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The World's Most Viewed Sports

This is part of our discussion about the world's most popular sports. When discussing this question, there is a difference between most viewed sports (e.g. most fans) versus the most played sports around the world. Here is a discussion about the number of people who watch and support sport around the world. See also the discussion about the most played sports. Have your say too, vote in our poll - What is your favorite sport to WATCH?

Most Fans, Most Viewed

On a widely circulated list of popular sports based on fans, soccer is rightly so in the top position. The FIFA World Cup held every four years has a huge TV audience - an accumulated audience of over 30 billion people watched the 2006 World Cup in Germany (I know that's more than the world's population, this figure is an 'accumulated' audience, meaning if people watched more than one game, which most people did, they were counted each time). When you talk of most viewed sports, the TV and now online audience greatly grows the number of viewers compared to those who physically go to watch sporting events. Cricket is second on this list despite not being played in many parts of the world, due to its huge popularity on the subcontinent (there are 1 billion Indians!). Field hockey is third, and is another popular sport spread around the world by the English though it did not take off in the US.

The internet is a great source of information about the sports which people interested in. A limitation of using the online audience is that they do not necessarily represent a world wide view. The information available tends to have a US bias, so popular US sports such as basketball, baseball and American football are highly represented. In a comparison of many lists, including some online votes and others which were personal opinion, the popular US sports basketball and baseball are in the top four.

Football is the most popular sport to watchFootball is the most popular sport to watch

One way of gauging popularity is by internet traffic to sports websites. Comparing the most popular Wikipedia sports pages, in addition to soccer/world football, the popular US sports basketball, American football and baseball were all in the top 5. In fact in 2009 the basketball wikipedia page was visited more often than the Soccer and Association Football pages combined (2010 was the FIFA World Cup and greatly boosted soccer page views). On the Olympic website, the aquatics pages are most popular, and on this website, Adventure Sports pages are most viewed.

The problem using internet traffic is that it often reflects only the English speaking parts of the world, and then only people who have internet access. Online voting can still not agree, one found soccer top while the other most favorite sport was cricket. It is important to consider all the population of the world and sports in all regions. Another analysis of popular sports in the media conducted by the IOC and said to represent a world-wide analysis is the study of newspaper articles during the Olympics. Although some popular world sports (such as cricket) are not on the Olympic program, the study found that during the 2004 Olympic Games Track & Field and Swimming were written about most, ahead of soccer. These same top sports also head the list of pages most viewed on the IOC website. Some sports, such as swimming, athletics and gymnastics, undergo a huge surge in popularity every four years during the Olympics, and are not so popular at other times.

The popularity of sports is not uniform around the world. Another study by the IOC looking at which sports are played most widely around the world, based on the number of National Federations for each sport, found Volleyball and Basketball ahead of the sport usually considered to be most widespread, Soccer, and the other 'universal sport' of running (Track and Field). There is further analysis of regional differences in sport popularity.

Popularity is also related to the personalities in the sport and access to TV and other media. Golfer Tiger Woods was the highest paid and probably the highest profile sportsman in the decade 2000-2010. This is reflected in another comparison of popular online sport term searches, where golf is only just behind the generic term football, which encompasses several sport codes. This reflects the high number of TV golf fans, personalities as well as recreational golf players.

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Lists Extra

Football/Soccer is clearly the world's most popular sport, and has the most popular athletes, but which sport has the fittest players (but not necessarily the greatest athlete). These players do not always earn the most. The best of the best have made it to our 7 Sporting Wonders Lists.

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