Top 10 Most-Watched Sports in the USA
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Top 10 Most-Watched Sports in the USA

The number of sports fans in the US and around the world has increased steadily over the past 50 years. Furthermore, after the repeal of PASPA in 2018 led to many states legalizing sports betting, the popularity of sports in America has been unprecedented.

However, the most-watched sports* in this country are somewhat different from the most popular sports around the world. Here in the US, American football is the most-watched sport. However, soccer is the most-watched sport worldwide. It is watched by more people in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia than any other sport. Popular sports in America are growing globally, with the NFL, in particular, growing its brand by staging games in the UK and Germany recently.

Meanwhile, cricket and field hockey, ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, on the list of the top 10 world’s most-watched sports, are completely missing from the top 10 list for American viewers. Two other sports – volleyball and table tennis – although they are the 5th and 6th most-watched sports in the world, are also nowhere to be found among the 10 most popular sports in this country. Betting lines are still posted on these sports on some US volleyball and table tennis betting apps, but the interest level and action are nowhere near that displayed for NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL games. Another sport whose popularity has been rising meteorically is pickleball, but we’re yet to see wider adoption and the inclusion of pickleball sports betting in the US.

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This article will tell you all about the 10 most-watched sports in the US and what makes them so popular.

*Most-watched rankings are based on comparisons of the total number of viewers for each sport. These totals, as reported by Statista, Inc., include the estimated number of fans attending the games in person, watching them on TV, and using streaming apps combined as of September 2022.

#10. Wrestling

Wrestling is the 10th most popular sport among American viewers and absent completely from the list of most-watched sports in the world.

TV viewership for wrestling matches by fans in the US is way down from its peak in the 1990s when colorful personalities like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, “The Rock,” and “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan consistently drew huge audiences. Now that these world-renowned wrestlers are all retired, no currently active professional wrestler has been able to capture the attention of American audiences to the same degree.

However, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a leading wrestling promotion company, has been luring and promoting well-known entertainers like actor John Cena and singer/rapper Bad Bunny in the hope of boosting the declining wrestling fanbase.

#9. Motorsports

It is no surprise that motorsports rank ahead of wrestling as the 9th most popular sport with American audiences.

American sports fans love the adrenaline rush that motor racing provides. NASCAR – the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing – is responsible for greatly heightening interest in these races to the point where they now attract millions of viewers.

The top event of the year, the NASCAR Cup Series, attracts a TV audience of about 8 million people as well as capacity crowds at the racetracks.

While less popular than NASCAR in the US, F1 racing also attracts a wide audience, garnering over 70 million viewers around the world. While Formula 1 was always popular, it became even more so after the release of the Netflix documentary, giving us yet another example of the famous “Netflix effect”.

#8. Tennis

Tennis is currently ranked as the 8th most-viewed sport in the US and the 4th most-viewed sport around the world.     

The origin of tennis dates all the way back to the 14th century. King Louis X of France reportedly had an indoor tennis court built for him. However, in recent years, the popularity of tennis has skyrocketed. The international fanbase now exceeds over 1 billion. Even among casual fans, many former and current top tennis players from the late 20th century to date are household names.

Tennis is also very popular with sports bettors. The tennis events that receive the heaviest betting action at American sportsbooks are the four tournaments included in the Grand Slam: the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.

One unusual fact about tennis is that, unlike most other sports, it is not dominated by male athletes. There have been many equally famous women professional tennis players.

Both American and foreign-born tennis greats are included in the top 10 male tennis players and top 10 female tennis players of all time list, and for long-time avid tennis fans, perusing these names is like taking a trip down memory lane. The top 3 male tennis players of all time are No. 3: Roger Federer, No. 2: Novak Djokovic, and No. 1: Rafael Nadal. The top 3 female tennis players of all time are No. 3: Steffi Graff, No. 2: Margaret Court, and No.1: Serena Williams.

Among the world’s top tennis players who are currently active, until recently, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) had ranked Novak Djokovic from Serbia, as the No. 1 men’s singles tennis player in the world. However, he is now ranked No. 2 behind Carlos Alcaraz from Spain. The current top-ranked female tennis player in the world is Iga Swiatek from Poland.

#7. Golf

Golf, the 7th most popular sport in the US and the 10th most-watched sport around the world, lacks the adrenaline-pumping thrills and excitement of most of the other top 10 most-watched sports. But it has a huge fanbase nonetheless.

The sport originated way back in the 13th century, which makes it one of the oldest sports on the list of the top 10 most-watched sports. Over the centuries, golf spread to many different countries. Today, 450 million fans in Europe, Asia, and the US enjoy watching golf.

The four major golf tournaments are the Masters, PGA Championship, US Open, and Open Championship. These tournaments not only attract the world’s top professional golfers along with promising newcomers hoping to rise in the standings; they are also the most popular golf tournaments to bet on at US sportsbooks.

According to the 2023 official golfer rankings, the top-ranked golfer in the world today, who also happens to be American, is Scottie Scheffler. The two golfers (both American) who are currently widely believed to be the top two golfers of all time are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

#6. Boxing

Boxing, which is the 7th most-watched sport in the US, is a much more popular sport in the US than it is elsewhere in the world. It is not ranked among the top 10 most-watched sports around the world at all.

The fact that boxing has a large American fanbase is understandable, as all of the people who are widely considered to be the greatest boxers of all time, including Muhammed Ali, Joe Lewis, Mike Tyson, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman, were Americans. According to a Harris poll taken in 2021, 33% (one-third) of the 2,000 American respondents indicated a love for boxing.

The sport originated in ancient Greece but only for the purpose of preparing athletes for other sports. Boxing first came to this country in the 1700s. But it was not until 1892 that John L. Sullivan became the first American heavyweight boxing champion, and not until the early 20th century that boxing became a huge sport in this country.

Boxing first became legal in the US in 1920 and was extremely popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Although its popularity declined after World War II, the sport has since made a comeback. Eventually, with the help of pay-per-view television, boxing has become a multibillion-dollar industry in the US.

One person who is widely considered to have been particularly influential in increasing boxing viewership, not only in the US but around the world, has been the number 1 ranked boxer, Muhammed Ali. However, Ali is equally remembered for his outspokenness on racial justice and his conscientious objection to being drafted for the Vietnam War. His most notable and most watched fights were against three other heavyweight title holders: Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman.

  • 1964: Ali defeated the then reigning heavyweight champ, Sonny Liston, by TKO.
  • 1971, 1974, and 1975: Frazier won the first fight, but Ali prevailed in the next two fights. Both the 1971 fight, dubbed “the Fight of the Century” and the 1975 fight, dubbed “the Thrilla in Manila,” were title fights.
  • 1974: This title fight vs. George Foreman dubbed the “Rumble in the Jungle” was also won by Ali.

The 1974 and 1975 title fights both reportedly had 1 billion viewers.

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#5. Soccer

Soccer. with 3.5 billion fans in many countries around the world, is the world’s most popular sport by far. Yet it is only the 5th most-watched sport in the US.

Outside of the US, soccer is known as world football to clearly differentiate it from American football. Soccer is also the oldest sport of the 10 most-watched sports in the world. The sport originated in China in the 2nd century. Given its unusually long history over the course of many centuries, combined with the fact that soccer is a very exciting sport to watch, its incredible popularity year after year is understandable. It is no surprise at all that soccer attracts a global audience that includes countless numbers of passionate fans

Much like the biggest sporting event of the NFL season is the Super Bowl, the biggest and most prestigious tournament in soccer is the FIFA World Cup. An important difference though is that NFL fans can root for their favorite teams to get to and win the Super Bowl every year, unlike soccer fans who must wait every four years to watch and bet on the FIFA World Cup. But for the more than 3 billion fans who watch soccer in the US and around the world, it is worth the wait to see which of the 32 teams competing (48 teams starting in 2026) will be the FIFA World Cup winner.

An estimated 1.5 billion fans watched the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals on live TV as Lionel Messi led Argentina to victory. Another major soccer event with a massive number of live TV viewers around the world is the annual UEFA Champions League final. In 2022, the total live TV viewership exceeded 400 million, of whom about 2.78 million were American. In comparison, the estimated live TV audience for the whole world for the 2023 Super Bowl was 200 million.

#4. Ice Hockey

In 2022, ice hockey was the 4th most-watched sport in the US. However, since the start of the 2023 season, viewership has declined, and it appears that soccer has overtaken ice hockey as the 4th most-viewed sport by American audiences.

It is important to distinguish ice hockey from field hockey, which is the 3rd most popular sport around the world but not one of the top 10 most-watched sports in the US.

The highest level of competition in ice hockey can be found in the 32 teams that comprise the National Hockey League (NHL). The coveted trophy that these teams compete for each year is the Stanley Cup, the oldest trophy in North American sports.

TV viewership of the 2022 Stanley Cup finals averaged about 459 million per game. However, reports so far for the 2023 regular season show average viewership down 22% from 478,000 in 2022 to 373,000. Fans have voiced their displeasure over limited live streaming, expensive cable channel viewing, and blackouts of local games.

#3. Basketball

The 3rd most popular sport in the US and the 8th most popular sport in the world is basketball, with about 26 million American live TV viewers and 400 million from around the world. According to statista.com, more than 11% of the Americans surveyed named basketball as their favorite sport.

Here in the US, but not abroad, college basketball also has a huge fan following. The two basketball leagues with the highest caliber of players are the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at the collegiate level and the National Basketball Association (NBA) for professional players. Contending teams in these leagues naturally have the highest TV viewership. They also receive the most betting action.

The highlight of the NCAA basketball season is March Madness, especially after the field gets reduced to the Final Four. But the most important college basketball game of the year is the NCAA Championship Game. The 2022 NCAA Championship game attracted a live TV audience of 18.7 million viewers.

The highlight of the NBA season consists of the NBA playoffs in which 20 of the 32 teams compete in the Best of Seven series for a shot at the NBA championship. 16 million people watched the Golden State Warriors defeat the Boston Celtics in the 2022 NBA Championship finals.

#2. Baseball

Major League Baseball (MLB) is second on the list of the most-watched sports in the US but at the bottom of the top 10 list of most-watched sports in the world. The discrepancy reflects the fact that outside of the US and Japan, baseball does not generate much fan interest. Nevertheless, about 50 million fans watch baseball games on live TV.

Baseball came to be known as “America’s pastime” because it was once the most-watched sport in this country, but that distinction now belongs to American football. In Japan, however, the most popular sport today is indeed baseball.

The culmination of the long baseball season is the World Series, where the National League champion and the American League champion play each other in a Best of Seven series to crown the overall MLB world champions. 12 million live TV viewers saw the Astros beat the Phillies in game 6 of the 2022 World Series. Minor league baseball is also growing in popularity and has lots of followers across the country.

#1. American Football

The No. 1 most-watched sport in the US is, without a doubt, pro football. The NFL, with 400 million dedicated sports fans, is far and away the most-watched sport and most bet on sport in the US. However, outside of the US, interest in the NFL is limited. It is completely missing from the top 10 most-watched sports around the world.

The biggest sporting event of the NFL season is, of course, the Super Bowl. An estimated 200 million TV and digital viewers saw the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35 in the 2023 Super Bowl, a thrilling game that went right down to the wire.

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Summary

There is no doubt Americans love their sports. Support is often passed from generation to generation and becomes ingrained in a family. Going to a game or watching on TV becomes a ritual and there is undoubtedly a desire to watch sports no matter the location. This has led to things such as live streaming becoming important for any sports fan in the US. The ability to watch sports when you are out on about is appealing. There is now no need to miss that key game due to a prior commitment.

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