Sport plays a vital role in life and is an indispensable part of the culture of the United States. The vast majority of Americans watch, are interested in, or play sports themselves. This applies not only to the male population, but also to the fair sex.
In fact, I have met enough girls and even older women who support their local football team all their lives and do not miss a single game, some even go to all the away games. And this applies not only to professional teams from the major North American leagues, but also to college sports, which are incredibly popular in the United States.
In this article, I will share more information about the ten sports that are most popular in America.
Mixed martial arts MMA is a young sport that became widespread just a few decades ago in the early 90s. Despite this, mixed martial arts is already among the ten most popular sports in the United States with excellent prospects for further development.
In America, the popularity of mixed martial arts is mainly associated with the UFC organization (UFS), which is the largest MMA promotion in the world. As a rule, the most significant UFC fights are held in Las Vegas or New York.
In addition to contracts with sponsors and income from ticket sales, the main income of the UFS comes from the sale of paid subscriptions to the broadcasts of the biggest fights. For example, the UFC sold approximately 2.4 million pay-per-views (the cost of one broadcast is over $60) for the fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor. In Russia, this fight was shown for free on Match TV.
Tennis ranks ninth in this ranking, but it is worth noting a noticeable decline in the popularity of tennis in the last decade. According to the latest data, about 14 million Americans are interested in or play tennis themselves.
The heyday of tennis in the United States came in the 70s, early 80s and 90s and is associated with such names as Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Since then, the popularity of tennis in the United States has gradually declined, largely due to the lack of bright American tennis players among the leaders and winners of the Grand Slam tournaments. In fact, the last ten years of American tennis are associated exclusively with the success of the Williams sisters.
Golf is a curiosity and unfamiliar sport for most Russians. In America, despite the low spectacle and lack of action, golf is one of the most popular individual sports.
In recent years, a surge in the popularity of golf has occurred due to the opening of new centers for the game of TopGolf lovers. As of 2016, more than 20 million people regularly play golf in the United States.
The two most popular racing series in the US are NASCAR and IndyCar. Curiously, Americans prefer their American series to international Formula 1 and Moto GP.
Nascar has over 70 years of history and is a legendary American motorsports series. The most famous and prestigious race of the “oval series”, which attracts the most attention from the public, is the Daytona 500.
In recent years, the popularity of motorsport in America has declined markedly, which is primarily due to the holding of races on tracks in non-racing states (such as Nevada or California) in an attempt to expand the audience of spectators. For example, television ratings for the Nascar series in 2017-2018 fell by about a third compared to the early 2000s.
This is another sport that is losing viewers not only in the United States, but throughout the world. MMA steps on the heels of boxing and gradually wins back the gap.
The history of professional boxing in the United States is very rich and spans over 100 years. In the 60s and 70s, Muhammad Ali raised the popularity of boxing in the United States to unprecedented heights – in those years, boxing was considered one of the most popular sports. Movies about the boxer Rocky starring Sylvester Stallone were made in Hollywood.
Of the famous American boxers, it is also worth noting Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, Oscar de la Hoya and Evander Holyfield.
Currently, the main reason for the decline in popularity of boxing among the American public is the lower spectacle of fights compared to MMA, as well as the absence of a champion (or at least a contender for the championship) in the most prestigious heavyweight division.
Today, football (or American-style soccer) is the fifth most popular sport in America. The popularity of the American Football League MLS has grown by 27% between 2012 and 2018.
Football has been tried to force on Americans for decades: in the 70s and 80s, incredible money was invested in the popularization of soccer in the United States, but all attempts turned into failure.
So, for example, the legendary Brazilian Pele and Franz Beckenbauer played for the New York Cosmos team in those years, George Best and Johan Cruyff played for the Los Angeles Aztex.
I have talked with Americans who are far from football more than once and the vast majority answered the following question why they do not like soccer: 1) most games are very boring, there are few spectacular moments; 2) footballers simulate a lot. As my mother-in-law says, “no matter how I look at the TV screen during the game, someone is always lying on the lawn.”
The ice has broken in the last decade: soccer is gaining more and more popularity in the US and is predicted to overtake hockey and even baseball in the next few years.
First of all, the “sockerization” of America is associated with the growing number of Mexicans and other Hispanic immigrants living in the United States and being the main football audience. According to statistics, almost 70% of football fans in the United States come from Spanish-speaking countries.
The most popular football in the US in the following cities: Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Miami and Atlanta.
By the way, the MLS football team in Atlanta appeared only in 2017; Atlanta United FC play in the handsome new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and are the most attended football team in the US. The average attendance for Atlanta United’s home matches is over 52,000, and the attendance record was set on July 15, 2018 during a game with Seattle Sounders FC – 72,243 people.
Also, another weighty argument in favor of popularizing football in America is the hosting of World Cup matches here in 2026. The 2026 FIFA World Cup will be hosted jointly by Canada, Mexico and the United States. Holding the World Championship in the USA will give an additional impetus to the development of the popularity of soccer.
Hockey is the #1 sport in Canada but not as popular in the United States. The wider popularization of hockey in the United States is hampered by the fact that hockey is one of the most expensive sports. Hockey is not financially accessible to most Americans, unlike football or basketball, for example.
In addition, North America’s premier hockey league, the NHL, is trying to promote hockey in southern non-hockey regions like North Carolina, Arizona, and Florida, and failing there. Of all NHL teams, the following teams have the lowest attendances: Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Arizona Coyotes and New York Islanders. On the other hand, it is worth noting the success of the new NHL franchise in the face of the Las Vegas Golden Knights team, which reached the Stanley Cup final in its first season and is generally incredibly popular in the gaming capital of the world.
Similar pre-game shows were staged by the Golden Knights at home games in the playoffs last season. Amazing atmosphere at the ice arena!
The most popular hockey in the US is in Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Boston.
Baseball can be called the most American sport and in fact, baseball shaped the culture of the sport in America in the early 20th century. The first professional baseball team was formed back in 1869 in Cincinnati.
The popularity of baseball in the US is falling
Baseball was the most popular sport in the US for a century until about the mid-70s and early 80s. Since then, with the development of TV and television broadcasts of matches, the popularity of baseball has declined. Baseball was at its peak in the era of radio, because baseball games are more interesting to listen to on the radio than to watch on the TV screen. In the 80s, the sports audience finally switched from baseball to American football.
What do we have today? Baseball is actually losing fans and viewers with each one, already yielding to basketball in popularity. The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers played in the MLB Finals this season with an average of 14.3 million viewers. In the last few years, baseball’s most attention has been in 2016, when the Chicago Cubs won the league title for the first time since 1908.
Basketball ranks #2 on our ranking of the most popular sports in the US and is gradually approaching the untouchable American football.
In America, both professional and college basketball are widely known. The top NCAA college basketball players are then drafted by NBA pro teams, adding continuity and popularity to the sport (fans continue to follow the careers of their favorite college players as they move to pro NBA teams).
Speaking of college basketball’s popularity in the US, the 2017 March Madness finals were watched by more than 20 million viewers, and the numbers are growing every year.
The NBA is also enjoying its best years since Michael Jordan, thanks in large part to the incredibly talented generation of basketball players in Loeb.
1. American football
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots are the most famous and popular personalities in American football today.
American football has been the #1 sport in the US for at least the past thirty years. You can talk not just about popularity, but about the cult of American football in the United States.
As well as in basketball, college football is very popular. Basically, student teams are located in small towns or suburbs of megacities.
To give you an idea of the scope of college football, let me give you an example of the Nebraska Cornhuskers team, which plays in the city of Lincoln (a deep province, with a suburban population of just over 300 thousand people). The local stadium “Memorial Stadium” today accommodates 85 thousand spectators, and it is packed to capacity for absolutely every Cornhuskers home game since 1962 (currently 368 sellouts in a row). Just think about it: a quarter of the region’s population goes to the stadium (the remaining three quarters watch games on TV or in bars)! This is not just a sport, but in fact as a religion for the locals! The vast majority of student teams enjoy such popularity. 8 stadiums of student teams can accommodate more than 100,000 spectators!
The NFL is the tip of the American football iceberg. The NFL Super Bowl season finale is traditionally the most watched television event of the year in the United States. In 2018, the final game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots was watched by more than 100 million viewers. The Super Bowl is attractive not only for the game itself, but also for the halftime show, which invites famous pop stars like Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, etc. The Super Bowl in the USA is watched even by those who absolutely do not care about American football as such.