Determining the most popular sports in the world is a tricky business. There’s really no surefire way to track the popularity of something as ubiquitous as a sport. Still, with a combination of data drawn from surveys and event viewership statistics, we can paint a broad picture of how popular a particular sport is.
This is exactly what we did in order to rank sports by popularity, both globally and in the US specifically. For a country-by-country analysis, check out our separate article on the topic.
So, let’s get started!
The Most Popular Sports in The World
The number one spot on the list might not come as a surprise to most of you, but there might still be some surprises down the list. So, keep reading to learn more about popular sports outside the US.
The World’s Top 3
These sports gather the largest crowds and tend to make the most money for players and clubs alike.
However, you should know that it’s not just about the money. These activities became the most popular sports in the world because they are fun to play.
With around 4 billion fans across the globe, soccer is the top dog in terms of popularity. However, it’s not just among the most popular sports — it’s also among the most accessible and most-watched ones.
For example, 3.6 billion viewers tuned in during the FIFA World Cup 2018, making it by far the most prominent sports competition with the best viewership stats.
Finally, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport’s largest governing body, has around 211 affiliated associations.
The sport’s current form originates from England (making it one of the most popular sports in the UK). It is well known for being the top sport in Europe, with most of the best players residing in the old continent.
With soccer being so immensely popular, it’s no wonder that soccer players are also among the wealthiest athletes in the world.
For example, Lionel Messi’s average salary in 2019 was around $92 million, but he earns approximately $130 million per year.
Soccer also takes the top spot when it comes to the most popular women’s sports.
Women’s soccer also has a pretty large TV audience, with a total of 993 million people watching the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The finals attracted more than 260 million viewers, of which 14.3 million were from the US.
We’ve already touched on the topic of basketball as one of the most popular American sports in history. It also happens to be one of the top sports globally.
Furthermore, basketball has the second-highest number of professional leagues globally. The NBA and College basketball are only two of them.
Other notable mentions include the Spanish Liga ABC, the Argentina Liga Nacional, and the Chinese Basketball Association.
Apart from being one of the most popular sports in the world in 2022, basketball also has some of the best sponsor deals.
For instance, LeBron James signed a deal with Nike that earns him around $50 million annually. In comparison, the basketball legend Michael Jordan doubles that with $100 million.
Even though basketball is clearly among the most popular team sports and is dominated by US players and US-related data, there are also a couple of great players recognized worldwide who never actually made it into the NBA.
These great athletes include Oscar Schmidt, Dimitris Diamantidis, Nikos Galis, and currently Nikola Mirotic.
Finishing the list of top 3 global spots, we must mention cricket, with an estimated 2–2.5 billion followers worldwide. It’s most popular in India, Pakistan, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. Also, it’s among the most popular sports in Australia.
In total, sources claim that there are around 15 countries where cricket is a major sport. The Indian Premier League is one of the largest league systems in cricket today.
Unfortunately, the figures are less astonishing when it comes to salary, according to some 2017 stats.
The top 17 contracted athletes in Sri Lanka make approximately $30,000 a year. Moreover, India’s cricketers are the best-paid cricketers across the globe, with $23,380 per game.
The Most Popular Sports in The US
Apart from listing the most watched and played sports, this section will also discuss sports by state and share some exciting US sports trivia.
America’s Top 3
As you may know, Americans can be very passionate about their favorite teams and games.
Thus, the most popular sports in America also have massive fan bases. Some of them also have pretty high attendance rates.
1. American Football
Nearly 37% of Americans say that American football is their most beloved sport of all time, regarded as a core part of the American mythos. Additionally, with a jaw-dropping average attendance of 67,591, the NFL (National Football League) is also the most attended sport globally.
Comprising 32 different teams playing either in the AFC or NFC, the sport’s popularity in the States cannot be overemphasized.
It’s also among the most popular college sports. The Super Bowl, the main event, has managed to become an unofficial holiday, with attendance surpassing 100 million. No wonder the NFL has some of the most valuable teams too.
NFL players have a median salary of about $860,000. Expectedly, quarterbacks have it best, with a median wage of $1.1 million and an average salary of s $5.76 million.
MLB, or Major League Baseball, is the largest baseball organization in the US. It was a result of the merger between the American League and the National League back in 1903.
Before the merger, the two leagues fought the “baseball war,” trying to establish country-wide dominance.
In America, baseball is undoubtedly among the most popular professional sports in terms of TV rankings as well. For instance, during the first three weekends of the MLB (Major League Baseball) matches, fans watched more than 1.34 billion minutes. Baseball is such an important part of the American identity that a lot of effort has been put into proving the sport originated in the US.
With 30 teams, the MLB is the largest baseball league in the states and has the most well-paid players. The reported average salary of an MLB player is $4.38 million, and the median income is $1.5 million.
Basketball isn’t just one of the most popular US sports, but it’s also among the most popular team sports in the world.
The NBA (National Basketball Association) and College basketball are the most popular leagues in the States. This is not that surprising, considering that basketball is the only major sport strictly of US origin.
The first basketball game was held in 1891. Since then, it has become one of the largest sports internationally, with a pretty impressive player salary.
For example, the average NBA player salary is $7.7 million per season, with Stephen Curry earning $40.2 million in 2019.
Basketball also stands high on the list of the most popular sports worldwide, with an avid following in Canada, Australia, the Philippines, and China, to name a few.
The Most Popular Winter Sports
For some of us, winter is mostly about enjoying a good book and hot coffee. For others, it’s more about getting competitive.
Ice hockey and field hockey together have a following of 2–2.2 billion fans worldwide. The NHL (National Hockey League) is one of the most revenue-dense leagues around.
In the US 2019/20 season, the total NFL league revenue was $4.37 billion. The league also had a total franchise value of $653 million in 2020.
When it comes to the most popular sports in Canada, ice hockey takes first place. Canada is also home to some of the most famous hockey players in the world — Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, and they’ve all left their mark in the sport’s history.
The top-earning player of the 2020/2021 season is Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs), who was supposed to earn $15.9 million. However, due to budget cuts, he will make “only” $13 million.
Officially recognized as an Olympic sport in 1994, snowboarding has become one of the most popular winter Olympic sports.
From 1998 (when it debuted at the Olympic scene) to 2016, surfboarders have earned 42 medals.
Snowboarding, freestyle skiing, Alpine skiing, and ski jumping produced a total of 5,000 hours of television air time at the Sochi Olympics back in 2014, which included 48 different territories around the world.
Thanks to those hours, snowboarding generated a peak audience of 92 million, followed by ski jumping.
Snowboarding might also be among the most popular youth sports, especially for the crowds that lean towards the more extreme activities.
It can also be a lucrative endeavor if you play your cards right. For example, Shaun White is among the best-paid skiers/snowboarders on the planet, with a net worth of $60 million.
In 2014, Alpine skiing produced 1,374 hours of content at the same Olympic games and generated a viewership of around 77 million.
On the other hand, the Alpine Ski World Cup 2019–2020 generated 634.37 million viewers in Germany.
Even though it’s not exactly one of the most popular women sports all around, skiing is still pretty appealing to women, as well.
Some of the best skiers are women, such as Lindsey Vonn (with a net worth of $6 million), Mikaela Shiffrin, and Jamie Anderson.
The Most Popular Summer Sports
Lastly, let’s see what the most popular sports during the hot summer months are. In most cases, we can say that there are many sports you can play during the summer (like soccer, football, or basketball), as long as it’s not too hot.
However, in this section, we’ll be focusing more on summer-specific sports.
Summer Olympic Sports
Without opting for one single summer sport, here are the most popular summer Olympic sports:
- Gymnastics: Fairly popular among women and men today, but this hasn’t always been the case.
Women began competing in Olympic gymnastics in 1936. In 1952, the competition was dissected into separate events. Today gymnastics is among the most popular female sports.
The expected lifetime earnings of gymnasts isn’t that high ($1,252,440), with the US Olympic committee paying $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for the silver, and $10,000 for the bronze.
- Track: Track is an all-time favorite sport, and it’s highly universal. It is also one of the most popular sports for kids — mainly because it is the easiest to participate in. Plus, it’s probably one of the oldest sports there are.
In terms of salaries, sources quote average estimates from $32,000 to $237,000 per year, with sprinters being noticeably above (from $430,000 to $1,725,000).
Marathon runners earn from $10,000 to $141,667 (men’s field) while women get slightly more at the higher end ($1,667 to $200,000).
- Swimming: When it comes to the most popular sports during the summer, we can’t ignore swimming. In its competitive form, it was first introduced in Britain in the early 1800s.
As for the modern Olympics, swimming was first introduced in 1896 (Greece). Women had the chance to swim competitively for the first time in 1912 in Stockholm.
The first notable swimming achievement can be connected to Johnny Weissmuller, the first person to swim 100 meters in under a minute.
Swimming is pretty popular in Australia, too, with around 70,000 registered swimming professionals.
Tennis is undoubtedly among the most popular sports in Europe, and we can say that it’s among the top sports across the globe.
With around 1 billion fans, four grand slams throughout the year, tennis is a prominent sport with lots of media attention.
It doesn’t have leagues, but most countries have tennis federations with yearly regional and international tournaments.
Apart from this, the world’s top tennis players are also among the best-paid athletes. For instance, Naomi Osaka earned a total of $37.4 million during 2019 and 2020.
Tennis might not be among the most popular sports in the world by participation. Still, it surely is among the best-paid activities.
In terms of salary, the top spot goes to Roger Federer. He managed to earn a staggering $106.3 million in the same period.
With an estimated 390 million fans across the globe, golf is among the top 10 most followed sports in the world. In the USA, it’s among the most popular sports.
Furthermore, it’s also called the “the rich man’s game,” since it’s many wealthy people’s preferred choice. Most experts believe it’s due to this that golf tournaments get pretty good TV rights deals and get aired quite often even though it’s more of a “class sport.”
Aside from leagues, golf also has various tournaments. The most notable golf tournaments include the PGA and LPGA tours, the European Tour, etc.
Golf also made the list of several most popular sports in the world in 2020. Many people like to play it occasionally. Moreover, the US golf course and club market alone earned just over $25,000 million in 2019, showing its popularity at the time.
Undoubtedly, Tiger Woods is among the most prominent names in the sport, turning pro in 1996 and dominating the scene ever since. He has won 15 major championship titles, and his combined wins also amount to a staggering $120,851,706.
Apart from that, Woods also receives around $60 million annually from his sponsors.
So, there you have it, the most popular sports in the world right now. As you can see, soccer has pretty much been the most dominant sport of the last two or three decades, and it’s still not showing any signs of slowing down. As such, it comes as no surprise that online sportsbooks tend to put soccer first when it comes to available leagues and bet types they offer.
Other sports, like basketball and cricket, are also pretty popular internationally, with millions of fans.
In the end, the only thing that matters is that you’re out there moving and having fun.
What is the most popular sport right now?
This might not come as a surprise, but at the moment, soccer is the most popular sport across the globe. It has a total of 3.5-4 billion estimated fans from all over the world (most dominantly from Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia).
The second on the list of the world most popular sports is cricket, with a fanbase of an estimated 2.5 billion, mainly from Asia, Australia, and the UK.
Lastly, the third most popular sport is basketball, with around 2.2 billion fans worldwide, most of them being from the US, Canada, China, and the Philippines.
What are the 20 most popular sports in the world?
Different sources will list sports in different orders depending on the criteria. That being said, most lists will still rank soccer as the most popular sport in the world, with basketball and cricket fighting for the runner-up spot.
Tennis usually takes fourth place, followed by athletics, rugby, Formula 1, boxing, ice hockey, and volleyball, concluding the first 10 spots.
What is the most popular sport in the world in 2022?
From 1994 and onwards, soccer has been the most popular sport in the world — and its popularity shows no signs of decreasing in the near future.
Soccer also has the most significant social media following, the highest-paid athletes, and the wealthiest sports clubs.
What are the top 10 most popular sports in America?
In the United States, things are a little different than on the global scene. According to the latest findings and TV ratings, American football is the most popular sport in the US. After football, we have baseball, which is also referred to as the “national pastime.”
Third on the list is basketball, with an estimated 14,000 attendance per match. Next up, we have ice hockey, soccer, tennis, golf, and wrestling.
The ninth place goes to motorsports, and the top 10 list closes with badminton.
What is the most played sport in the world?
By now, you can probably guess that soccer is the most played sport across the globe. Also, it’s the fastest-growing sport at the moment.
According to the last global FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) census, an estimated 265 million soccer players and around 5 million referees are playing in a league.
This means that around 4% of the globe’s population participates in the worldwide craze of soccer.