Top 10 Most Popular Sports In America – What Are The Most Watched Sports in USA?

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9 minutes

Last Updated: February 13, 2024

Scott Kostov

The top 10 most popular sports in America generate an obscene amount of income on a yearly basis. And it’s not just the entertainment industry. Trying to predict NBA winners each night has made the betting industry a billion-dollar business.

So what are the most popular sports in America? Your first guesses are probably true, considering it affects how the NFL salary cap works. NBA players also feel the effect of viewer satisfaction, with NBA veteran minimum contracts being dictated by it.

If you’re still wondering what is the most popular sport in the USA, stick around. We have ranked the top 10 most popular sports in America based on viewership, revenue and community so let’s go!

What is The Most Popular Sport in the USA?

As of 2024, American Football still holds the crown for the most popular US sport. With over 74,5% of the US population claiming to follow this professional sport and its main league, the NFL (National Football League), it’s head and shoulders above anything else.

With an average of 18 million viewers tuning into every single regular season NFL game, the numbers seem to confirm this claim. Ahead of the 2024 NFL Super Bowl, the past 3 playoff rounds saw an average of 38,5 million viewers witnessing the action through TV and digital outlets (streaming services).

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But when it comes to actually playing a sport, American Football is actually in second place. According to a study conducted by Statista from the spring 2021 to spring 2022, 26% of the 5500 entries said they played basketball. This number is higher than the 22% of the questions who responded with football as their favorite recreational sport.

So 3 out of 4 Americans who follow and watch the NFL closely, more of them would rather play basketball than tackle on the gridiron. But what about baseball? How can those teams afford to hand out such massive contracts?

Well turns out baseball is the third most watched and played sport in the USA. 50% of Americans follow the MLB, which is slightly behind the 56% keeping an eye on the NBA. When it comes to recreational activities, just 18% of the participants in the survey said that baseball is their favorite sport to play.  

Most Popular US Sport By Viewers

But outside of these 3 sports that serve as the cultural foundation for many Americans, what are the most popular sports in America? According to the same survey done by Statista, this is how the numbers play out. 

  • Football: 74,5;
  • Basketball: 56,6%;
  • Baseball: 50,5%;
  • Boxing: 23,4%;
  • Hockey: 22,1%;
  • Soccer: 21,6%;
  • Golf: 19,7%;
  • MMA/ Wrestling: 16,7%;
  • Motorsports (NASCAR, Monster Trucks): 15,5%;
  • Tennis: 14,6%
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Most Watched Sports in The USA

That’s great and all, but does this attention necessarily translate into revenue? That doesn’t seem to be the case, as the most popular sports in America slightly differ from the most watched ones.

During the 2023 calendar year, the NFL season blew viewership numbers out of the water. The NFL reclaimed the top spot as the most watched sport in the US, with 975 billion minutes watched in 2023.

The MLB comes in at a distant second, with 330 billion minutes watched during the 2023 campaign. Surprisingly, the MLB beats out the NBA in watch time. This is despite more Americans enjoying playing basketball rather than baseball.

With 285 billion minutes watched in 2023, the NBA comes in at third in terms of viewership among the major US sports leagues. The NBA season does consist of less games than the MLB season, but that’s not the only reason for this gap.

The NHL is coming in at a respectable fourth place, with 181 billion minutes watched during 2023. There’s a significant drop off in popularity after these 4, with the MLS being the fifth most watched US sports league, with a measly 3 billion minutes watched in 2023. And most of this is thanks to Messi.

Top 10 Most Popular Sports in America

Football

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American football stands as the unrivaled titan amongst the most popular sports in America. By default, it holds unparalleled viewership and cultural significance on the continent. Rooted in a rich history dating back to 1869, its fusion of rugby and soccer elements birthed a dynamic game.

The main objective is to maneuver the ball across the field for a touchdown or get in field goal range at least. The NFL and AFL were once separate entities, but they merged in 1967, solidifying American football’s status as a national treasure.

From iconic figures like Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, and Emmitt Smith to contemporary sensations such as Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, and Josh Allen, American football boasts a lineage of greatness.

The NFL’s annual showcase, the Super Bowl, reigns as the pinnacle of sports entertainment. It attracts millions of viewers and lucrative sponsorships, with its halftime show having unparalleled commercial appeal.

The Super Bowl halftime shows feature performances from renowned artists and captivate audiences beyond the game itself. Played at various levels, from professional leagues to college and high school competitions, football serves as a unifying force that fosters community spirit and national pride. 

The coexistence of the NFL and NCAA on different playing days highlights the sport’s immense reach and popularity, further solidifying its enduring dominance. At its core, American football is a strategic team sport characterized by intense physicality and intricate tactics. 

Basketball

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Basketball has become one of the most popular sports in America and around the globe in the past few years. That’s because every dribble, pass, and shot unfolds a captivating tale of athleticism and determination.

Originating in the United States in the 19th century, basketball has evolved into one of the most beloved sports in America, captivating millions of fans both domestically and globally.

At its core, basketball is a dynamic game played between two teams of five players each, with the objective of shooting a basketball through the opposing team’s hoop while defending your own. Its popularity soared post-World War II, fueled by the invention of cable television and a surge in school basketball programs, with over 17,000 high schools boasting basketball teams.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) reigns as America’s and the world’s premier basketball league. It serves as the breeding ground for some of the sport’s most iconic figures such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Magic Jonhson among others.

These players have left an indelible mark on the game, shaping its history and inspiring generations of aspiring athletes.

Basketball’s evolution is punctuated by iconic moments and rivalries that have transcended the court. The 1980s saw the emergence of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, whose rivalry electrified the league, while Michael Jordan’s dominance in the 1990s elevated the game to new heights, propelling the NBA into the global spotlight.

Today, basketball continues to captivate audiences with its fast-paced action and electrifying gameplay, showcasing unparalleled skill and athleticism.

But basketball is more than just a sport—it’s a cultural phenomenon deeply ingrained in American society. From the bustling courts of urban neighborhoods to the gleaming arenas of professional leagues, basketball unites communities and transcends boundaries, fostering a sense of camaraderie and passion among fans worldwide.

Baseball

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Although not as dominant as basketball and football, baseball holds a special place in the hearts of millions across the nation, earning its title as America’s national pastime. From the crack of the bat to the roar of the crowd, baseball’s allure lies in its rich history, strategic gameplay, and enduring appeal.

Dating back to the late 18th century, baseball has evolved into a cornerstone of American sports culture. To this day, it continues to captivate fans with its blend of athleticism and strategy. With roots deeply intertwined with the American dream, baseball serves as a testament to perseverance, teamwork, and the pursuit of excellence.

Despite facing challenges in recent years, baseball remains a cherished tradition, with Major League Baseball (MLB) standing as the pinnacle of professional competition. Home to iconic teams like the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the MLB boasts a roster of legendary players, from Babe Ruth to Aaron Judge, who have left an indelible mark on the sport and nation.

The World Series is the grand finale of the baseball season. It captivates the nation with its fierce competition and storied rivalries, embodying the essence of baseball’s enduring appeal. Beyond the diamond, baseball continues to innovate and evolve, engaging fans with immersive ballpark experiences and cutting-edge technology.

From little league fields to massive stadiums, baseball’s popularity knows no bounds, with enthusiasts of all ages embracing the sport’s timeless traditions and timeless thrills. Whether it’s the thrill of a game-winning home run or the camaraderie of cheering on your favorite team, baseball unites communities and transcends generations.

Hockey

As the fourth most popular sport in the USA, ice hockey captivates audiences with its electrifying gameplay and fierce competition on the ice.

Played by two teams armed with hockey sticks and skates, ice hockey is a fast-paced sport where players maneuver a puck across the ice, aiming to score goals while defending their own net against relentless attacks.

With its roots deeply embedded in the cold climates of the Northeast and Upper Midwest, ice hockey has become a cherished tradition that continues to gain traction across the United States.

At the heart of professional ice hockey lies the National Hockey League (NHL), home to 32 teams spanning Canada and the US.

From the historic “Original Six” teams like the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers to modern expansion franchises in cities like Dallas and Las Vegas, the NHL showcases the best talent in the sport, captivating fans with its high-octane action and storied rivalries.

Since its inception in 1917, the NHL has grown to become one of the most popular sports leagues in the United States, attracting a diverse fan base spanning ages 18 to 45.

With superstar players like Patrick Kane, Brian Leetch, and Mike Modano leading the charge, ice hockey has emerged as a cultural phenomenon that transcends borders and unites fans in their passion for the game.

From the roar of the crowd at sold-out arenas to the thrill of witnessing a game-winning goal, ice hockey offers an unmatched experience that resonates with fans of all ages. As the sport continues to evolve and expand its reach, it remains a cornerstone of American sports culture.

Boxing

From Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson, stepping into the ring and witnessing the raw intensity of boxing has been a major draw for Americans over centuries. Thus, this sport is deeply ingrained in American culture and history.

While surprising to some, boxing holds a special place among the most popular sports in the USA, captivating audiences with its exhilarating displays of skill and determination.

Originating in the United States in the 19th century, boxing has produced some of the greatest fighters of all time, including legends like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Sugar Ray Leonard. With a rich tradition dating back centuries, boxing has long been revered as the “sweet science,” testing the limits of strength, skill, and strategy inside the squared circle.

Despite its English roots, boxing found a home in America in the 1800s, with cities like New York, Boston, and New Orleans becoming hotbeds of pugilistic prowess. As the sport gained popularity, the National Boxing Association (NBA) emerged as the oldest boxing association in the US, paving the way for the rise of professional boxing on a global scale.

In 1962, the NBA evolved into the World Boxing Association (WBA), solidifying its status as a premier governing body in the world of boxing. Today, boxing remains a cornerstone of American sports culture, with over 33% of Americans expressing a love for the sport, making it the sixth most popular in the nation.

From high-profile championship fights to headline-grabbing matchups, boxing continues to captivate audiences with its blend of athleticism and drama. Superstars like Canelo Alvarez, Anthony Joshua, and Terence Crawford showcase their talents in electrifying bouts that draw fans from all walks of life.

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