The popularity of sports around the world are growing rapidly due to the consistent increase in television rights. With roughly 7 billion people in the world, it’s very difficult to map which are the most popular – for example, table tennis is most popular in Asia, while the NFL’s following is predominately based in the U.S.

Sport for Business member Pledge Sports though has been digging deep among television viewing statistics published for 2016 and has produced a (maybe) definitive list of those for whom the greatest number of eyeballs will land.

10. NFL

Fans: 400 million

Outside of the U.S., this sport has limited following.

However, within the continent, there is such a following of the NFL that the native fans have been able to launch it into this list with an estimated 400 million fans.

9. Basketball

Fans: 400 million

With over 400 million fans around the world, basketball is part of the fabric of the American population, having been established in America in the late 19th century.

However, it has been far more successful in spreading around the world than its American Football counterpart.

8. Golf

Fans: 450 million

Golf can be both a surprising entry and an obvious one, depending on your outlook. First off, this is one of the oldest sports in this list having been established in the 13th Century in Scotland, and it has successfully spread around the world so that it now has a total of 450 million fans across Europe, Asia, and America. This would account for its vast reach.

However, in comparison to the other sports in this list, it doesn’t involve any direct competition as there is no face to face challenge or any adrenalin-pumping action, it instead focuses on patience and personal skill.

7. Baseball

Fans: 500 million

With 500 million fans, baseball is another American-led sport. The first league for the sport was created all the way back in 1876 and the sport has been growing since.

In fact, the reason it has outdone its fellow American sports in media ratings is due to the sport’s ever-growing popularity in Japan. The Japanese people’s love for the game has seen it rank respectively on our list.

6. Table Tennis

Fans: 850 million

As mainstream sport goes, table tennis is relatively new. It started with a dominance in China about a century ago, eventually spreading to the rest of mainland Asia as well.

However, it has now reached the rest of the world, which accounts for its incredible popularity with 850 million fans. One of the reasons this game is so popular is that the rules are fairly easy to pick up, the equipment is reasonable and few, and take up hardly any space at all.

5. Volleyball

Fans: 900 million

Volleyball is an extremely simple game with little equipment and few rules. All you need is a ball and a net.

Furthermore, the popularity of this sport has been evenly distributed around the world which accounts to its fan base of 900 million around the world. It was introduced in the Olympic Games back in 1964 and its beach variation was a real kickstarter for its rapid growth in popularity around the world.

4. Tennis

Fans: 1 billion
This is one of the longest standing and most reputable sports out there with a fan base of over 1 billion people! It has been around since the early 14th century, it is said that King Louis X of France had made for himself an indoor tennis court.

With legendary athletes like Sampras, Agassi, Nadal and Federer, tennis has appealed to the masses and grown exponentially in popularity since the 90’s and noughties.

3. Field Hockey

Fans: 2.2 billion

This game has been around since the 3rd Century BC, having been established in Europe and Asia as well.

While India and Pakistan dominated this sport during the first half of the 20th century, the Netherlands and Australia quickly took over that sport.

According to recent statistics, Field Hockey has currently got a fan following of over 2.2 billion people from across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Wow.

2. Cricket

Fans: 2.5 billion

Cricket’s popularity is in large part because of the British Empire and the East India Company, and their fervent determination to spread their culture across the world in their hopes of bringing ‘civilization’ to the different nations.

As terrible as the intent may have been, this has grown to be a vastly popular sport in the UK, Asia, Australia and Africa – basically the British Colonies of old.

It has a fan following of 2.5 billion people and is the second most viewed sport in the world.

1. Soccer

Fans: 3.5 billion

With 3.5 billion fans around the world, soccer is the one sport that pretty much the whole world can agree upon can be claimed the most viewed sports in the world.

With its combination of adrenaline-pumping excitement, man-on-man aggression, tough competition, it’s really no wonder it comes on top.

Soccer is worth astronomical sums of money to different leagues around the world through television rights as its leagues boast more TV viewers than any other sports leagues, and its flagship event, the World Cup, outshines every other major event without question.

Thanks to Pledge Sports for sharing this list with us. Check out their ever expanding range of crowd funding options here.



Find out more about our next major event looking at the impact of Sport for Social Good in September 2017.