If you’re living in the United States you’d be convinced that the NFL is the most popular sporting franchise in the world. Of course you would, given that many locals live and breathe American football. But look further abroad, appreciate that NFL popularity is largely focused in the states, and a very different picture is revealed.

The truth is that it is extremely difficult to know for sure which the most popular sports are, given that tracking fans is a highly debatable prospect. How should fans be tracked, and who can actually be considered a fan? Should visits to sports related sites be counted? Should each TV watching a certain match be counted? But what if more than a single person is watching each TV?

So, it goes without saying that giving exact numbers is foolhardy at best. Even still, there is some indication as to which the most popular sports are, taking into account globally combined audiences.

Football (Soccer)

If you guessed that football is the most popular in the world, you’d have been right. But did you guess that around 3.5 billion are estimated to watch on a regular basis? That’s almost half the entire population, really putting things into perspective. Football is watched in Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States.


Next up is cricket, boasting 2.5 billion worldwide fans. Popularity is largely focused in Asia, Australia, the United Kingdom and South Africa. There is some argument as to whether cricket should be second, but general consensus is that it is at least more popular than the next on the list.

Field Hockey

Most would not have guessed that hockey takes the third place, but data suggests that it has around 2 billion fans. Enjoyed in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, hockey benefits from a wide spread across a large portion of the world.

Tennis, Volleyball, Table Tennis

There is plenty of argument as to which order these should be in, with all of the above sharing similar popularity statistics. The number is 1 billion each, with fans found in Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa and the States.


Baseball hovers at seventh, supported by around 500 million fans.


Golf is up next, boasting around 450 million fans in Europe, Asia, America and Canada.

Basketball & American Football

Most controversial of all, basketball and American football battle it out for the ninth spot. There is no doubt that American football is popular, with NFL odds widely available online and ravenous fans crowding the stadiums. But is MLB more popular than basketball? 

These days most list the sports as being equally popular, with 400 million fans each. 

Of course, deciding which sport has the most fans is hardly as important as enjoying the sport itself. Fans do tend to get competitive about all aspects of a favourite sport, but worldwide popularity should hardly be a big focus. After all, none of the above mentioned sports are at any risk of fading away, and only seem to be getting more popular.