Think?
Does this list look right to you or would you completely rearrange the rankings? Should golf and golf hybrids have ended up higher as one of the most popular sports in the world or do you think it deserves to be not on the list at all?
Surely there is some debate sparked by a sports ranking list – we wouldn’t want it any other way. Let us know your thoughts and rankings.