Sports have been part of human history for years and the earliest records date back to 5000 BC when a Chinese form of soccer called Tsu Chu was played.
Through the years, sports have evolved to the point you can’t really put an exact number on the ones that exist right now. The popularity of sports was further boosted with the invention of broadcasting and the internet. Now people can watch their favorite sports, live, from the comfort of their homes.
However, not all sports are created equal, some are more popular than others and that’s what this article is all about.
This is a detailed breakdown of the most watched sports in the world, complete with amazing statistics that back up the numbers.
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Most Popular Sports in the World Right Now
- 1. Soccer – 3.5 Billion Viewers
- 2. Cricket – 2.5 Billion Viewers
- 3. Basketball – 2.2 Billion Viewers
- 4. Field Hockey – 2 Billion Viewers
- 5. Tennis – 1 Billion Viewers
- 6. Volleyball – 900 Million Viewers
- 7. Table Tennis – 850 Million Viewers
- 8. Baseball – 500 Million Viewers
- 9. Golf – 450 Million Viewers
- 10. Rugby – 410 Million Viewers
- Wrapping Up
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Soccer has its origins in ancient China dating back to 2,500 BC. But the modern version was refined in England in the 19th century with modern rules put in place in 1863 by the Football Association. The game then spread rapidly to other continents.
Let’s talk numbers now. Last year alone, the 2022 World Cup final between France and Argentina drew a record 1.5 billion people.
But here’s the kicker, the World Cup is just one of the many huge soccer tournaments. There are others like the European Champions League which usually attracts over 400 million TV viewers every year.
Other popular leagues that have captured the hearts of billions include the EPL, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, among others.
The sport has also given birth to very iconic soccer players like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Maradona, Pele, Johan Cryuff, Neymar, and so many more.
Furthermore, soccer has now added women leagues and a global competition for them to its roster. There was even a Women’s World Cup this year that attracted over 1.9 million viewers, a significant increase to the 1.3 million from 2019.
To further compound how popular soccer is, some of the most valuable soccer clubs in the world are valued in billions. Manchester City leads the pack with €1.51 billion, Real Madrid (€1.46 billion), Barcelona (€1.37 billion) and Manchester United (€1.36 billion).
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Cricket was invented in the 16th century in England and within 200 years, it had become one of the most popular sports in the world with impressive viewership numbers.
As of 2023, Cricket has 104 member countries with over 4,200 professional cricketers worldwide and over 30 million registered players.
Cricket has over 2.5 billion viewers worldwide with most of these coming from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The sport is popular among people of all ages and gender.
The popularity of cricket across the globe has been greatly influenced by several leagues. But the most watched and lucrative league in the world right now is the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Other well-known leagues include the Pakistan Super League (PSL), the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), and the Big Bash League (BBL) in Australia. Each year, these leagues offer tremendous cricket entertainment while showcasing elite talent.
The most popular cricket player in the world is Sachin Tendulkar and he is regarded by many cricket fans as the best to ever grace the game. Other big names of the sport include Virat Kohli, Sir. Garfield Sobers and Sir Donald Bradman.
Other popular cricket tournaments besides the ICC Cricket World Cup include ICC World Twenty20, the Ashes series, the Asia Cup, among many others.
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Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith in Springfield. He created a set of rules for a game in which participants would score balls into a peach basket that was hung on the wall of a gymnasium.
This modest start provided the groundwork for the modern sport and it didn’t take long before basketball became the most popular sport in the United States of America.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the most watched basketball league in the world. It significantly contributes to the 2.2 billion viewership that the sport receives worldwide.
Other leagues that have also propelled the sport to a wider global audience includes the Euro League, which brings together the best European teams to compete against each other for different European titles and honors.
There’s also the Chinese Basketball Association, which has grown very rapidly in recent years and expanded the sport to a huge Chinese market.
Like most of the sports on this list, Basketball is not without its own list of global superstars that are held in very high regard around the world. The most known names include Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Stephen Curry, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, just to mention a few.
Notable basketball tournaments beside the popular national leagues that also attract a lot of viewers include FIBA Basketball World Cup, NCAA March Madness, and the NBA Finals.
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Field Hockey is another ancient sport whose origins date back to Egypt, Greece and Persia before it developed into the modern game in the British Isles in the 19th century.
The sport’s growth may not have been as meteoritic as soccer or basketball, but it has garnered a legion of global fans with about 2 billion viewers worldwide.
There are so many hockey leagues around the world that it’s hard to keep track and more continue to pop up as the game gains more traction.
But the most popular leagues include the National Hockey League that has competitions like the Stanley Cup which has consistently attracted millions of views every year since 2008. The best performing year was 2013 where it drew in 5.8 million viewers.
Other popular field hockey leagues from around the world include the Hockey India League which has both men and women’s teams competing for different cups through regular seasons.
There’s also the Euro Hockey League which is based in Europe and features the best hockey teams from all over the continent that go against each other in a format similar to soccer’s Champions League.
Another significant league that draws in impressive viewership numbers is the Australian Hockey League that features teams from mainland Australia and neighboring countries like New Zealand.
Notable global tournaments include the Olympic Games, the Hockey World Cup that’s held every 4 years and the Commonwealth Games.
The most famous hockey players who have etched their names in the history books include James Dwyer from Australia, Luciana Aymar from Argentina and Teun de Nooijer from The Netherlands.
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Tennis can be traced back to the 13th century where it evolved from the early version of the French handball game called jeu de paume.
But the sport gained global recognition in the 1960s where major tournaments were created to meet the growing demand for the game and currently has over 1 billion fans and viewers worldwide.
One of the most popular tennis tournaments is Wimbledon and in 2022, it attracted over 53.8 million viewers from around the globe. The 2022 French Open on the other hand brought in 42 million viewers in total.
And speaking of tournaments, Tennis has a long list of prominent tournaments that not only attract sizable crowds and viewers but also offer huge money prizes. Notable tournaments include the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association.
There’s also the US Open, Australian Open, BNP Paribas Open, Laver Cup and on top of that, the sport features in Olympic games every four years.
The popularity of the game has also given birth to some of the most respected sportsmen and women. Some well known names include Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Andre Agasi, Boris Becker, Naomi Osaka and the most successful and famous pair of them all, Venus and Serena Wiilams.
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With over 900 million dedicated viewers worldwide, Volleyball is the 6th most popular sport and it has a rich history dating back to 1895. It was created by William G. Morgan in Massachusetts and since then, the sport has grown so much that it features in major tournaments like the Olympics.
But what sets volleyball apart from the rest of the sports here is the number of people who play it. The thing with volleyball is that it doesn’t have as many requirements like soccer, basketball or field hockey.
It can be played anywhere and that makes access to it much easier, which explains why it has a high number of players, both professionals and amateurs.
Furthermore, volleyball isn’t just about viewership and participation rates. The sport has a significant impact on society and it fosters athleticism, collaboration, and communication. It is the kind of sport that unites people beyond national boundaries and linguistic barriers.
As for the major volleyball tournaments, there are strong national leagues like the Italian Serie A1, Russian Super League. Brazilian Superliga, Polish PlusLiga, and the Japan V.League.
Global competitions that pit the very best of volleyball teams against each other includes the NCAA Volleyball Championship, Volleyball Nations League, FIVB World Championships and the Olympics.
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Table Tennis was developed by the British military in the 1860s while they were stationed in India. The game was so interesting that they brought it back to England where it started to gain popularity with people who then spread it to other parts of the world.
As of 2023, table tennis is estimated to have over 850 million viewers worldwide and that’s very impressive. The table tennis matches in the Tokyo 2020 olympics drew in about 350 million unique viewers from China alone, with the mens and women’s finals being the most watched.
Besides the Olympics, there are other prominent table tennis leagues worldwide that people can watch from anywhere. There’s the China Table Tennis Super League that features the best Chinese players.
You can also catch exciting action on the German Bundesliga, and T2 Diamond Table Tennis League which features international teams. Global competitions include the ITTF World Championship and the ITTF World Cup.
The most popular table tennis players that have made history include Ma Long and Zhang Jike from China and Dmitriij Ovtcharov from Germany.
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Baseball is one of the most popular sports in the United States and that’s mainly because it was invented there in the 19th century.
The National Association of Professional Baseball Players, the first professional baseball league, was founded in 1871. It eventually evolved into the current Major League Baseball (MLB), which consists of the American and National Leagues.
Baseball is not just big in the United States alone, the latest figures estimate that it gets over 500 million viewers from different regions of the globe and that number keeps rising as more countries adopt the game.
Another interesting fact that showcases the game’s popularity is how the 2022 MLB opening day registered over 172 million watched minutes on the MLB TV.
Besides the Major League Baseball league that’s based in the United States, other popular leagues include the Nippon Professional Baseball league that’s based in Japan and features amazing teams like Yomiuri Giants and Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
Another well-known league is the Cuban National Series where some of the greatest MLB players in America started their professional careers.
Examples of notable global baseball tournaments are the MLB World Series and the World Baseball Classic.
Like all the other sports, baseball has produced a number of players with a cult-like following around the world. They include Babe Ruth, Ichiro Suzuki, and Derek Jeter.
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The modern game of golf was invented in Eastern Scotland in the 15th century although some historians believe it started much earlier in the Roman empire era.
Golf, which is frequently thought of as a leisurely activity, has astonishingly developed into one of the most popular and beloved sporting events worldwide.
Golf’s ongoing appeal is due to its special fusion of skill, strategy, and tradition. It may not have the intensity of football or the speed of Formula 1, but it does have a unique pull of its own that’s hard to deny.
Golf has over 450 million viewers globally and this is a result of multiple tournaments that are held in different places around the world. For example, the 2023 Masters held in April garnered 15 million viewers, which was a new record.
Other prestigious golf tournaments include the US Open, the British Open, Ryder Cup, players Championship and the President’s Cup.
The game is also full of popular players that are known all over the world like Tiger Woods, Rory Mcllroy, and Phil Mickelson.
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Rugby is believed to have started in 1823 at Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire, England in 1845. It borrows heavily from soccer only that it involves using both hands and feet.
It didn’t take long for rugby to enchant sports fanatics across the world and at this moment, the 2023 Rugby World Cup is underway with millions of people tuning in.
Rugby has an estimated global audience of over 410 million people and this has come through television viewership which has played a huge role in expanding the game’s reach every time there’s a major tournament.
Social media engagement and physical attendance have also been big drivers, especially in rugby-crazy countries like New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and South Africa.
Some of the standout rugby leagues with massive followers include the Rugby Premiership in England, Super Rugby which brings together the best teams from New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina. Another amazing league includes the Top 14 in France.
Major Rugby tournaments held across the world include the Six Nations Championship and the Rugby Championship.
Popular rugby players that have made a name for themselves include Jonny Wilkinson from England, Richie McCaw from New Zealand and the most famous of them all, Jonah Lomu from New Zealand.
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These 10 are the most popular sports in the world and they have viewership numbers to back that up.
Soccer takes the cake with 3.5 billion followed by cricket with 2.5 billion viewers and Basketball wrapping up the top 3 positions with 2.2 billion.
These numbers keep rising and you never know what the list will look like in ten years time because sports always evolve.
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