Top 10 Most Popular Sports In The World In 2019
The concept of sports can be dated back to around 2000 BC, where gymnastics was probably one of the first - and most popular - sports of that era. In those days sports were simple games of endurance and skill, and acted as training grounds as well as competitions for the entertainment of the masses. Some of these sports, such as the early Mesoamerican ballgame, were incredibly violent, even deadly, and had ritualistic meaning to their cultures.
There are a few ways of going about mapping the most popular sports in the world. On the one hand, we could define the term "popular" as "most watched" - in which case we would try to measure the fan base for each type of sport. Another option could be to measure the "most played" sports in the world - in which case we would have a much more difficult time, as we'd have to somehow determine how many people are playing each sport, on average, per country.
Today's list will attempt to come to a conclusion regarding the most viewed sports around the globe, as a function of the number of fans - as estimated through participation and media coverage. This way we can use existing data sets to arrive at the most accurate conclusion.
10 American Football
Approximate # of fans: 400 million
The national obsession of millions of Americans has propelled this sport onto the list - outside of North America, its impact is negligible. Many estimates indicate that, of the 400 million fans, nearly half come from the United States and Canada. Evolving from rugby in the late 19th century, the sport was seen mainly as a club or collegiate sport until the establishment of the NFL in 1920. The sport includes variants such as Canadian Football and Arena League Football, with players moving between these leagues at times. Top historic teams include the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, and San Francisco 49ers. There are no teams outside of North America, although the NFL previously had NFL Europe, and plays games in England every year.
Approximate # of fans: 400 million
Developed in America in the late 19th century, the first century of the sport was dominated by Americans. As it has slowly spread throughout the world, other countries have developed great talent - Lithuania, Argentina and Australia have all become competitive. The growth is partially spurred by the urbanization of the globe, as basketball is one of few sports that can be played in minimal amounts of space in urban environments. International leagues in Greece, Israel, and Japan now attract American players who can't quite make it into the American National Basketball Association or are on the down slope of their careers, while top talent from countries such as Germany (Dirk Nowitzki), France (Tony Parker), Spain (Pau and Marc Gasol) and Canada (Steve Nash) are making an impact in America, including winning MVP titles.
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Approximate # of fans: 450 million
Dating back to the 13th century in theory, golf wasn't solidified as a sport until the early 1400's in Scotland, where it was promptly banned by King James II. Possibly the only sport where its home of origin is still used as a playing ground in modern times, the Old Course at St. Andrews has been used for the last 500 years for golfing. The indirect nature of competition in the game tends to be an issue for potential fans - unlike all of the other sports on the list, golfers are never face to face in contest with each other, creating a lack of conflict or perceived competitiveness. American players have dominated the sport, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tiger Woods, although a number of Asian countries have begun to catch up.
Approximate # of fans: 500 million
Developing in England from the game of rounders, baseball has one of the longest-standing codes of play - the major rules have not changed since 1901. The first formal league, the National League, was founded before then, in 1876, and consisted of American teams. The game is unique, with the direct competition of single players - the batter and pitcher - within a team sport. The sport has developed fans across the world, becoming the leading spectator sport in Japan and a national sport in a number of Central and South American countries, all of whom now provide talent to Major League Baseball. Cuba has developed into a world power in the sport, winning numerous Olympic golds, while the Japanese have won two out of three World baseball Classics. In the MLB, teams such as the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals are the most successful and popular.
6 Table Tennis
Approximate # of fans: 850 million
Hugely popular in China, and gaining acceptance in Europe, table tennis has been around for less than a century, but was adopted quickly in mainland Asia. Part of the attraction of the sport, much like soccer, is the ease of play and inexpensive equipment - makeshift nets can be set up on a plank of wood, with simple wooden panels, allowing games to be played nearly anywhere. International play has been dominated by the Chinese, particularly the women, as no non-Chinese woman or women's team has gotten a gold in any international competition since 1992.
Approximate # of fans: 900 million
A simple sport played the world over, all that is needed is a ball and a net. The surface is negotiable, ranging from grass, to sand, to cement. This simplicity of play and flexibility of what kind of playing surface is needed has made this game widely popular. Introduced into the Olympic Games in 1964, with beach volleyball variant introduced in 1996. While traditional volleyball has been evenly matched over the years, with numerous countries winning medals and no one country dominating, beach volleyball has been dominated by the Americans and Brazilians, with the two countries accounting for 20 of the 30 possible medals.
Approximate # of fans: 1 billion
The top-ranking sport that features solo competition, tennis dates back before the 14th century. King Louis X of France had an indoor tennis court built for himself in the early 1400's, but it wasn't until the middle of the 19th century that the modern rules came in to place. One of the reasons this sport is so popular is because it has never been truly dominated by a single player or country - of the Number One Ranked players over the last ten years across the Women's and Men's tours, there have been 14 different players representing 8 different countries.
3 Field Hockey
Approximate # of fans: 2 billion
Developed independently in Europe as well as Asia in the 3rd century B.C., modern rules were developed in the 19th century England, and spread to the English colonies. India and Pakistan dominated the sport in the mid-20th century, while the later part of the decade saw Australia and the Netherlands take over as the major force. While it is seen as a female-dominated sport in North America, across the globe it is male-dominated.
Approximate # of fans: 2.5 billion
Thanks to the British Empire, this sport has spread across the globe. While references indicate that it may have been played as far back as the 16th century, it wasn’t until the early 1700s that the sport fully developed and was codified. It is still popular across the ex-British colonies, particularly India and neighboring countries, the countries of Australasia, and West Indies, Southern Africa, and the British Isles. With large teams and long games – sometimes up to 5 days in length – matches are usually played by county or national teams, with limited matches per year. England and India are the top international teams, followed by Australia and South Africa.
Approximate # of fans: 3.5 billion
The simplicity of the sport combined with the ease of play makes this the most popular sport in the world to play, as well as to watch. Versions of a game involving the kicking of a ball towards a target have been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that a proper code of rules was developed in England. The popularity of the game has created an incredibly rabid fan base, as all towns have clubs to call their own and pledge allegiance to. There is no particularly powerful clubs, as dozens are in contention for international and top-league titles every year.