3 popular sports growing across the globe

More than 100 million people watched the most recent Super Bowl. Whether you’re a 12th man loyalist or just an average fan, chances are you tuned in to one of the most popular sports programs of the year. The Super Bowl has long been much more than just a game here in the States. Across the country, it has become a highly anticipated annual social gathering that Americans plan around each February. It has undoubtedly become a cultural event, and although the majority of the Super Bowl’s viewership comes from American households, the game’s popularity has certainly grown far beyond the United States.

And it’s not just football. Thanks to globalization, sports that were once less popular in certain regions are now growing beyond their native borders, and connecting with new people and cultures. While sports like baseball, basketball, and tennis have long maintained a large degree of popularity both inside and outside the United States, three sports in particular – soccer, cricket and football – have increased global viewership exponentially. Learn more about how people experience these three sports around the world (and then help your students see the world by planning a future tour with EF).

cricket popularity worldwide

via Wikimedia Commons

Cricket is coming home. That’s right! Believe it or not, the sport of cricket was once one of the more popular sports in the United States. As reported in The Atlantic, cricket was regularly played in Philadelphia, New York, Hartford, and Boston during the 1700s. The game hit its peak in the mid-1800s when almost 1,000 cricket clubs existed across 22 states. However, its popularity dwindled during the Civil War. Baseball became a common sport played by soldiers, so naturally it took on a reputation as a patriotic game. At the turn of the century, baseball grew to replace cricket as the country’s most popular sport, and by the end of World War I interest in cricket was almost non-existent throughout the U.S.

Today, cricket is most popular in England, India, and Australia. But over the last few decades increasing numbers of Indians and West Indians have moved to the United States, naturally heightening the sport’s popularity in the U.S. again. Last April, ESPN broadcasted an Indian Premier League cricket match between India and Sri Lanka, and matches like these are now regularly streamed online and through digital media players like Apple TV and Chromecast. ESPN estimates the growing cricket market in the United States currently consists of about 30 million fans, with New York City being one of the biggest hotbeds for the sport.

popular sports

via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no doubt soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Anyone traveling outside the United States will likely witness the game’s passionate global fan base firsthand, especially in Europe and Latin America. Although the game has grown in popularity across the United States it has been a long and slow process.

Major League Soccer (MLS) began play in 1996, but it was not until recently, and after years of financial struggle that the MLS earned mainstream popularity. The league currently consists of 26 teams, with four more teams expected to join by 2023. The MLS has also attracted international star players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, and Steven Gerrard.

In just the past few years, soccer has drawn vast amounts of attention throughout the country. During the 2018 World Cup finals, viewership hit 11.4 million in the U.S. alone, even though the U.S. team did not make it to the finals. The following year during the Women’s World Cup final, viewership increased by 22% with the U.S. team becoming world champions.

popular sports

via Wikimedia Commons

Football has been one of the most popular sports in the U.S. for more than 150 years, dating all the way back to 1869. Outside the United States, however, it’s been slow to attract new fans. A short-lived league in Europe, named NFL Europe, existed from 1991 to 2007. After lackluster attendance, the NFL shifted its international strategy to broadcasting and playing NFL games abroad, with a long-term goal of launching an overseas NFL franchise.

Since 2007 the NFL has hosted games abroad in London’s Wembley stadium. Sky Sports, a British-based sports channel, has shown live NFL games since 2005. The NFL has maintained high levels of brand awareness in the U.K. and Germany, where NFL Europe teams were seen as the most successful, but it’s also not shying away from growing its market in countries like Russia and China. Yahoo Sports reported the NFL “is enjoying a significant surge in global interest with Russia and China.” German sports marketing research company Repucom reported that 13.3% of Russians (10.8 million) are fans of the NFL, up 5.3% from last year. But China has seen the biggest and possibly the most aggressive growth trend among its population. In 2013 only 1.35% of Chinese had an interest in the NFL, but the Repucom report now states that interest has grown to 7.9% in the last two years. This translates to an additional 31 million fans in China.

Beyond Asia, Yahoo Sports also claims that South America is seeing a growing interest in the NFL. Although Brazil is famously known for its soccer-crazed culture, there are reportedly 3.3 million NFL fans in the country. Countries in South America are beginning to show interest in the NFL in more ways than one. Ecuador, for instance, jumped into the Super Bowl ad ring vying for a new cultural audience. Ecuador showcased its country’s beauty with its very first Super Bowl ad and a series of digital ads leading up to the event itself.

The beauty of sports is that it brings us together regardless of where we live. Help your students connect with other cultures on one of our tours.


Editor’s note (2020): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.
Topics: Culture

Zach Michonski

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