When we think of popular sports, we typically think of the super-fast NFL players that are so popular in American football — but our version of football is far from the most popular sport in the world. In fact, it doesn’t even make the top five!
Keep reading to discover which sports rank at the very top.
Known across the globe as football, soccer is the number one most popular sport globally. Considered the national sport in almost every country in both Europe and Latin America, teams from all across the globe play against one another in international competitions. Billions of fans from across the world tune in to watch these competitions on TV, and its popularity on social media is equally massive.
Soccer — or football to the majority of the world — also has the most leagues by far, and its athletes are some of the highest-paid in the world and the most internationally celebrated. It’s safe to say this game handily beats out the competition.
For Americans, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that soccer ranks at the top on a global scale, given its widespread popularity in the United States, too. What may come as a bit more of a shock to the United States sports fans is that cricket comes in second place — ahead of other more popular sports in American cultures, like American football, golf, or basketball.
Cricket has actually attracted over two-and-a-half billion fans from across the globe — and they aren’t all British like you might expect. Due mainly to the UK’s colonial history, cricket is wildly popular in India, Pakistan, and Australia.
American football fans will have to keep waiting — coming in at number three for the most popular sport is hockey. Typically associated with Canada and the United States, where ice hockey is the most popular iteration of this game, field hockey is also highly popular in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia — essentially, the rest of the world. Because of the different conditions of the arena, field hockey is not nearly as close contact as a sport like ice hockey.
Basketball is a relatively new sport compared with some of the others on this list, only coming about in the last 150 years. Though many of the sport’s fans are located within the United States, where the sport originated, it is rapidly growing in popularity across the globe — particularly in neighboring countries, Canada, and Asian countries like China and Japan. It also has a very dedicated fan base within the US, rapidly becoming the most popular sport in the country.
Globally, basketball counts around 2.4 billion people as fans, many in Asia, where it is quickly gaining popularity.
This sport has an ancient history, going back nearly a thousand years. Unlike essentially every other sport on this list, tennis is not male-dominated. In fact, women’s tennis has eclipsed men’s tennis in terms of popularity in recent years, laying claim to the lion’s share of the game’s 1 billion fans across the globe. Tennis has also entered the Olympics, where its popularity has continued to increase both at a national level within the US, and on an international level across the globe.
Compared to some of the other sports on this list, volleyball is dramatically less marketable despite its relatively high number of viewers — and you’ll rarely hear anyone mention their favorite volleyball star. Like tennis, volleyball has become a female-dominated sport and is growing in popularity at the Olympic Games. That being said, its nearly 1 billion fans haven’t translated to a revenue-rich industry.
Long considered by many to be an ‘American pastime,’ baseball’s popularity has undoubtedly waned significantly in recent years — and it has failed to captivate the interest of a global audience. That being said, its massive popularity in Japan — where it is now the most popular sport on TV — and a dedicated fanbase in the US, helps contribute to the sport managing to maintain its nearly half a billion fans.
Considered by many to be the “greatest game ever played,” golf may not be an obvious choice for most-viewed sport. After all, it can be more slow-moving than some of the more rough and tumble picks on this list. Despite this, golf has around 450 million fans globally. The sport originated in Scotland centuries ago, and despite remaining popular there to this day, it is most widely viewed in other parts of Europe and the US.
9. American Football
We’ve finally made it to the NFL. If most people had their guess, this sport would rank significantly higher on this list given its wild popularity in the US, as well as the celebrity culture that surrounds its players and the fact it’s one of the biggest money-making games in the sports industry. Despite all of this, American football only has around 400 million fans, most of them located within the United States. Because of this, it likely has the most dramatically out-of-step revenue to viewership ratio of any sport in history.
This sport could almost pejoratively be called the football of Australia, where it is widely viewed. The sports share a lot of commonalities, both being derived from soccer. If American football is significantly more close-contact than soccer, rugby is even more close-contact than that, making it one of the most demanding games in the sport. Most of its 400 million fans are located in Australia and neighboring countries like New Zealand and South Africa.
Still, the game is growing in popularity among a global audience in recent years due to its thrilling, edge-of-your-seat gameplay and unpredictable outcomes.
This list may be full of surprises for Americans. Still, it’s important to remember that viewership does not equal revenue. Despite its relatively limited viewership, American football brings in the most revenue of any sport in the world.