Ranking the most popular sports was anybody’s guess couple of decades ago but over the last few years with so much analytics available for all major sports we can pretty much put together the ultimate list of most popular sports worldwide and also country wise. On this page we will be ranking the most popular sports in the world based on 100 different factors.
Criteria used to rank sports popularity:
The final result was conducted on the basis of 10 criteria. These criteria play a significant role in selecting the most popular sports.
- Global Fan Base and Audience
- TV Viewership & Broadcasting/Online Streaming Rights Deals
- Access to the General Public
- Relevancy of sport throughout the Year
- The Number Of Professional Leagues and Players
- Average Salary of Athletes in the Top Leagues
- Sponsorship & Endorsement Deals
- Regional Dominance
- Social Media Following & Prominence in other Media outlets like (Websites & TV News)
- Gender Equality
So if we put any sport through these factors, we come away with a very good idea of its popularity compared to other major sports. Which means we can pretty much rank all major sports based on Statistical/Analytic date rather then opinion based.
4 billion people tuned in to watch FIFA World Cup 2018 at some point during the tournament. That is the highest collective competition TV numbers since such analytics became a thing. Which is the second most watched competition ? Again FIFA world Cup 2014. Football being no.1 in terms of popularity should not be a surprise really. Its not only world’s most accessible sport at grass root levels but also brings the most money compared to any other sport.
Of all the sports in the world, football has the highest average salary, there are so many tiers of football that even at semi-pro level in the UK, an athlete can make 50,000 a year. While in the top division of English football called premier league players average salary is 60,000 GBP a week thats around 2.6 million a year.
Football World Cup as the most-watched sports event: Almost 3.9 billion tuned in during a month-long 2018 FIFA World Cup. The final between France vs Croatia was watched by around 600 million people worldwide
Most professional leagues around the world: Football has its own league almost in every country. According to FIFA their top 5 major leagues in Europe includes Premier League, Laliga Santander, Bundesliga, Serie-A, and League 1.
Biggest Broadcasting Deals: English Premier league holds the most lucrative TV rights deal worth £6.5 billion with Sky, BT Sports, and Amazon. International Market add another $4 billion. Premier League has rights in over 180 territories across the world. The TV rights deal for FIFA WorldCup 2018 and 2022 is $1.85 billion.
Competition With The Highest Prize Money: Out of the top 10 highest prize money sports competitions, football owns 6 of them. UEFA Award $2.1 billion in prize money every year in the champions league.
Biggest Competitions: Champions league is the biggest trophy at the club level. On the international level, Fifa WorldCup is the most prestigious one. Total 21 editions of Worldcup had been played so far and brazil won 5 ( most number of times).
A number of Highest-Paid Athletes: Football boost 20 of the top 50 highest-paid players in the world. Messi and Ronaldo dominated sport rich list for the best part of the last 10 years.
Most Valuable Sports Franchise/Teams: 30 football clubs feature in the top 50 most valuable sports teams in the world. Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Barcelona topped the list for the last 20 years.
Most Followed Athletes & Teams On Social Media: Cristiano Ronaldo is the most followed person on Instagram. He has 412 million followers. Lionel Messi comes second with 311 million followers. Football Clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Barcelona have over 150 million followers making them to most followed teams of any sport.
Biggest Shirt Sponsorship Deal: Real Madrid and Barcelona have kit deals with Adidas and Nike respectively worth over $100 million a year. Meanwhile, they can also add another $50 to $60 million a year from shirt sponsors like fly-Emirates, Rakuten.
Basketball is widely considered as the fastest growing sport of all major sports in the world. NBA is the professional Basketball league in the US and it is only behind NFL in terms of revenue generation. $6.5 billion yearly revenue put NBA as one of the most lucrative sports league in the world. Over the last 10 years, this sport is spreading across the globe. 10 new professional leagues were started in last one decade alone in Europe. Spain, France, Greece, Turkey and Italy are just to name a few.
Outside USA and Europe, Basketball is growing at a healthy rate in countries like China and Japan. While some countries in Africa are also looking to add professional regional competitions.
TV Broadcasting Deal: NBA sold the tv rights deal worth $24 billion for 9 years. Make $2.6 billion annually.
Highest Average Player Salary: The average salary of a player is more than $3 million which is highest average of salary then any other sport.
Fastest Growing Professional Leagues Across The World: There are atleast 12 big professional leagues of Basketball. From the most lucrative NBA to Spain’s top division. Followed by leagues in China, Greece, Turkey, France, Italy and Argentina.
Growing number of national teams in Basketball World Cup: Basketball (FIBA) world Cup takes place every 4 years and it has been around since 1950. Over the last 20 years more and more teams are qualifying for the world cup making it much more competitive compared to earlier years.
Cricket is the third most popular game in the world with a fan following of 2 to 2.5 billion. It is immensely popular in Asia, the UK, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. It is also one of the fastest growing sport in Europe with countries like Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, Poland, Germany and Denmark making strides at local levels and some of these countries will become ICC recognized national teams by 2026.
Second most watched World Cup of any sports: Cricket World Cup 2019 generated massive 2 billion TV viewership numbers and that help it overtake Rugby as the second most watched World Cup.
T20 Cricket’s Rapid Growth: Since the inception of T20 format, it has helped Cricket gain massive growth both interms of spreading it worldwide and bringing in massive cash inflow. Now almost every cricket playing national have domestic T20 leagues where international players come and play. Average salaries in domestic cricket have improved.
IPL’s Record Breaking TV: India’s domestic T20 league called IP signed a massive $6.5 billion worth of TV Deal which put in the top 10 most lucrative sports leagues in the world.
Tennis is one of the only two individual sport ranked so high in popular sports list which is an achievement on its own. According to recent TV viewership and social media statistics, Tennis has around 1 billion followers around the world with a very diverse following. What separate tennis from other major sports is that it paved the way for women in the sport much earlier. Provided much needed gender equality and the reason behind is the fact its equally popular between boys and girls at young age.
Highest Prize Money In Individual Sports: Women and men’s singles grand slam champion can take home as much as $3 million each. There are 4 major grand slams with total prize money pool of over $40 million each. Top 100 rated players can make as much as $1 million a year. Top 250 rated players in tennis can make over $300,000 a year.
Iconic Tennis Players: Tennis has produced some of the most iconic athletes in both genders. From Billie Jean King to Steffi Graf to Sarena Williams are probably the greatest women athletes of all times. While trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic has put Tennis on a while different level with their absolute dominance in sport.
Most Iconic Sports Competitions: Wimbledon is one of the four grans slams in tennis calendar year nad it is widely considered as one of the most prestigious sports event.
Boxing is one of the oldest professional sports in the world. During the 1950s era leading upto Muhammad Ali’s emergence Boxing was the most watched sport in the world. It has grown alot since its early days and still going strong with boxers from all around the world.
An Olympic & Amateur Sport: Boxing at amateur level is part of Olympics. And Usually the medalists go on to become professional boxers in different weight classes.
Highest grossing Combat Sport: Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao fight in 2014 broke all kings of TV and online streaming records. Mayweather cleared over $250 million from his nights work while Pacquiao also earned over $150 million from that fight.
World Champions From Many Countries: Unlike other sports where we see Champions from specific countries only, Boxing is much more diverse. There are at least 40 to 50 belts if we consider all the weight classes. At any given point there are at least 10 nations representing world champions.
#6. Formula 1
This is controversial choice considering it fails in some of the factors like accessibility, worldwide adoption and lack of grass roots level availability. However interms of tv viewership numbers it match some of the other high ranked sports in this list.
- F1 season has around 22 grand prix‘s every year played from March to December. Around 20 countries host at least 1 grand prix every year.
- F1 has sold extensive TV rights deals worldwide making it one of the most watched sport in the world certainly the most watched motorsport.
- In 2021 Formula 1 season where Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton in the very last grand prix of the season to win the championship, f1 produce its best season in terms of TV numbers. Over 700 million people tune in at some point of the season.
- Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021 was the most watched F1 race since TV numbers became available.
Rugby as a sport has two different disciplines, A) Rugby Union and B) Rugby League. Rugby Union is the more popular and widely played sport in most of the english speaking countries like England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. However Rugby is growing at a rapid rate with France, Italy, Argentina and Japan now considered top rugby nations.
- Rugby World Cup 2019 was one of the most watched sports event in United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
- Rugby Union has some of the best professional leagues across the world. From England’s Premiership Rugby to France’s Top 14 are two of the best leagues in the world.
- Rugby World Cup is usually the second most watched World Cup of any sport but in terms of attendance its in the league of its own. 2.4 million ticket sold during recent world cup.
Now this is a modern sport by all means. eSports has made its way into the list with absolute gigantic growth over the last 15 years. Since internet became common in every house hold, almost every young kid play video games online. Some of them are so good at some famous games they compete professionally.
Officially the fastest growing sport in the world: eSports is without a shadow of any doubt is the fastest growing sport and the ceiling is unlimited.
Younger and more lucrative audience: Most of eSports following is young, people born after 2000’s are the ones into different eSports competitions. And this
Did you know Fortnite eSports World Cup winner make more money ($3.5 million) compared to Wimbledon winner ($3 million) in tennis.
#9. MMA (UFC)
The rate at which UFC has caught up with Boxing is absolute sensational. Back in 1995 it was started as just professional league with few fighters in the US. There are several MMA league/competition in the world now but the most popular are UFC and Bellator.
Biggest MMA Fight of all Times: Conor McGregor vs Khabib as the which outranks some of the biggest boxing fights in terms of revenue generation.
UFC Fight Night Weekly Competition: Under president Dana White, UFC has from strength to strength and now atleast 10 UFC PPV events take place every year. Plus weekly Fight Night schedule making it massive in terms of TV viewership and revenue.
Did you know, Running is the oldest sport in the world ? Well it is if we look back at the history archives. Athletics is still one of the most popular sport in Olympics and its 100m race is usually the marquee event in Summer Olympics. Running (Sprint and Marathon), Long Jump are some of the popular competition in this sport.
The likes of Usain Bolt who broke all kinds of records in last couple of Olympics put the spotlight back in what is the most prestigious sport competition in the world.
Golf as boring as it sounds in terms of revenue generation its right up there with the very best individual sports. Although its available at rather root levels around the world it is more popular in developed countries. Since the physical requirements to play this game are not super extreme, it is played by all ages.
- Golf players earn huge prize money all year round and although the TV audience is not as diverse as other sports, major gold tournaments generate big TV numbers specially the ones in USA and United Kingdom.
- Tiger Wood’s success in the 2000’s brought absolute massive recognition for the sport around the world. Tiger Woods at the peak of his career was the highest paid athlete in the world.
#12. ICE Hockey
ICE Hockey not be confused with Field Hockey, is a sport which is generally played in specific colder climate countries. Canada and USA are the most dominant countries when it comes to professional teams and players. However ICE hockey is also equally popular in Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Final. Part of Russia states are also very much involved with the sport.
- Over the course of last 20 years, ICE hockey has made inroads in some eastern european countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Hungary and Luxembourg.
- NHL is the biggest professional league of ICE Hockey in USA where many Canadian teams also play their trade.
- Ice Hockey World Cup is very popular in these countries and with this sport growing around in Europe more and more teams are getting competitive at the international level.
The following of 900 million makes Volleyball the 6 highest popular sport in the world. It is a team sport. In this sport, Two teams consisting of 6 players are separated through the net.
Each team has to score points by grounding the ball on the other team’s court. Volleyball is a part of the Olympic games. The average player salary is $2-3 thousand dollars.
Indoor game | Not like other sports that canbe played under open roof and sunny day, Volleyball is usually played in indoor facilities with climate control, making it a more predictable and consistent experience.
Never ends in a Tie | Sports often ended in a tie after the required time, if not knock out stages. However, This does not happen in volleyball. At least one point is scored every other minute. An average volleyball match lasts for an hour.
Guinness Book of world record | The AAU National Championships in Orlando, Florida is the largest volleyball event in the world, as designated by the Guinness Book of World Records. Convention centers hold hundreds of courts where volleyball games are constantly taking place in every direction.
The ball is rebounded | The ball never held once it is put into play, one must be able to control the ball with a type of hit.
#14. NFL – American Football
With substantial 430 million followers, American football rank at 12. As the name suggest American football is only popular in USA and Canada. Having said that, NFL which is the professional football league in the US is the most watched and most lucrative sport league in the country.
This sport is known as Gridiron outside America but very few countries at a very limited level play the sport. rugby is similar to this sport in other parts of the world.
#15. Table Tennis
In this sport, two or maybe four players can play together. Players have to hit the very lightweight ball back and forth using rackets, specially designed to play table tennis.
No age restrictions | There’s no age restrictions to participate in the tournament. 78 year old if fit can play against 24 years old. Players with less physical strength (young and old) can compete equally with players in peak physical condition.
Not requirement of Court | Every sport need a field or court to play the game, meanwhile to play this game, all you need to have is a rectangular table with a center divider. There is no need for ground, or court to play table tennis, it can be played indoors as well as outdoors as well.
|16||Baseball||Very popular and Lucrative sport in America and Japan.|
|17||MMA (UFC)||UFC has made rapid growth over the last 20 years. Now considered the most popular combat sport after Boxing.|
|18||Cycling||Easy access and very popular in most of European countries. Tour De France is a major race which involve cyclists racing through European countries.|
|19||Badminton||More like a college sport around the world but played professionally in some Asian countries.|
|20||MotoGP||Most watch motorsport after Formula 1. MotoGP has 20 grand prixs in 18 different countries.|
|21||Field Hockey||Use to be very popular back in 80’s and 90s but its growth has kind of stagnated over the years.|
|22||Handball||One of the fastest growing sport in Europe. Handball is in Europe what basketball is in USA.|
|23||Wrestling||Its played across the world with different variations. Although young wrestlers fight for the gold in Olympics in same discipline. Then there is WWE|
|24||Skiing||Skiing is very very popular in some of the European countries and Most of its events are shown live in central and eastern European countries.|
|25||Gymnastics||Another Olympic sport which is also a lifestyle sport so to speak.|
|26||Snooker||Played across the world but mostly famous in England and Some of the South Asian countries like India, Pakistan.|
|27||Horse Racing||Another sport which has been around for ages and played in Olympics as well as Special Horse race competition famous for betting.|
FAQs Regarding Most popular sports
Football with estimated 4 billion fans across the world leads the Popular Sports list. Football comes up triumph in most of the factors taken into consideration for ranking purposes.
Table Tennis/Ping pong.
Tennis. By far the most popular and established sport equally popular with both genders.
NBA. average players salary of NBA players is $3 million.
eSports and MMA are two of the fastest growing sports in the world