Ranked: The World’s Most Popular Sports

soccer stadium

Source: Unsplash

It’s a topic that’s been discussed in countless pubs, bars and living rooms all around the globe: what is the most popular sport in the world?

We’re going to set the argument straight once and for all with statistics on the world’s most popular sports. We’ve broken the world’s most popular sports into separate categories including which is the most watched sport in the world, which is the most played sport in the world and which is the most profitable sport in the world.

We’ve ranked the top ten sports in each category — the answers may surprise you!

baseball game

Source: Unsplash

World’s most popular sports by participation

If we’re talking about the world’s most popular sports, we have to talk about the sports everyday people are playing — not just the sports that draw the biggest crowds and get the most funding. We’re talking about the ones that are loved and played at a grassroots level.

sports viewership statistics

According to Clearinghouse for Sport, around 69% of men and 54% of women over the age of 15 participate in sporting activities. Our childhood sporting teams often shape our identity and form fast friendships that last us long into adulthood and playing sports keeps us happy, healthy and socially connected as we grow older.

But which sports are played the most in the world? Well, it’ll come as no surprise to most people that soccer, or football as most of the world calls it, is one of the most played sports in the world with over 250 million registered players worldwide. What may surprise you is that it doesn’t take out the top spot.

sports viewership statistics

Source: footballaustralia.com.au

The #1 most played sport in the world

It’s difficult to put a hard figure on participation as there are millions of people having a kick-around or a casual hit of tennis at any given moment.

For the purposes of this list, sport participation is measured by the number of registered players in leagues all around the world. In a result that will shock most of us (except presumably the almost 1 billion people who play this sport), volleyball takes out the top spot with a staggering 998 million registered players.

Another unlikely goliath in the participation stakes is Badminton, whose popularity in Asia sees it sitting comfortably among more mainstream sports like basketball and table tennis! Astoundingly, table tennis also makes its mark near the top of the list with an estimated 300 million players worldwide.

Many would argue that soccer must surely take out the top spot, and with over 200 countries playing football it is certainly by far the most widely played sport in the world. Counting all the players using jumpers as goalposts and playing on streets all over the world, the figure is probably well over a billion rather than the estimated 265 million registered players.

sports viewership statistics

Source: http://www.volleyballaustralia.org.au

sports viewership statistics

Source: statsticsanddata.com

sports viewership statistics

Source: statsticsanddata.com

Most popular sports in the world by revenue

If your definition of popular is “makes shed-loads of money” then these top 10 sporting leagues by revenue certainly qualify for the most popular sport in the world.

With the top three all hailing from the USA and 5 out of the top 10 coming from football, it’s not hard to see where the money is in world sport.

When it comes to Australia, sport is a huge money-spinner. According to the Australian Government, around 0.8% of our GDP comes from the sports industry with around 128,000 full-time equivalent jobs generated which represents an astonishing 1.5% of total Australian employment.

sports viewership statistics

Source: www.health.gov.au

However, the results are in and the number one spot goes to the USA’s National Football League, or NFL.

NFL game

Source: Unsplash

It won’t surprise many of us that the league responsible for putting on the colossal spectacle that is the Super Bowl has taken out the highest income of any sports league in the world.

When the average ticket price is over AU$200 and the most expensive tickets are well over AU$40,000, is it any wonder the NFL is a money-making machine?

Sport League

Annual Income

1. National Football League (NFL)  AU$17.9 billion
2. Major League Baseball (MLB) AU$15.4 billion
3. National Basketball Association (NBA) AU$12.1 billion
4. Premier League (EPL) AU$9.2 billion
5. National Hockey League (NHL)  AU$7.2 billion
6. Fußball-Bundesliga AU$5.4 billion
7. Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División (La Liga) AU$5.3 billion
8. Lega Nazionale Professionisti Serie A AU$4.1 billion
9. UEFA Champions League (UCL)  AU$3.8 billion
10. FIA Formula One World Championship AU$3.2 billion

Source: Wikipedia (2019 statistics)

sports revenue statistic

Source: Wikipedia (2019 statistics)

The most watched sport in the world

For those of us who hung up our boots years ago or never really possessed much talent in the sporting department, there is still one statistic we can contribute to — spectating.

In Australia, we’ve always been a sport-loving nation and according to a roymorgan.com study, 76.8% of Australians aged 14 and older watch some kind of sport on TV.

sport viewership statistics

Source: roymorgan.com

But which sports are we (and the rest of the world) watching? Here are the results for the most watched sport in the world.


Global Viewership

1. Football (Soccer) 4 billion
 2. Cricket 2.5 billion
3. Hockey 2 billion
4. Tennis 1 billion
5. Volleyball 900 million
6. Table Tennis 875 million
7. Basketball 825 million
8. Baseball 500 million
9. Rugby 475 million
10. Golf 450 million

Source: worldatlas.com

Again, soccer takes out the top spot in terms of global viewership with a mind-blowing estimated 4 billion fans globally. When your fan base represents over 50% of the world’s population, it’s safe to say you can claim the title of the world’s most popular sport.

sports viewership statistics

sports viewership statistics

Source: worldatlas.com

Final thoughts

How did the list stack up? Was it what you expected? Most of us could’ve picked soccer from a mile away but did you really see table tennis coming in at number six on most played sports in the world? Or volleyball at number five?

Prior to World War Two, rugby was the world’s most played sport, with soccer sitting outside the top five for decades. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that soccer saw a massive surge in popularity and went soaring up the popularity scales to number one, where it has remained for the last 60 years.

Will it ever be knocked off its perch? Well, nothing lasts forever but we can’t see soccer losing the top spot any time soon.

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