World's Most Popular Sports (Ranked by 12 Factors)

World's Most Popular Sports (Ranked by 12 Factors)

Sports industry in general has grown so much over the last 2 decades. journalists and fans have been facing this conundrum of ranking sports according to popularity and as the sports industry has grown massively it has kind of made it easy to rank sports according to popularity and other scales. To make a ultimate ranking, its imperative we put together a set criteria and make sports go through them. Once we do that, we will get the best possible ranking according to industry standards. But what factors can be used to help rank popular sports ?

Criteria Used To Rank Sports:

  1. Global fanbase and Audience
  2. TV Viewership (domestic and International)
  3. Professional league/tournament pyramid
  4. TV & Online broadcasting deals (both domestic and worldwide)
  5. Sponsorship & Endorsement deals
  6. Average athlete salaries
  7. Biggest national competition (for example World Cup)
  8. Social Media following and popularity
  9. Prominence media (TV, Website, Mobile apps)
  10. How relevant the sport is throughout the year
  11. Regional or Worldwide dominance over other sports
  12. Gender equality

So that kind of give us 12 factors on which we can scale number of major sports from around the world. This will give us the best shot at creating the ultimate list of most popular sports in the world. So after considering these 12 factors we have come up with the following 25 most popular sports worldwide.

#1. Football/Soccer

why football is the most popular sport

Football is by far the most popular sport in the world. 5 of the top 10 most watched sports events are football competitions. World Cup is the biggest team sport event in the world both in terms of TV viewership numbers and also revenue generation.

Footballs dominance over other sports is massive and there should not be any doubt with Football being the most popular sport in the world. Although football is very dominant in regions like Europe and South America, It still out perform other top sports in regions like Asia, Africa and even North American. The reason behind is very simple and that is general accessibility of this sport everywhere in the world. Below are some of the points why Football is in the league of its own when it comes to popularity.

FIFA World Cup is the most watched competition in the world: Over 4 billion people tuned in to watch World Cup 2018 at some point in a month long tournament. That is by far the highest TV viewership number generated by any sport. Only Olympics come close to these numbers. World Cup is not the only big competition in football. There is European Championship which takes place every four years. Then we have yearly domestic competitions like European leagues, Champions League etc.

Biggest TV rights deals: Top leagues in Europe all played every year have massive broadcasting rights deals. For example Premier League sold its TV rights for current cycle of 3 years where it will generate 10 billion GBP that is more then any other major sport. UEFA Champion League is the premier cup competition in European and it can generate well over $2 billion every year from just broadcasting rights deals.

Competitions with highest prize money: In FIFA World Cup 2022, $700 million will be distributed in prize money making it the highest paying sports competition in the world. Now if we move to Premier League that is a whole different level of cash. 20 teams in Premier League, every year are guaranteed at least 100 million GBP regardless where they finish in the league.

Biggest kit deal in sports: Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona are three clubs with the biggest kit deals in sports. Adidas paying $75 million a year to Manchester United to be their official kit manufacturers. While teamviewer are paying $50 million a year to be Manchester United kit sponsors. Apart from these United can generate more money from other worldwide sponsorship. As far as the national teams are concerned, Germany, France and England generate around $100 million a year in sponsorship deals.

Most valuable sports teams: Against United, Real Madrid and Barcelona are 3 of the top 6 most valuable sports team. Only American sport franchises like Dallas Cowboys, La Lakers etc. come close to their valuation.

Most followed sports teams and athletes: Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United are the three most followed teams in any sport. While if you look at the number at top 50 most followed teams on social media platforms, 25 are football clubs from Europe.

Ronaldo with his 700 million followers (combined FB, twitter and Instagram) is the most followed person on planet. Even the Kardashians combined cant match him. Then you have Lionel Messi, Neymar, Mbappe in the list of top 10 most followed athletes.

Highest average salary worldwide: Now technically NFL and NBA have the highest average salary. But these sports are only played in America. If we look at the highest average salary worldwide, no sport come close to football. A top athlete in football can make over $25 million a year. While even at semi pro level athletes can make more then average salary of their country.

#2. Basketball

NBA become most lucrative sport in USA

Basketball is a sport which is growing rapidly across the world. In the US, Basketball league called NBA is one of the most lucrative sports league in the world with over $6 billion a year revenue. More and more professional leagues are getting established worldwide. To name a few we have in Spain, Greece, Turkey, France, Argentina, Italy, Japan and China. Below are some of the factors showing Basketball popularity scale.

Fastest growing sport in the world: More and more professional leagues are bein established around the world. As we speak there are 13 new professional basketball leagues established over last 10 years. It already put Basketball as second only to behind football in terms of global base.

Highest average salary: NBA is basketball league in USA where average salary of NBA player is around $5 million year. No other competition or sport come anywhere near that number.

Second only to NFL in terms of revenue generation: In the American sports, only NFL can generate more yearly revenue compared to NBA. $6 billion is expected in 2022/23 season and it could reach $10 billion if the experts projections are to be believed by 2030.

#3. Cricket

Cricket world cup third most watched sport event

Cricket is hugely popular in common wealth countries like Australia, England, South Africa, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand. Over the last 20 years, cricket has been growing at a rapid pace thanks to T20 format of sport which is shorter, more exciting and brings in much more cash flow compared to the traditional test and one day cricket. In terms of numbers, Pakistan and India which makes up 5th of world's population, cricket is religion just like football is in Brazil.

Below are some of the factors which make Cricket as popular as it is right now and why countries like Sweden, Poland, Finland and Germany are emerging markets of this sport.

Cricket World Cup is the third most watched tournament in the world: Cricket World Cup 2019 became the third most watch sport event only behind Olympics and FIFA World Cup. Now with the introduction of T20 World Cup which takes place ever two year cricket is consistently retaining and actually expanding its global TV and online audience.

Emergence of T20 Cricket's professional leagues: IPL (domestic t20 league in India) is now matching numbers that of other top sports leagues like Premier League, NFL etc. IPL recently sold its TV and Online streaming broadcasting rights which are worth $6.02bn (£5.13bn) matching that of Premier League.

Countries like Australia (big bash), Pakistan (PSL), Sri Lanka (SPL), England (T20 tournament) and even Bangladesh, Caribbean's have their own domestic leagues where players from all around the world come and participate.

Rapid Growth of Cricket in Europe: Countries like Poland, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands are just a few to name where cricket now getting professional status. according to recent ICC (cricket governing body), by 2030 there will be 15 new national teams from Europe getting official status from ICC.

Women Cricket: ICC has done absolute staller job in not only bring Women cricket to international level but also providing them equal opportunities alongside men's cricket. Women T20 world cup now takes place alongside mens competition in the same month and same country giving them much needed spotlight.

#4. Tennis

Gender equality in tennis

A truly global reach and over 1 billion followers make tennis the most popular individual sport in the world. Unlike other sports listed in the ranking, Tennis usually not a team sport. But even with individual participation, it has made its way to the top of sports pyramid. year grand slams (Australia Open, Wimbledon, US Open and French Open) are four of the most prestigious tournaments in tennis. They also hold significant importance in every sports calendar. Below are some of the factors in which tennis comes up triumph.

Global calendar year: Tennis has several events which are categorized according to status like ATP 500, ATP 250, Masters and Grand Slams). These events take place around the world and unlike other sports Tennis is played throughout the year non-stop. Every event has different weight in terms of status, Grand Slams are the pinnacle of tennis while other ATP events allow young tennis stars to make a name for themselves.

Ultimate gender equality: Yes that is right, tennis is the first if major sport to bring in gender equality and that has played a big role in other sports accepting an implementing the same. Tennis has been working on equality for best part of last 40 years and by 2006 it had reached a point where grand slam prize money was same for both mens and women tennis players.

Most lucrative Individual sport: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic are three of the highest paid athletes not only in Tennis but also usually make it in the list of Forbes Top 20 highest earning athletes. Sarena Williams and Maria Sharapova for example have done very well for themselves both on court and off it as well. Sarena Williams is the highest paid women athlete in the world. She earns around $15 million a year only from sponsorship deals.

#5 Rugby

rugby world cup 2023 will be most watched every

Rugby is dominant sport in some of the developed countries including England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, France and South Africa. However it has been growing at a steady rate and countries like Argentina, Italy, Japan etc. are now have very good rugby teams.

Professional Leagues & Competitions: Rugby World Cup is one of the most watched tournament in the world only behind FIFA World Cup and Cricket World Cup. All the countries mentioned above have their domestic leagues where France and England have the most lucrative leagues where rugby players from all around the world come and play.

2.47 million tickets were sold during rugby World Cup 2019: Only football world cup has sold more tickets. Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle in this sport for rugby players and fans. It has over 20 teams and played over a month.

#6. Boxing

boxing live streams totalsportek

Boxing is one of the earliest professional sports in the world and it has gone from strength to strength in most of the 19th century. Boxing also became one of the first sport to be widely televised worldwide and some of the big name boxers like Muhammad Ali and his fights kind of paved the way for modern sport broadcasting standards. As the thing stand, Boxing is still the most popular combat sport even with the introduction of MMA and success of WWE etc. in the 90s.

Highest grossing Boxing fight: Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao fight in 2014 became the most lucrative boxing fight. This fight also became one of the most watched one-time (single day) sport event in history of sports. Mayweather's record breaking purse of $250 million from this fight is more then anything a sportsmen has earned in just 1 days work.

Worldwide Audience: Although Boxing is very lucrative sport in the US and UK, the worldwide audience has been on the rise since 90s during Mike Tyson era. As boxing move away from traditional TV coverage to online streaming platforms, it is generating more live views in the world now compared to the past.

Boxing is still part of Olympics but at Amateur level. Winning medal in Olympics can pave the way for amateur boxer to become professional where the money really is.

#7. Formula 1

Formula 1 Streams totalsportek

Formula 1 is a weird sport in this list considering its not available at the grass root levels and drivers from very specific countries and backgrounds actually get a chance to race in F1.

Most number of events around the world: Unlike other sports, F1 is truly global in a sense that 1 F1 season has around 22 grand prix and they take place in at least 20 different countries. No other sport come close to this aspect of globalization.

Worldwide TV & Streaming Deals: Formula 1 has a massive TV audience and it is also held in 20 different countries every year. F1 signed one of the most lucrative TV rights deal not only in developed countries like USA, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Spain and Italy but also in countries where this sport is not available to be participate.

Most watched grand prix: In 2021 season, In the very last grand prix of the year Max Verstappen defeated 7 time world champions Lewis Hamilton at Abu Dhabi. This race broke all kinds of records in TV and online streaming numbers. It was one of the most watched every of 2021. Another similar sport in motorsport is MotoGP which works the same way worldwide but has much less following.

Massive driver salaries: In 2022, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are two of the highest paid athletes in world of sports. Both have long term contract with their respective f1 teams. Hamilton is currently making $54 million a year while Verstappen new contract after winning F1 title is worth $53 million a year on a 7 year deal. Average salary in F1 is around $1 million year.

#8. MMA (UFC)

UFC Live Streams

One of the fastest growing sport in the world. MMA was around before the 90s but was not official registered and usually played away from mainstream media. However with introduction of UFC in early 90s and this sport getting licence in United States it started to get massive popularity in the US. From there as it became more commonly available on TV it spread worldwide. Now with online streaming services its available in almost every region in thew world making it as big as Boxing in terms of combat sports.

Highest Grossing MMA Fight Of All-Times: MMA do not have the history like boxing but it do have some fights which can compete with some of the biggest boxing fights. When Conor McGregor took on Khabib it became the most watched and biggest MMA fight of all times. Both fighters cleared well over $100 million from this fight alone.

Online Streaming of UFC worldwide: UFC has signed many TV rights deals across the world in developed countries like USA, UK etc. But outside of that they are moving away from traditional TV and making sure everyone has access to same coverage worldwide with their inhouse streaming platform called UFCgamepass. That is available worldwide at decent rate which more people can watch this sport

#9. Athletics


Olympics most watched every every four is the 100m sprint race and that has gone up a few levels in terms of TV numbers thanks to Usain Bolt and his incredible performances in the last few Olympics. Other events like Marathons and Long Jump etc are also very popular. As you can imagine Running is one of the oldest sport in the world and it was also very first to be added in ancient Olympics in Greece.

#10. NFL

NFL streams

Another sport which might be controversial to be included in this list, NFL is the official league of American football in the US. This sport is not played outside the USA so one might thing how can it be more popular then other sports like ICE hockey, Volleyball or even Golf which are played in many other regions. Well, first of all NFL is the most lucrative sports league in the US and US is a big market to say the least. 

  • The sport is dominant in the US that 2pm kickoffs on Sunday during regular season almost 400 million people watch around 10 matches starting at the same time from the US. 
  • One of the highest salary and also highest average salary belong to NFL in the US
  • Its the most lucrative sport league in the world with over $10 billion yearly revenue. 
  • Some of the teams in NFL are in the top 10 list of most valuable sports teams in the world.