Best Sports Equipment

There’s an inherent difficulty in classifying sports and depending on whom you ask, the responses will vary greatly. Differing criteria for what constitutes popularity can lead to contradicting rankings. For this reason, it is crucial to establish a clear set of variables to make the distinction. In this article, our criteria is chosen based on a sport's worldwide relevance and its wider appeal as an activity among non professionals.

Here are the 10 factors we used to rank the 50 most popular sports in the world:

Active Players / Amateur Participation

TV Audience

Spectators

Star Players

Calendar

Women

International Competition

Revenue and Value

Media Coverage

Accessibility

Contents

1. Football / Soccer

Soccer, Association Football, or Soccer, whatever the common vernacular is in your part of the world, it is the unopposed most popular sport in the world by a large margin. This is partly due to the the simplicity of the rules, the limited equipment required to play, its worldwide appeal and large skill ceiling. Football is called the beautiful game and with good reason.

Participation

FIFA, the international governing body, estimated that there were over 265 million active players the world over in 2006. Given the twelve year gap, we presume that the numbers have continued to rise sharply upwards. To give a sense of scale, this equates to around 4% of the world’s population. The number also fails to take into account players that aren’t directly involved through a countries federation and club level associations, such as casuals who play recreationally in parks and fields around the world.

TV Audience

Due to the plethora of leagues around the world, different time zones and fluctuations in viewing habits, assigning a value to TV audience is difficult. We can, however, consider the World Cup, football’s biggest quadrennial international competition. Over the course of the 2014 event, over 3.2 billion fans tuned in, while the final itself between Germany and Argentina attracted a staggering one billion people.

The popularity of leagues such as the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, UEFA Champions League, and Bundesliga, mean habitual viewership is high and cumulatively over the course of the year outshines the World Cup. The Premier League itself is watched by over 5 billion people worldwide, thanks in part to lucrative rights deals.

Spectators

Among the most attended sporting events, the largest leagues in football rank highly. The Premier League attracts nearly 14 million people over the course of the season, and 36,000 per game on average. The Bundesliga is close behind with 13 million year round and 42,000 per game, La Liga gathers over 10 million spectators, and Serie A more than 8 million. Around 3.5 million spectators attended games at the 2014 World Cup with an average of 54,000 per game. An impressive number given the competition spans less than a month.

Star Athletes

Football’s biggest stars need no introduction as we are all familiar with Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar Jr. They have become almost household names that even non sports fans are aware of indicating their relevance in today’s cultural landscape. These personalities garner huge sponsorship deals, astronomical weekly salaries, and social media follower numbers that easily outclass those of A list Hollywood celebrities.

Calendar

The football calendar or schedule is one of the most packed in the world. The regular season tends to run from late Summer all the way through to late Spring in most leagues, topped off by regular international events in the summer months as well as international friendlies. Apart from a few short weeks at the height of summer, there is always football being played or aired on TV.

Women

Women’s football rise can only be described as meteoric. This is because of changing societal mores, lucrative rights deals, increased broadcasting, rising participation numbers, and better news coverage. Of note is the fact that women’s football is by far the most popular women’s sport in the USA, with spectator numbers rivalling those of the men’s league.

International Competition

The selection of international competitions, and more importantly their popularity, give credence to football’s title as the most popular sport. With events such as the FIFA Men’s and Women’s World Cup, UEFA European Championship, Olympic Football and FIFA Confederations Cup, the calendar is packed full. This is worth comparing with other sports that tend to only shine during the Olympics. Football is popular throughout the year from the community level all the way to the international stage.

Revenue and Value

With top clubs like Manchester United earning close to 700 million euros per year, salaries in the range of £300,000 per week, and broadcast rights priced in the billions of pounds, Football is incredibly healthy in terms of its finances. We can see this particularly in the endorsements, sponsorship and advertising spots linked to football, notably on jerseys, TV adverts, and marketing campaigns. Football is so lucrative that manufacturers are eager to sign lifelong deals with athletes to secure their patronage. We can also mention merchandising and subsidiary earnings such as video games, which contribute to the incredibly large profit generated by football.

Media Coverage

Football is the most reported sport by far. In football’s European heartland, media coverage is ubiquitous be it online, in print, or TV. South America displays similar coverage.

Accessibility

Football is one of the most accessible games there is. All you need is a ball, players, and clothing to mark goal posts. It couldn’t be simpler. In a more organized setting, the selection of clubs and leagues at community level means it isn’t hard to participate. In many countries, football is the go to sport for many young people due to these reasons.

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2. Basketball

There is much debate surrounding which sport is the second most popular, though in our estimation basketball stands as the most serious competitor to the dominance of football, though the gap still remains colossal to say the least.

Participation

In the United States of America alone, where basketball is one of the most popular sports in terms of population to players ratio, active players are numbered at 30 million or so. In China, there are an estimated 300 million regular players. The rise of Yao Ming and his long career in the NBA triggered a surge of popularity in the country that remains to this day. Further worldwide statistic are hard to come by, but in South American basketball strongholds such as Argentina and European counterparts such as Spain, Turkey, and Serbia, player numbers are high as well. In general, the trend is an increased interest in basketball translating into more players, with an estimated 450 million worldwide.

TV Audience

Chinese audiences flock to watch the domestic CBA league games with up to 10 million per game and up to 200 million during finals. While the NBA sees around 1.5 million people domestically per game with spikes during the playoffs and finals counted in the tens of millions. Worldwide viewership for the NBA is close to one billion. The FIBA Basketball World Cup has an overall worldwide reach of 800 million, though viewership remains low in the USA due to the popularity of the NBA.

Spectators

22 million fans attended NBA games in 2017 with an average of 18,000 per game. Though not on par with the numbers seen in football, there is a devoted fan base that attends every game and the atmosphere at NBA games is renowned for this very reason.

Star Athletes

Basketball isn’t short of star players. Lebron James is one of the most famous athletes in the world. Others such as Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant are equally as popular and contribute to the popularity of basketball. Social media followers are lower than football, but nevertheless impressive. Salaries are huge with an average of around 5 million dollars per player in the NBA.

Calendar

The regular basketball season runs from october all the way through to april, plus playoffs in May and finals in early summer. Due to the long summer gap, there are summer leagues. In addition, the selection of leagues in the USA mean there is always a game to watch be it at college or professional level. Around the world, seasons tend to be shorter due to less teams. International competitions such as FIBA World Cup complement the schedule.

Women

Women’s basketball is firmly established because it was developed in conjunction with men’s basketball. In the USA, WNBA is popular as is the European EuroLeague Women. Country specific leagues also cater for women ranging from college all the way to international levels.

International Competition

As well as the FIBA World Cup, basketball is an important Olympic sport that attracts a large number of viewers and spectators. EuroBasket is also popular in Europe. Though the selection isn’t comparable to football, there is a growing trend to internationalize basketball.

Revenue and Value

Between TV rights both nationally and internationally, team valuations at around 1 billion dollars each and sponsorship, the NBA is one of the most lucrative leagues in the world and is responsible for the overwhelming majority of earnings in basketball. The high salaries and endorsements of players, as well as growing international demand for games and TV coverage means basketball has one of the most optimistic growth forecasts of any sport.

Media Coverage

TV rights deals, social media followers, dedicated web sites, TV shows, and print coverage mean basketball is well represented in the media, backed up by never-waning interest in the antics of its biggests stars.

Accessibility

Accessibility is country specific. In China, the widespread availability of hoops, courts and clubs make it easy to pick up. Very much the same can be said of the USA, South America and historically Basketball-oriented countries in Europe.

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3. Tennis

Tennis is one of the most popular individual sports and has a vibrant professional scene, with worldwide coverage and appeal.

Participation

There are an estimated 60 million active players throughout the world, with one time participation per year rising to around half a billion people.

TV Audience

Around 1.2 billion people regularly tune in to watch tennis at a host of events throughout the year. In the USA alone, TV audiences are numbered at around 25 million people.

Spectators

For spectator numbers, we look at the largest open events in Australia, USA, France, and Wimbledon. The average attendance is around 500,000 with peaks close to 800,000 in certain years. The multi-day events make spectacting an attractive proposition for many fans.

Star Athletes

From Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer through to Serena Williams, the tennis world is well stocked with famous stars, each earning considerable prize money, as well as endorsement deals. Though not on par with some of the sports above, these stars have considerable appeal around the world and their names are known within non-tennis circles.

Calendar

The ATP World Tour runs from January to November with a large selection of events, notably the Grand Slam tournaments, Masters Series, Davis Cup and culminating with the ATP Finals at the end of the season.

Women

Unlike many sports, women’s tennis exudes a healthy reputation thanks in part to the popular WTA Tour with its own set of Grand Slams, Championships, and Premier Tournaments, which are as popular as the men’s equivalent. Though prize money earnings are heavily skewed in the favor of male athletes, endorsement and sponsorship revenue prove to be generally equitable across both genders.

International Competition

By the very nature of the professional scene’s setup, tennis boast a huge array of international events throughout the regular season and at the Olympics.

Revenue and Value

The US Open alone has profits nearing 300 million dollars, while other Grand Slam events count revenue in the tens of millions. Sponsorship, TV rights, and merchandising value the tennis industry in the US alone at over 5 billion dollars.

Media Coverage

All the Grand Slams and most of the Masters Series events are broadcast throughout the world. Tennis is often among the most reported sports during the summer months, notably during Wimbledon and Roland Garros, be it online, TV, or in print.

Accessibility

In terms of infrastructure tennis is somewhat for demanding given the need for a large, hard surface and net to play. However, many countries have pre-existing infrastructure that make picking up the sport fairly viable.

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4. Cricket

Though cricket is only popular in specific parts of the world, notably in the Indian subcontinent, UK, South Africa, Australia, and Caribbean nations, the combined population of these areas make it one of the most popular sports. For other parts of the world, cricket is relatively unknown and this is due to a largely commonwealth-centric devotion to the sport.

Participation

Definite numbers are virtually non existent, but if we consider that cricket in India takes on religious proportions and is the number of one sport by a long margin, the numbers of players can undoubtedly be counted in the hundreds of millions. Add to this a rich historical heritage in the UK, Australia, and Pakistan, the total number of players is possibly on par with those found in basketball.

TV Audience

Most international games see audiences in the range of 200 million for India alone. Coupled with other regions, the number inflates further. While the World Cup finals can attract as many as half a billion viewers. The IPL, India’s Twenty20 internal league, has regular viewers in the millions as well.

Spectators

Due to the multiple day format of the sport, cricket can attract upwards of 100,000 people for the biggest international test match games. Regular games range in the tens of thousands.

Star Athletes

Not as internationally recognised as those found in tennis and football, cricket does however have a number of star players that are celebrities of the highest order in specific countries. MS Dhoni is one example; with a $4 million salary and endorsement deals amounting to over $25 million. In addition, his social following is nothing to shy away from either with numbers easily in the tens of millions.

Calendar

Essentially a fairweather sport, cricket is played during the summer months when rainfall is at a minimum due to the sport being played outside. The different northern and southern hemisphere summers mean cricket runs year round. Internationally, the Cricket World Cup and nation tours mean high profile matches are distributed throughout the year.

Women

Cricket is predominantly a male sport and the women’s scene lacks heavily in terms of interest, investment and player numbers. This hinders cricket’s position further up the popularity list.

International Competition

As mentioned above, international competition is well served thanks to the World Cup, as well as the ICC Champions Trophy, and World Twenty20. The test match format means games are long, attracting numerous fans.

Revenue and Value

Cricket’s value isn’t so much measured in financial terms, but in its cultural clout, notably in India. Due to cricket’s popularity in developing nations where social media is less developed, the opportunities for endorsements aren’t as profitable as other sports. The biggest league, the IPL, is valued at around 4 billion dollars.

Media Coverage

In commonwealth countries, cricket is widely reported both in print and online. It is common for media to cover cricket extensively in the UK, Australia and India, notably during high profile test matches.

Accessibility

One of the more appealing facets of cricket is how easy it is to play and the minimal setup required. A ball and a makeshift wicket are all that are required. In the countries where cricket is popular there is also a healthy grassroots culture of clubs and teams so budding players can easily learn to play. In other countries, the prospects are more limited due to the relative obscurity of the game.

5. Rugby Union

Participation

There are 3.2 million registered rugby union players throughout the world with an estimated 5 million casual players. In rugby’s traditional heartland in France, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, player numbers are high. Surprisingly, there are over 1 million regular players in the US, where rugby union is one the fastest growing sports.

TV Audience

Viewership is hard to estimate worldwide, but in the UK alone the Six Nations tournament attracts close to 10 million viewers every year.

Spectators

Again looking at the Six Nations, every game attracts over 70,000 fans for a total attendance figure over 1 million people. The attendance makes rugby union one of the most attended sport in the world on average.

Star Athletes

Beauden Barrett, David Pocock, and Ayumu Goromaru are established names in rugby circles, yet they fail to have the appeal of football stars. They do however command significant salaries and endorsement deals making them millionaire players.

Calendar

The calendar is packed full of games that run from August through to June. With the Top 14 in France, Premiership in the UK, Mitre 10 Cup in New Zealand, and Currie Cup in South Africa, the season is also supplemented by Super Rugby 15, where teams from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, and Japan compete throughout the year. In addition, there are European wide competitions like the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.

Women

Though historically not as popular as men’s, women’s rugby union is gaining popularity with rising attendance numbers, an established presence at the Six Nations, World Cup, and Olympics, as well as increased investment.

International Competition

The highest profile international event is the quadrennial Rugby World Cup. Hemisphere specific tournament like the Six Nations and Rugby Championship are also extremely popular and complement an already vibrant regular season.

Revenue and Value

The Top 14 league had profits of over 300 million euros in 2016, while the World Cup itself made 228 million pounds in revenue. These sums are considerable and play their part in securing rugby’s position in the top portion of the most popular sports.

Media Coverage

In countries where rugby is popular, media coverage rivals that of other traditional sports notably during large events like the World Cup and Six Nations. Beyond, coverage is limited and lacks in comparison to football for example.

Accessibility

In Europe and in specific areas in the southern hemisphere, rugby is accessible to the majority of the population due to the simple infrastructure required and relatively inexpensive equipment required. Women are also encouraged by increased investment and youth/school players form part of the cultural makeup of many rugby nations.

6. Formula One

Participation and Accessibility

If we look solely at active drivers, then Formula One is by no means a popular sport. This is due to the limited accessibility, expense, and very specialised skills required to drive formula one cars. Not all areas have readily available tracks or the investment required to maintain the vehicules. The sport is nevertheless extremely popular.

TV Audience

603 million people tuned in to watch Formula One in 2017. This makes the sport one of the few where active participants is drastically dwarfed by fan interest. The appeal of Formula One’s high speed and high risk format attracts a wide demographic, including viewers that don’t usually watch sports events.

Spectators

Though in recent years, spectator numbers have dwindled somewhat, the average attendance per event is around 203,500, with 77,000 in attendance on the race day itself. For the year, viewership equates to about 4 million unique spectators. At any one event, Formula One is most the attended sporting event in the world.

Star Athletes

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen are well regarded and known, even among non-fans. They command salaries nearing 40 million dollars a year, not counting hefty sponsorship arrangements that net them a sizeable sum. On and off the race track antics mean this bunch is often featured in the news, furthering Formula One’s reach around the world.

Calendar

The season runs from March to November, with a total of 21 Grand Prix in 21 different countries happening on the weekends. The reliability of F1 racing helps with its appeal and ensures fans are guaranteed racing, though time differences to pose a hurdle with devoted fans having to wake in the early hours to view races.

Women

Formula One is dominated by men, with only a handful of women attempting to qualify for a Grand Prix, and only two actually taking part. The races and teams are however open to women.

International Competition

By its very nature, Formula One is a 21 week long international event that spans 21 different countries for a truly global appeal. This spread of countries undoubtedly plays its part in explaining Formula One’s popularity.

Revenue and Value

Formula One generates revenue of around 1.3 billion dollars per year. Teams have budgets up to 150 million dollars per year making Formula One among the most expensive sports, but also one of the most lucrative.

Media Coverage

Formula One is broadcast live or on demand in the majority of countries around the world and attracts an audience to match as described above. TV rights are hotly negotiated around the world, with certain broadcasters paying huge amounts for the rights. During the season and particularly as it comes to a close, coverage online and in traditional media is prominent.

7. Track and Field Athletics

Athletics includes disciplines from the 100 meter sprint to pole vaulting, by way of a selection of throwing, running, and jumping variations. It is a viewer mainstay of the Olympic games and a traditional form of sport with interest around the world.

Participation

Exact worldwide participation statistics do not exist making an estimate difficult. However, given the ease of access, popularity in almost every country on earth, and athletics position as a sport practiced within an academic setting in many places, we deduce that the number is most likely numbered in the hundreds of millions.

TV Audience

Viewership for athletics events peaks during the Olympic games, where events such as the 100 meter sprint are among the most viewed, with over 1 billion people tuning in to watch the world’s fastest runners compete. The IAAF Diamond League, a series comprised of the sports premier events around the world, attracted 282 million viewers across 14 different events in 2017.

Spectators

Over 650,000 people attended the IAAF World Championships in London last year, while at the Olympics the main stadium is always packed out during track and field events.

Star Athletes

Usain Bolt is among the most famous athletic stars, earning a salary of 2 million dollars per year, supplemented by endorsements worth over 30 million dollars. He has also won successive gold medals at the past three Olympic events and due to his idiosyncratic celebratory mannerisms is a familiar face around the world, beyond the track and field world. Mo Farah is also a cultural phenomenon in the UK, while the US is well represented by Justin Gatlin.

Calendar

Athletics is essentially a summer sport though the season runs from February through to September. With the Diamond League, World Championships, Indoor World Championships, World Challenger and Indoor Tour, the season is packed full of events. The four-year Olympics are also an important event.

Women

Gender equality is a firm pillar of athletics with equal representation and popularity. Female stars such as Marion Jones and, more recently, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson, and Torie Bowie also contribute to the fervor for women’s athletics.

International Competition

The structure of Athletics and the type of stadium venues required mean it is an international sport by definition. From Qatar, to China and the USA, the Diamond League is constantly shifting around the world attracting a selection of fans.

Revenue and Value

With ticket sales, relatively cheap TV rights (in comparison to Football) and supplementary income, the IAAF isn’t a financially powerhouse on par with FIFA, for example. Top athletes are however well remunerated and their value is demonstrated by deals with top brands such as Puma, Nike, and Adidas.

Media Coverage

During big events, notably the Olympics, athletics are broadcast around the world with viewership in the hundreds of millions. The Diamond League is aired in many countries and rights are hotly negotiated with media conglomerates such as NBC and Eurosport.

Accessibility

Track and field athletics are accessible to many people around the world, notably those in less developed countries due to the minimal equipment required. Many African nations prosper in athletics though they may not have the government investment seen in other countries. This is down to how simple it is to pick up the sport and a culture of introducing it to many young people as part of school curriculums.

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8. Golf

Generally recognised as a sport reserved for the more affluent, golf is nevertheless a popular spectator sport with many world famous stars.

Participation

There are over 60 million golfers worldwide. An increasing number of people are also flocking to golf courses in established golfing nations, notably in the United States of America.

TV Audience

The PGA tour attracts on average up to 170 million viewers cumulatively across the year, with peaks during the tour’s four majors events and the Ryder Cup.

Spectators

On the ground attendance is estimated to be just shy of 2 million people per year for the PGA tour. Numbers fluctuate somewhat year on year, but there is a firm fan base that regularly roams the links.

Star Players

We would be remiss not to mention golf’s biggest star, controversies and all, Tiger Woods. He is arguably responsible for a massive resurgence in interest in the 00’s. Prize money alone, Woods made up to 10 million dollars per year at the peak of his career, though the number has reduced in recent years due to diminishing competitiveness. His endorsement deals net him a healthy 37 million dollars per annum. His name is widely recognised in the media and digital spaces, even outside golfing circles. Other names include Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, and Justin Thomas to name a few.

Calendar

The season runs from October to September, though the events are spaced out to guarantee a distribution of events throughout the year. With the PGA Tour and the more international PGA European Tour, among other tours across the world, the calendar is well stacked.

Women

The LPGA Tour is popular with spectators thanks to a setup that mimics the men’s equivalent with weekly and masters events. The tour is newer and less established, but interest is growing and more and more women are being introduced to golf. There are also a host of other tours for women such as the LPGA Women’s Tour. Participation numbers are, however, lower than for men.

International Competition

Golf is a highly internationalized sport with events around the world, though the PGA Tour tends to compete mainly in the USA. The European Tour is, however, much different with events as far as Australia and Fiji, to the Middle East and Europe. Golf has also recently been introduced as an Olympic Sport, furthering the international appeal of the sport.

Revenue and Value

Golf’s intrinsic value isn’t so much in terms of earning from events, but instead from the demographic of fans who tend to be more affluent, influential, and financially equipped than other sports. Sponsors are, therefore, eager to endorse athletes and events to further their marketing aims. Athletes themselves are among the best paid in the world thanks to prize money in the millions of dollars for most events.  Golf is renowned for charitable work with huge amounts of money raised; 3.9 billion dollars in 2016. The PGA Tour’s revenue it over 2 billion dollars per year.

Media Coverage

Digital coverage is increasingly relevant with over 400 million visits per month on various platforms. Social media presence is also very healthy with athletes racking in 40 million followers combined. TV rights are priced in the hundreds of millions and golf is broadcast across the world including India, USA, Europe, Latin America, and South Korea.

Accessibility

In the USA alone, there are 15,200 golf courses, which may make you think golf is indeed accessible. The reality is that course fees, country club membership, the cost of quality clubs and travel expenses make golf a rather prohibitive sport. This is very much the pattern across the world, though there is a general upwards trend and efforts are being made to introduce the sport to more people.

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9. Boxing

Among contact sports, boxing is by far the most popular as demonstrated by the huge appeal of high profile events between star boxers.

Participation

Statistics are hard to come by, so to assign a definite number is impossible. It does have worldwide appeal notably in Latin America, parts of Asia, the USA, and Europe.

TV Audience

Super fight events regularly attract pay-per-view figures nearing 4.4 million people in the USA alone. Taking into account broadcasts across the world, figures easily rise to the tens of millions for the biggest confrontations.

Spectators

Attendance for the biggest fights regularly reaches between 17,000 and 20,00 people depending on the size of the venue. These numbers rival those of stadium-held football matches.

Star Athletes

Boxing would be nothing without it stars and they pre-match bravado. Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali, Manuel Pacquiao, and more recently Conor McGregor foray into boxing, all contribute towards boxing’s massive success. Earnings are astronomical and for the biggest fights, athletes take home sums upwards of 100 million dollars, before endorsements are even taken into account. Yearly incomes taking into account endorsement are even higher.

Calendar

Boxing is all about events and they tend to come and go at the whim of promoters and fighters so there is not set season. The Olympics provides some consistency every four years and boxing is a popular part of the event. Domestic events are more regularly programmed, though they vary depending on the country.

Women

Women’s boxing is limited due to long being outlawed. It is more established in Latin America and Europe. As you can imagine, investment is limited and many professionals struggle to make a decent living, unlike the flood of wealth in men’s boxing.

International Competition

Boxing showcases are staged throughout the world to maximize exposure and grow the fan base.

Revenue and Value

A single fight can net a value of over 400 million dollars for the promoters alone taking into account ticket sales, PPV and TV rights. Overall, the boxing industry as a whole is valued at over 70 billion dollars.

Media Coverage

Digital and traditional coverage of boxing is healthy, particularly in the lead up to fights where contenders build up hype in anticipation. Post-fight coverage is also found in mainstream media. In terms of social media, fighters are celebrities in their own rights with millions of followers.

Accessibility

Boxing’s reputation as a working man’s sport make it very accessible to millions of people. Gloves are fairly inexpensive and practice is possible in any sort of gym. Many cities and towns have clubs and rings available for those wishing to delve into the sport. Reaching the higher echelons of the sport is another story wrought with competitiveness and fierce battles.

10. American Football

Though American Football is predominantly played in the USA, it has international appeal and a growing player base throughout the world.

Participation

As the name suggests most participants are found in North America, with over 17 million active players across the NFL, NCAA, high school, and amateur leagues. There are around 80 countries with registered federations in the rest of the world, including Mexico, Japan, and many European countries, who even have established national teams and growing player numbers. The UK alone has over 50,000 active players. An established league also exists in China with huge projected growth as the sport becomes popularized. It is agreed that American Football is a widely recognised sport, yet not a widely played one.

TV Audience

In the USA, over 100 million people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl. In the UK, about 4 million people stayed up to watch the game as well. It was also aired in Australia, Germany, Brazil, France, India, China, South Korea, and The Philippines. The NFL Game Pass also allows many fans outside of the USA to watch weekly games live. Beyond, this NFL games are broadcast by select networks around the world, but only a couple of games a week on average, though the trend is towards showing more games. In the US, the season attracts up to 200 million unique viewers.

Spectators

The NFL regularly attracts large crowds, with an average of 70,000 people per game, and 18 million throughout the season. Abroad spectators flock to both NFL London Games and NFL Mexico Game, where over 350,00 people fill huge stadiums every season.

Star Athletes

Names like Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Rob Gronkowski come to mind, and they are superstars in their own right within the USA. They command salaries upwards of 50 million dollars a year with lucrative endorsement deals with the sports industry’s biggest brands. Social media followers are numbered in the millions and these stars are responsible for a lot of the sport’s appeal.

Calendar

The NFL regular season runs from September through to December, with the Playoffs in January and the Super Bowl taking place in February. 256 games are played by 32 teams. Amateur youth level games follow the usual school year format for their season as does the NCAA league.

Women

Though there are numerous amateur leagues around the world and within the USA, women’s american football is significantly less developed than mens with no professional scene or NFL equivalent. This point hinders the entry of American Football into the Olympics due to strict gender parity requirements imposed by the IOC.

International Competition

The premier international event is the IFAF World Cup where a selection of national teams size themselves against each. Unsurprisingly, the USA has won the last three editions. There is also the European level BIG6 European Football League where teams compete to feature in the season ending Eurobowl; the continent’s equivalent of the Super Bowl.

Revenue and Value

The NFL itself boasts revenues of around 10 billion dollars per year. Teams are also valued in the billions of dollars thanks to ticket fees, prize money, non-football stadium revenue, merchandise and endorsements.

Media Coverage

In the USA, american football is widely reported during games via networks such as ESPN and Fox, and outside of games with dedicated analysis programs, features, and documentaries. Each team also boasts its own radio network, as well as digital content and widely subscribed social media accounts. Online content from other platforms is also abundant in the USA and abroad.

Accessibility

American football is, at its most basic, very accessible due to a plethora of leagues scattered around the USA and increasingly abroad. The equipment is fairly inexpensive and the only real component hindering participation is the large number of players required to play. This is particularly relevant in countries where the sport is in its infancy.

11. Volleyball

Participation

With 220 national federations under the FIVB, volleyball is among the most played sports in the world with active players numbered around 1 billion by some estimates, though this seems high. We can, however, safely assume that there are at least half a billion players across the globe. Volleyball is popular in countries with huge populations such as China, Brazil, and the USA, explaining the large number of players.

TV Audience

Viewership numbers are hard to come back, but we understand that they peak during the Olympics.

Spectators

In the USA and China, up to 8,000 people attend select matches throughout the season. For world championship games, entire stadiums are filled with attendance in the region of 60,000.

Star Athletes

Though by no means as recognizable as stars in other sports higher up the list, volleyball has its fair share of celebrities. Sheilla Castro, Earvin Ngapeth, Kim Yeon Koung, Destinee Hooker and Gabrielle Reece are common names. These stars earn salaries above 1 million dollars per year.

Calendar

The volleyball season runs from November to June with a selection of events at both club and international level. The Club World Championship, European Champions League, and Asian Club Championship are among the most prominent leagues running throughout the season.

Women

Volleyball is arguably more popular among women, standing out as one of the few sports where this is the case. Women’s national teams often outshine their male counterparts in terms of fan interest at international events. Volleyball is also a top girls sport in many schools and colleges around the world.

International Competition

Beyond the club events listed above, there is a generous selection of international events including the quadrennial Olympics, World Championships, and World Cup among others.

Revenue and Value

Volleyball’s value is in the number of players around the globe. Endorsements and sponsorships aren’t remotely as lucrative as other sports. The FIVB earns a comparatively meagre revenue of 31 million dollars per year.

Media Coverage

Media coverage is limited to specialized news outlets and TV coverage is more developed in certain countries than others. Digital content follows suit and though stars have social media followings, their reach is limited compared to more financially lucrative sports like basketball.

Accessibility

Volleyball is extremely accessible around the world and is incorporated into physical education programs in most schools. The inexpensive equipment and simple rules make it attractive to newcomers, hence the high participation figures.

12. Baseball

Participation

Statistics are hard to correlate and estimates rate participation figures at anywhere between 50 and 65 million players across 140 countries. Cuba, Japan, Canada, South Korea, and the USA rank as the countries with the most participants.

TV Audience

As the number one sport in Japan and the second in the USA, baseball has a huge audience in both countries. Around 2.5 million or more people watch MLB games every day during the regular season. For the World Series, it is not uncommon to have over 100 million unique viewers over the course of the event.

Spectators

MLB games often attract over 70 million spectators throughout the year, while the NPB sees around 20 million per season.

Star Athletes

Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, and Miguel Cabrera are some of the most famous players, with salaries easily in the ballpark of 30 million per year before endorsements. In Japan, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Shohei Ohtani, and Koji Uehara are household heroes with similarly lucrative salaries. Japanese stars tend to flock to the MLB after establishing themselves in Japan, then return to their homeland for end of career deals.

Calendar

MLB runs from April all the way through to October. Many amateur leagues follow suit with this format. The NPB follows the same pattern as well.

Women

At amateur level baseball in the form of softball is very popular among women. At the professional level, there lacks the same interest and investment as men’s.

International Competition

Though predominantly a domestic sport, there are international events such as the World Baseball Classic, Women’s Baseball World Cup, and after a brief removal from the program, at the Olympics.

Revenue and Value

MLB records a revenue of over 10 billion dollars per year, and the NBP around 1 billion dollars for the same period.

Media Coverage

In Japan, the USA, and Cuba, major league games are broadcast throughout the season with analysis shows to boot and digital content to match. In these countries, print coverage is also dominant during the season.

Accessibility

Country permitting, baseball is ingrained in many youth sports programs at schools and in communities. Precocious talent is fostered in school teams to aid development. In other countries, facilities and leagues are limited though more and more countries are turning to the appeal of baseball, notably in Europe and Australia.

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13. Ice Hockey

Ice hockey is the most popular winter sport and isn’t only exclusively played in nordic countries, but around the world.

Participation

Registered hockey players are numbered around 2 million, and if we take into account youth leagues and amateur, the figure jumps to near enough 7 or 8 million worldwide.

TV Audience

Regular season NHL games attract around 1 million viewers per game the US alone, while Canada is around half a million per game. During playoffs and the Stanley Cup, viewership rockets up to around 5 million in the US alone. The NHL is broadcast to over 100 countries.

Spectators

During the 2017-2018 season, NHL games were attended on average by 17,500 people per game and overall around 22 million people showed up throughout.

Star Athletes

Stars such as Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, and Patrick Kane earn upwards of 15 million dollars per year thanks to high salaries and endorsements. They are household names in Canada and the USA, though are relatively unknown among non-hockey fans.

Calendar

The NHL season runs from October to April, followed by the playoffs in the subsequent month, leading up to the Stanley Cup final in June. Around the world, seasons generally adhere to the winter months with some bleeding into autumn and spring.

Women

With approximately 200,000 registered female players across the globe, women’s hockey is progressing well, though pay and the coverage of professional leagues remain stark in comparison to the NHL. There is, however, representation at the world championships, the Olympics, and the increasing popularity of the NWHL.

International Competition

Hockey is well served with a variety of international competitions and regional leagues such as the Kontinental Hockey League, which includes teams from ex-Soviet countries, and the European Championships. The NHL also sends teams to China for pre-season games. However, there is some contention when it comes to the Olympics because the NHL refused to allow its players to participate at this year’s edition.

Revenue and Value

Top NHL teams are valued over 1 billion each. TV rights deals are counted in the billions of dollars in Canada and the USA. The NHL itself racks in a revenue of around 5 billion dollars per year.

Media Coverage

In Canada, ice hockey is the most covered sport, while in the USA the sport struggles somewhat to compete with other professional leagues like the NBA, MLB, and NFL. Coverage is supplemented by analysis and segments. Internationally, the NHL itself offers a streaming service to those not located in the USA or Canada.

Accessibility

In hockey nations, the sport is easily accessible and forms part of sports culture notably at school and university level. In other parts of the world, accessibility is dependent on the provision of ice rinks. For this reason, hockey remains a very north centric sport, though there are leagues in Africa and Asia.

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14. Badminton

Hugely popular in Asia, the popularity of badminton benefits from sizeable public interest in huge markets like China, India, and South Korea.

Participation

Badminton is the second most popular sport in the world in terms of participation, with over 200 million regular players registered with 174 federations.

TV Audience

When badminton was introduced to the Olympics in 1992, total viewership for the event was around 1 billion. Since then, the number has risen sharply with an estimated 2 billion viewers for Rio 2016. Badminton also attracts a huge TV audience in China and India on a regular basis.

Spectators

Attendance figures are unavailable though we can safely assume they are healthy in core countries and at collegiate and amateur levels.

Star Athletes

Lee Chong Wei is the LeBron James of Badminton with an estimated worth of 35 million dollars. Lin Dan, Wang Yihan, Pete Gade, and Saina Nehwal are also famous personalities within the sport.

Calendar

The BWF World Tour, the sport’s premier league, runs throughout the year starting in January, culminating with Finals in December. Around the world, the sport is played year round due to it being an indoor activity.

Women

Badminton is one of the few sports where men and women compete against each other in international events including the Olympics. The sport is played equally among both genders, though pay tends to waver slightly higher towards the men.

International Competition

Badminton is well served with international events, including the Olympics, World Championships, Thomas Cup, Uber Cup, and Sudirman Cup. The BWF World Tour hosts opens and masters in numerous countries around the world from Malaysia to the USA, and many places in between.

Revenue and Value

The World Tour is sponsored by HSBC, which gives some indication of the financial implications of the sport. Valuing the sport overall is difficult due to a lack of measures, but player salaries and equipment revenue suggests it is numbered in the billions of dollars.

Media Coverage

In core countries, media coverage is pervasive and games are widely televised. Beyond the Olympics, there is a lack of mainstream coverage in non-established nations.

Accessibility

Part of the appeal of badminton is the simplicity of the rules and the relatively inexpensive equipment and minimal setup required. Badminton is also a huge recreational sport around the world notably in parks and gardens.

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15. eSports

Participation

Over 250 million people regularly play eSports. This number is increasing rapidly with estimates that the milestone of half a billion players is not far off.

TV Audience

300 million people regularly tune in to watch events and league matches. Viewership is mostly found on streaming services such as YouTube and Twitch. Broadcast of eSports on mainstream television is limited to heartlands like South Korea.

Spectators

World Championships regularly fill up 40,000 capacity stadiums, notably Madison Square Garden and the World Cup Stadium in South Korea.

Star Athletes

eSports has its share of celebrities such as Faker, Get Right, and Doublelift, who earn salaries in the hundreds of thousands of dollars supplemented by sponsorship deals and prize pools in the millions of dollars per winning team.

Calendar

eSports are played year round with various leagues in continental regions such as the NALCS.

Women

Women professional players are underrepresented though eSports is open to both genders. Around 40% of recreational players and fans are women.

International Competition

World Championships and international events are staged for all eSports games.

Revenue and Value

The eSports industry has an estimated worth of over 1 billion dollars. Riot Games, developer of the League of Legends title, recently signed a 300 million dollar broadcast deal with the MLB. Prize pools are growing yearly with the highest tier of competition offering amounts in the millions of dollars. NBA, Football, and NFL teams have also started to invest in their own eSports team.

Media Coverage

Though coverage is limited to streaming and digital content, it is comprehensive with 79 million regular video watchers on YouTube, millions of unique visitors on news and analysis websites.

Accessibility

Given that many homes around the world are equipped with a computer, accessibility is high and the fact the sport can be played any time of year helps. For those accustomed to traditional sports, eSports can be difficult to break into as a spectator sport.

16. Road Cycling

Participation

There are an estimated 4 billion bikes in the world and it is safe to say that billions of people ride regularly for transport. In terms of the sport and recreational cycling, the numbers are understandably less significant. The UCI is comprised of around 100 registered national federations.

TV Audience

Estimates vary greatly depending on the source, but between 1 billion and 3.5 billion people tune in to watch the Tour de France every year. For the regular season UCI World Tour Races, TV rights are distributed to over 45 broadcasters and 190 countries.

Spectators

Spectator numbers are hard to determine in road cycling due to the fact that races are run on public roads where access isn’t controlled and tickets aren’t required. The Tour de France attracts between 10 and 12 million people on the roads of France throughout the race.

Star Athletes

Chris Froome, Peter Sagan, Vincenzo Nibali, and Mark Cavendish are superstars in their respective countries and beyond, earning salaries in the multiple millions of dollars each year. Countries like Colombia also have notable stars such as Nairo Quintana, or the USA with TJ Van Garderen. We must also mention Lance Armstrong who, for better or worse, helped popularize the sports globally.

Calendar

The UCI World Tour runs from January through to October, while continental circuits run along roughly the same time frame. Races often occur regularly throughout the week and weekend. Due to the multiple day format of road cycling, there is often top tier cycling to watch at most times of the year.

Women

Though there is discrepancies in terms of prize money, salaries, and coverage, there is a concerted effort to homogenize the sport for both genders. The Tour de France now offers a women’s competition, and though limited to one stage, it is a step in the right direction. Women’s cycling participation numbers are also on the rise and there is also impetus to end the historic use of podium girls in the biggests races.

International Competition

Road cycling is an international sport at its essence, teams are comprised of many nationalities and races take place throughout the world, though the top tier races remain anchored in the sport’s European heartland. Road cycling is also included in the Olympics and the UCI hosts the annual World Championship that attracts national teams from across the globe.

Revenue and Value

The road cycling industry is valued at around 30 billion per year. Internal finances between teams and the UCI are stretched due to a fragile sponsorship model and repeated doping scandals.

Media Coverage

The Tour de France is covered by 100 photo agencies, 350 print platforms and digital content providers, and 70 radio stations. During big events other than the Tour de France, such as the spring classics, coverage is on par with sports like football in established countries such as Italy and France. In Belgium, cycling is one of the most popular sports and regularly features in news headlines with intense scrutiny and coverage of out of race events.

Accessibility

The abundance of bikes and they low cost coupled with easy access to roads around the world make cycling one of the most accessible sports out there. Anyone can simply start riding to enjoy the sport unlike other more equipment heavy and infrastructure demanding sports.

17. MMA

Beyond boxing, MMA is the most popular combat sport and its appeal has grown considerably in recent years around the world.

Participation

Numbering MMA participation numbers is complicated by the fact that it incorporates numerous martial arts. Do we include all participants in these other sports or not? There lies the conundrum. The sport’s popularity doesn’t derive from high participation, but from fan numbers. There are over 65 million MMA fans around the world.

TV Audience

UFC fights generally attract around 100,000 viewers alone. Highlights and online match analysis attract even more post-fight viewers. Premier fights draw in close to 1 million viewers. Around the world, UFC fights are broadcast in Latin America, Europe, and Asia to over 150 countries. One billion homes receive UFC broadcasts around the world.

Spectators

Arenas are small in size compared to larger sports, but regularly attract over 1,000 spectators for regular matches. 70,000 people flock to the big fights among the sport’s stars.

Star Athletes

Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, and Chuck Liddell; the sport is full of recognizable celebrities who bleed over into other sports, as well as TV and film. Their notoriety is lauded as one of the main reasons for the UFC’s rise in popularity.

Calendar

UFC fights are scheduled year round.

Women

Though MMA has a very male dominated history, the rise of Ronda Rousey is explained as the single most important factor in the development of women’s MMA. The UFC women’s league was created based solely on her appeal.

International Competition

As MMA is not a recognised Olympic sport and still carries a foggy reputation in terms of social acceptability in some countries, international events with national teams are pretty much non-existent, other than events in domestic leagues. Normal fights are, however, put on around the world.

Revenue and Value

UFC earns a revenue of over 600 million dollars a year thanks to PPV, TV rights, UFC Fight Pass. Recently, the UFC was sold for 4 billion dollars. Fighters regularly earn upwards of 10 million dollars in earnings each year. TV rights are often sold for around 1 million dollars per broadcaster per year in the US.

Media Coverage

Beyond the numerous broadcast deals around the world, MMA has also been marketed via video games and music. News coverage is offered via digital content on specialised sites as well as via more mainstream platforms. In terms of social media, stars have huge followings.

Accessibility

The combat nature of the sports means MMA participation is limited to those already versed in a martial art. In terms of a spectator sport, MMA is extremely accessible due to the visceral appeal of seeing two trained fighters battle it out.

18. Swimming

Participation

FINA, the sport’s international governing body, has 207 national federations registered across five continental associations. A figure for participation is complicated to ascertain due to the fact that many people around the world swim on a weekly basis without having been registered with a club, league or federation. Estimates vary from 50 million participants to 100 million.

TV Audience

Swimming’s TV appeal peaks during the Olympics games, where it is one of the event’s most popular competitions. In the US alone, viewership peaked at 32 million during the most high profile runs.

Spectators

The Olympics Aquatic Stadium 15,000 capacity was regularly full. In swimming nations, domestic competitions attracts upwards of 20,000 people depending on the size of the venue.

Star Athletes

Peter Phelps, Katie Ledecky, and Adam Peaty are all internationally famous in their own right with salaries and endorsements amounting to millions of dollars. During the Olympics, when swimming takes center stage, they become household names.

Calendar

The swimming season runs from September to August depending on the length of the swim, with a few short weeks off in between. The season is supplemented with an array of events, qualifiers, cups, and series.

Women

Men and women’s swimming are generally on par with one another in terms of interest and coverage. Superstar swimmers tend to earn more than regular professionals regardless of gender. At the Olympics, both genders are equally as popular.

International Competition

World Championship and the Olympics are the main national team events.

Revenue and Value

Swimming’s value is in endorsements and sponsorship. FINA itself has revenues counted in the 100 millions so significantly less than other sports.

Media Coverage

Media coverage is generally limited to specialist sites, except when the Olympics come around and swimming becomes part of mainstream sports coverage.

Accessibility

Given swimming’s allure as a pastime around the world and the relative accessibility of swimmable water means the sport is fairly accessible. Most infrastructure setups have teams and clubs in which interested parties can participate with ease.

19. Snooker

Participation

Finding statistics on casual playership is fundamentally impossible due to snooker being a regular pastime in numerous bars, halls, and pubs the world over. There are over 300 professional snooker players in the world. The sport is extremely popular in China, comprising the most established bastion of the sport in terms of player numbers.

TV Audience

The World Snooker Championships are watched by over 210 million people in China alone, while the total viewers worldwide is over 300 million.

Spectators

The Crucible Theater, where the world championships take place, regularly fills out its 1000 people capacity.

Star Athletes

Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ding Junhui, and Neil Robertson have yearly earnings in excess of 300,000 dollars. Pale in comparison to other sports, but their cultural appeal in countries like China, the UK, and Australia make them famous personalities.

Calendar

The snooker season runs all year, from May to the subsequent May with 38 events taking place in numerous countries around the world under the guise of the World Snooker Tour.

Women

Mainly a male dominated sport, women’s snooker is significantly less developed with fewer active players, less events, and comparatively inconsequential prize pools.

International Competition

World Championship, European Championship, Asian Championship, African Championship. Including the fact that regular competition takes place in numerous countries. Snooker is not yet an Olympic sport, but progress is being made and we should soon see it included.

Media Coverage

In the UK and China, snooker is a regular feature of television with many of the World Tour games broadcast on terrestrial television.

Accessibility

Snooker as a recreational sport makes it very accessible due to the wide availability of playing tables around the world.

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20. MotoGP

Participation

There are currently 25 riders in the highest echelons of MotoGP. Due to the expense of acquiring and maintaining a bike, mass participation is extremely limited and as such MotoGP finds its value as a spectator sport.

TV Audience

MotoGP is broadcast to over 400 million people via over a 100 broadcasters worldwide.

Spectators

MotoGP races regularly attract around 3 million total spectators per season, with an average 150,000 people per event, with the most popular reaching 250,000 people.

Star Athletes

Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez earn more than 10 million dollars per year and are recognised names with motor sport fans the world over. They have significant social media followings and endorsements as well.

Calendar

The MotoGP season runs from March to November and offers 19 Grand Prix races in 16 countries from Spain, Qatar, and the USA, to Japan.

Women

There is no dedicated women’s MotoGP because the races are open to both men and women, though the sport is dominated by men. The only women racing in MotoGP is Ana Carrasco Gabarron, who races in the Moto3 category.

International Competition

The international schedule makes MotoGP an international event in itself with 16 countries visited.

Revenue and Value

MotoGP has a revenue of 250 million dollars per year with much of the value coming from TV rights, sponsorship, and race hosting fees.

Media Coverage

MotoGP has over 22 million followers on its various social media platforms and an online engagement of over 300 million people. Video views have surpassed the billion mark. TV coverage is worldwide with huge reach numbers as listed above.

Accessibility

The expense and infrastructure make MotoGP a fundamentally inaccessible sport, but as above, the attraction is in watching the riders hurl themselves around the racetrack at breakneck speeds.

21. Field Hockey

Participation

An estimated 3 million people play field hockey regularly across the globe. In the past, it was the most popular sport in India, but recent decline has affected player numbers significantly. The FIH has 138 member countries.

TV Audience

Field hockey viewership peaks during the Olympics and World Championship. Beyond these two events, viewers are relatively low apart from heartlands like the Netherlands, Australia, and India.

Spectators

The Olympic hockey venue was regularly full with a capacity of 10,000 people.

Star Athletes

Ellen Hoog, Lauren Crandall, Mark Knowles, and Florian Fuchs are among field hockey’s biggest stars. They are not as widely recognised as other sports stars, but within the industry they are respected with earning upwards of 100,000 dollars per year.

Calendar

The hockey season runs year round due to a selection of different events and leagues, notably the Hockey World League and Hockey India League.

Women

Women and men’s field hockey are as developed as each other, with relative parity in terms of highest earnings. At the Olympics, women’s field hockey is arguably more popular than men’s.

International Competition

Internationally, field hockey is well served with the Hockey World Championships, Olympics, Hockey World League, Hockey Champions Trophy, Indoor World Championship, and Hockey Champions Challenge.

Media Coverage

In India and The Netherlands, field hockey is among the most covered sports. In the rest of the world, coverage remains on the fringes, rising during the Olympic games.

Accessibility

Field hockey is a popular sport at school and collegiate level in many countries. The inexpensive equipment and simple rules make is very accessible.

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22. Table Tennis

Participation

There are 226 members nations in the ITTF, the sport’s governing body. 40 million players take part in the sport competitively around the world, with a even larger number of people playing recreationally.

TV Audience

The world championships are regularly watched by over 350 million people worldwide in 170 countries, with the overwhelming majority from China. The Rio Olympics attracted nearly half a billion viewers, once again mainly from China, as well as Japan, Europe, USA, Brazil, and India.

Spectators

The Riocentro at the Rio games was regularly at capacity with 4,500 spectators. In China, games are regularly attended by millions of spectators each year.

Star Athletes

In China, competitors are as famous as NBA stars are in the USA, illustrating just how big the sport is in the country. Superstars include Chen Meng, Xu Xin, Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Mizutani Jun, Ding Ning, and Dimitrij Ovtcharov.

Calendar

Table tennis is played throughout the year due to being an indoor sport. The Seamaster World Tour and Challenger Series are the premier leagues where players travel to a variety of countries competing against one another.

Women

Women are well represented in table tennis with an established premier league and international events.

International Competition

Olympics, World Championships, World Team Championships, Commonwealth Games, Men and Women’s World Cup, and World Tour Grand Finals.

Media Coverage

On social media, table tennis has numerous fans illustrated by over 50 million unique engagements during the world championships alone. Media coverage is extensive during big events, notably in China. The itTV.com platform is also popular allowing digital content to reach millions of viewers.

Accessibility

As a recreational sport, table tennis’ accessibility is greatly aided by an abundance of table tennis tables around the world in parks and other recreational spaces. The low cost of equipment also helps.

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23. Gymnastics

Participation

Over 144 nations are registered with the FIG, the sport’s main governing international body. Gymnastics is popular around the world, but doesn’t feature as the number one sport in any nation. It is especially popular in China, Romania, US, Europe, and Japan.

TV Audience

The main source of TV viewership is the Olympic games, where between 50 and 200 million people tune in.

Spectators

Spectating is limited to core enthusiast for most events, but numbers soar during the Olympics to fill venues.

Star Athletes

Simone Biles and McKayla Rose Maroney are among the sport’s most famous stars. During the Olympics, they garner considerable attention on social media and with broadcasters. Salaries are low compared to many other sports.

Calendar

Gymnastics events happen year round everywhere on the globe. The real event of note is the Olympics. The sport has a strange cycle of relative obscurity until every four years it springs to the attention of the world.

Women

Women’s gymnastics is arguably more popular than men’s at the Olympics making it one of the few sports where women lead men.

International Competition

The FIG hosts the world championships and a world cup circuit in a variety of countries.

Media Coverage

Coverage is exclusive to niche platforms until the Olympics, at which point most mainstream media cover the events in detail online, on TV, and in print news.

Accessibility

Gymnastics is widely accessible throughout the world and forms the basis of many school curriculums particularly in China and Europe.

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24. Nascar

Participation

Due to the cost of buying and maintaining a car as well as a team of mechanics and technicians, participation in Nascar is limited to professionals and those close to the pro circles. In terms of fans, 75 million people regular follow Nascar races either online, through news platforms or on live TV.

TV Audience

Nascar’s biggest race Daytona 500 attracts around 5 to 10 million viewers every year. Normal races attract anywhere from 2 million to 5 million viewers.

Spectators

Average attendance per race is approximately 100,000, for a year round total of 3.6 million people.

Star Athletes

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Danica Patrick are among the sport’s biggest stars and attract sizeable social media followings as well as earnings nearing 30 million dollars per year.

Calendar

The Nascar season runs from February to November. Nascar’s highest tier, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, consists of 36 regular season races and 12 playoff races.

Women

Nascar is open to Women and they regularly compete in the highest tiers alongside the men, though only one win is attributed to a woman throughout Nascar’s history. Around 40% of Nascar fans are women.

International Competition

Nascar is exclusive to the USA and isn’t competed in a national team format. Nascar’s reach is consequently limited to North America, with little interest beyond.

Revenue and Value

Nascar revenue is over 3 billion dollars per year. Drivers earn an average 7.5 million dollars consisting of salary, prize money, and endorsements.

Media Coverage

Nascar broadcast rights total 560 million dollars. Specialist websites provide news and analysis. Mainstream media cover the high profile races only.

Accessibility

As a spectator sport, Nascar is similar to Formula One in that it appeals due to the high speed of racing. In terms of participation, infrastructure and cost are extremely prohibitive.

25. Handball

Participation

Handball is played by over 19 million people in 180 different countries. It is particularly popular in European countries like Germany, France, Spain, and Croatia. There are 209 national associations registered with the IHF, governing body of the sport.

TV Audience

Handball is rarely televised except for high level events such as the Olympics and World Championships. Millions of people tune in to watch the games. Online streaming is, however, popular.

Spectators

At the largest games, crowds often surpass 20,000 people. In domestic leagues, such as the French LNH, arenas of 1000 to 9000 seats are regularly filled.

Star Athletes

Nikola Karabatić, Mikkel Hansen, Kiril Lazarov, and Uwe Gensheimer are among the sport’s biggests names.

Calendar

The handball season runs from September to April with a host of continental competitions such as the European EHF Champions League, EHF Cup, Cup Winners' Cup and Challenge Cup.

Women

Women’s handball exists in parallel to the men’s with many of the same competitions, notably the EHF organised events, as well as the World Championships and Olympics.

International Competition

National competition between nations is well established with events such as the World Championships, World Games and Olympics.

Revenue and Value

No details available.

Media Coverage

During the Olympics, handball results are widely covered as with many other niche sports. During the regular season coverage is limited to national leagues and specialist platforms, though in some countries, such as France, results are briefly covered in daily news reports on mainstream television.

Accessibility

Handball is increasingly popular is less developed nations due to the simple infrastructure required and low cost of equipment. There are numerous leagues and clubs around the world for those wishing to get involved.

26. Horse Racing

Participation

Interest is limited to a select events in a few countries such as the UK, Australia, and USA. In the UK, there are approximately 400 professional jockeys. Amateur participation is about 500,000 in the UK. We see similar numbers in other countries that have an interest in the sport.

TV Audience

The Grand National attracts over 8 million people. The Kentucky Derby regularly sees over 15 million people tune in, while the Melbourne Cup has around 2 million regular viewers.

Spectators

The Grand National has spectator numbers averaging over 30,000, while for the Kentucky Derby, the crowd often surpassess 150,000 people.

Star Athletes

Jockeys garner some notoriety if they win the big events, but no athlete stands out with a reputation that cements them in the cultural tapestry of any country.

Calendar

The horse racing season runs from April to November. These include Triple Crown events, which are the highest tier of racing, as well a huge selection of races throughout the year in European countries, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, USA, and Latin America.

Women

Horse racing is similar to motor sports in that men and women compete side by side. There are, however, efforts to create women only events with considerable prize pools to further the discipline.

International Competition

No details available. Horse racing is not competed at national team level.

Revenue and Value

Prize money gravitates around 100,000 dollars per race in the highest professional tiers. The industry itself has revenues of around 25 billion dollars per year.

Media Coverage

During the biggest events, results are front page news, but regular season races are limited to specialist media.

Accessibility

In terms of spectating, horse racing is accessible due to the simplicity of the racing. In terms of actively participating, accessibility is hindered by the limited number of horse riding clubs, the cost of upkeep and the need for established race course infrastructure.

27. Figure Skating

Participation

The ISU represents over 70 nations from all over the world. Figure skating is particularly popular in Russia, Japan, and the USA. Active participants for the entire globe are hard to obtain; in the US, there are over 200,000 active participants.

TV Audience

The Winter Olympics attracted over 15 million people for the figure skating events in the US. Figure skating remains one of the most viewed sports during the Winter Olympics.

Spectators

Events often attract over 10,000 spectators, notably during championships and Olympic qualifiers.

Star Athletes

Michelle Kwan,Yuzuru Hanyu, and Alina Zagitova are among the sport’s biggests stars. During the Olympics, many skaters are widely covered in the press, only for coverage to die down when the games end.

Calendar

The figure skating season runs from July, through to June of the next year. The premier events are housed under the Grand Prix of Figure Skating name, which incorporates events in a variety of countries, such as the Skate America and Cup of China.

Women

Parity in figure skating is well established, with women’s skating being more popular than men’s in terms of audience during the Olympics.

International Competition

The ISU hosts a selection of international events such as European Figure Skating Championships, Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, and World Figure Skating Championships.

Media Coverage

TV coverage is limited to the Olympics in most countries with barebones coverage of domestic events. Social media following is limited to enthusiasts, though certain stars have huge followings in their home countries.

Accessibility

The need for an ice rink makes figure skating’s accessibility difficult, and the high skill ceiling may ward off many potential participants.

28. Wrestling

Participation

177 nations are associated with United World Wrestling, the sport’s governing body. The various forms of wrestling, such as traditional Greco-Roman and Freestyle, are popular in India, US, Cuba, and Russia among other countries.

TV Audience

During the Olympics, wrestling attracted a total of 58.5 million people world wide and an average of 23 million per match.

Spectators

Olympic events in Rio and London sold over 100,000 spectator tickets respectively. Due to wrestling being removed from the next games, these numbers are set to plummet.

Calendar

The season generally runs from November to March. A selection of continental championships take place throughout the year as well as domestic championships.

Women

Women and men’s wrestling is equally developed at the highest levels, though it tends to be a male dominated sport at grassroots levels, notably in schools.

International Competition

Beyond the Olympics, wrestling also appears at the Commonwealth and Pan-American games as well as at the World Championships.

Media Coverage

As with many sports this far down the list, media coverage by mainstream media is limited to the Olympics. Regular coverage is available on specialised platforms.

Accessibility

With programs in school, and the low equipments costs, wrestling is very accessible notably in India, Russia and the USA.

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29. Downhill Skiing

Participation

55 million people worldwide participate in downhill skiing either competitively or recreationally.

TV Audience

TV viewers tune in to watch a variety of disciplines including slalom, downhill, freestyle, and moguls. FIS Alpine Ski World Cup events pull in over 170 million viewers worldwide.

Spectators

World Cup competitions regularly attract over 20,000 people over the course of multi-day events.

Star Athletes

Marcel Hirscher and Lindsey Vonn are household names in countries like Austria and Germany where downhill skiing is very popular.

Calendar

The season runs from November to Match with a host of world cup events in European countries, as well as Japan.

Women

Established women events run alongside the men’s at all levels.

International Competition

Downhill skiing is prominent at the international level thanks to the World Championships, Winter Olympics, and the general format of the regular season which visits a number of countries.

Revenue and Value

The skiing industry is valued at close to 5 billion dollar per year making downhill skiing a lucrative sport in terms of equipment sales, sponsorship, and TV broadcasts.

Media Coverage

The World Cup is regularly broadcasts to a host of countries across Europe and the rest of the world. Media coverage peaks during the Olympics.

Accessibility

Snow is a basic requirement, limiting downhill skiing’s appeal to colder and mountainous nations in the northern hemisphere, where participation figures for the sport are high.

30. Rallying

The World Rally Championship is broadcast to 155 countries with an estimated cumulative audience of 700 million people worldwide. Around 4 million spectators travel to see the 13 rally races live that fill up the calendar running from January to November. Digital content is viewed by over 13 million people each year. In terms of participation, the 1 million dollar base price for a competitive car makes rallying rather inaccessible without investment or existing infrastructure. Sébastien Ogier is the sport biggest star with an estimated yearly salary of 4 million dollars. As with most motor sports, men and women compete alongside one another, but in reality very few women make it to the upper echelons of the World Rally Championship.

31. Speed Skating

Speed skating is popular in Europe and East Asia, with a huge following in The Netherlands. The speed skating season runs from November to March with the ISU World Cup taking skaters to Europe, Japan, and China. National teams compete at international events such as the Olympics and ISU World Championships. Women’s speed skating has a rich history and the sport exists alongside men’s events for relative gender parity. In The Netherlands, speed skating is regularly broadcast on national television with audiences numbered in the millions of people.

32. Diving

Interest in diving is limited to the Olympics and World Aquatic Championships thanks to stars such as Tom Daley, Guo JingJing, and Cao Yuan, who are celebrities in their home countries. The sport is dominated by China, who scooped up the majority of the medals at the Rio Olympics. Over 1 million people are actively involved in diving worldwide.

33. Rugby League

Rugby league is a fast paced version of rugby union. It is popular in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, and France. The RLIF consists of 18 member nations. World Cup games are regularly attended by over 70,000 people. The sport is dominated by the European Super League and Australian National Rugby League with an average TV viewership of 300,000 people around the world per broadcast. The RLIF hosts a series of international events including the World Cup, Four Nations, and Women’s equivalents. The season runs from February to January with 23 games for the Super league.

34. Judo

IJF is made up of 200 national federations from around the world. Over 40 million people regularly partake in judo. Not only confined to Asian nations, Judo is popular around the world, notably Brazil and France, and tends to peak during the Olympics, when judo is one of the most viewed sports in certain countries. Men and women’s judo are at parity in terms of interest and participation. Judo also benefits from huge sponsorship deals with renowned brands such as Adidas.

35. Skeet Shooting

Skeet is the most popular shooting sport and is played at the Olympic level, where it sees a peak in viewership and interest. ISSF is home to over 150 national federations and hosts the World Cup as well as the World Shooting Championships. The season runs from January through to early December.

36. Weightlifting

The IWF is home to 187 national federations and hosts the World Weightlifting Championships each year. Weightlifting is particularly popular in China, India, Russia, and Eastern Europe. The Olympics is the main venue for the sport with many casual viewers tuning in for the spectacle.

37. Biathlon

Mainly popular in Europe, Biathlon is among the most popular winter sports in Germany and Russia, which explains its position on the list. TV broadcast is limited to Europe as well with some broadcasts in Asian countries like South Korea. The season runs from November until March, with nine events in eight different European countries. TV viewership is limited to interested countries. In Germany, the World Cup is regularly watched by over 4 million people. The multi-million dollar biathlon industry also benefits from some big name sponsors like BMW and DKB.

38. Kickboxing

Kickboxing is the number one sport in Thailand and has an important following in other Asian countries. Interest in Europe and the USA is steadily increasing though it lags behind established contact sports such as boxing and MMA.

39. Archery

WA has 162 member nations from around the globe, hosting the World Championships. Archery garners significant interest during the Olympics and Commonwealth games. Notably popular in South Korea, Europe, and USA.

40. Sumo

Generally limited to Japan, Sumo is one of the most popular sports there, especially during large events with some wrestlers having celebrity status with net worths numbered in the millions of dollars. Other countries show limited interest such as Russia and Mongolia. Arenas are often packed out throughout the sumo wrestling season. Sumo is a male dominated sport.

41. Sailing

WS has over 140 member nations that compete in a variety of disciplines. There are an estimated 20 million participants worldwide, though mainly in Europe, USA, and Australia. Sailing is an Olympics sport and has a World Championship, as well as a year round World Cup that visits multiple countries around the world.

42. Ski Jumping

Notably popular in European countries such as Poland and Germany, it also has some traction in Japan. Ski jumping is present at the Olympics, and has a World Championship, as well as a season long World Cup, which visits a number of European countries and Japan.

43. Fencing

The FIE is made of 145 national federations with particular popularity in South Korea and Europe. As an Olympics sport, fencing draws most of its interest from this event as well as the World Championships.

44. Equestrianism

Equestrianism emcompasses 8 different disciplines. The sport is governed by the FEI with over 134 member nations. The Olympics, World Championships, Equestrian Games, and World Cup make up the core of the sport’s events. There are an estimated 20 million regular riders the world over, many of them being women, making equestrianism one of the few female dominated sports.

45. Taekwondo

Mainly popular in South Korea, though some interest as an Olympic sport in the rest of Asia, Latin America, and Europe. WT is made up of 209 federations, with an estimated 15 million participants worldwide.

46. Rowing

FISA has 153 members, with interest mainly in Europe and particularly the UK with the world famous Oxford / Cambridge annual race which attracts around 200,000 spectators and is broadcast on mainstream television. Rowing is very popular during the Olympics. In the UK alone, around 200,000 people take part in the sport.

47. Beach Volleyball

In conjunction with the popularity of normal, indoor volleyball, beach volleyball is on the rise in countries such as the USA, Australia, and Brazil. As an Olympic sport it is already fairly established with participation numbers in the USA alone around 8 million. The simple infrastructure and two player format make it very popular as a recreational sport on beaches around the world.

48. Kabaddi

A contact sport mainly popular in the Indian Subcontinent, kabaddi has its own professional league with a huge 435 million viewers per season. There is an annual kabaddi world cup that attracts countries from North America, and Europe as well as Iran, India, and Pakistan. TV coverage is established in India, but not further afield.

49. Cross Country Skiing

Housed under the FIS umbrella, cross country skiing is mainly popular in nordic countries and is an Olympic sport. It also has a world cup and regular TV broadcasts in Northern Europe. Scandinavian countries dominate competition and fan numbers. Popularity rises during the Olympics with millions of viewers.

50. Indy Car

Primarily popular in the USA, the IndyCar Series runs from March to September with 17 different events. Regular viewership is around 2-3 million people per race. Indy 500, the sport’s biggest events attracts over 300,000 spectators on race day. The sport has some traction in Canada and South America, but little further afield.

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