In the sports world, we fans care about championships and statistics, but those that are running the leagues of the nation care about ratings and popularity. In the United States, there are four professional leagues that make up the “big four,” with millions tuning in to see who takes home the league title. Out of the big four, though, how do the professional leagues rank, and who is in the fifth spot? Let’s take a look at the popularity in America for each major sport.
Football is the number one sport in the United States, and it’s not even close. The most watched program in all of television, not just sports, is Sunday Night Football. Every week, the primetime game dwarfs every other program, while Monday Night Football dominates the cable ratings. All in all, around 40 percent of Americans say that football is their favorite sport.
When you check the ratings for the culmination of each season, the Super Bowl, it’s easy to see just how popular the NFL is. Out of the 31 most-watched telecasts of all time in the United States, the Super Bowl takes 30 of those spots. The only non-Super Bowl to crack into the rankings is the series finale of “M*A*S*H” which drew in nearly 106 million viewers.
Basketball, like football, started off by having the college version be much more popular during its early years. The professional version, the NBA, has grown over the years and become the second-most popular sport in the United States. Many credit basketball’s growths to the likes of Michael Jordan, who helped the league tremendously during the 1990s.
Once millennials who grew up watching Jordan got to be adults, they were more inclined to watch the NBA, and the league has been a huge hit with Generation Z. Basketball is also much more available than it’s ever been, with streaming services and a large television contract with ESPN. The NBA is also known for its off-the-court drama that pulls in a lot of attention throughout the year.
There was once a time when baseball was far and away the most popular sport in the United States. After all, it’s called America’s pastime and had the same type of popularity in post-war America that the NFL enjoys today. However, the percentage of people who said that baseball was their favorite sport dropped from a peak of around 40 percent in the 1940s to less than 10 percent now.
For many baseball purists, it’s quite sad to see that the sport has declined in popularity so much. Some blame the access to the game like blackouts preventing people from watching local teams, while others say the games simply take too long. Baseball has entertained many ideas on how to shorten games as a result of the declining numbers, and only time will tell if it pays off.
To come up with the number four sport in the United States, you have to look at television ratings. For that reason, hockey takes the final spot in the top four due to the number of viewers it gets compared to the rest of the field. The NHL is considered one of the “big four” sports leagues, too, helping its case to claim its ranking as number four.
For the most part, hockey is very regional with those in the northeastern and Great Lakes regions of the country watching hockey the most. The sport is obviously number one in Canada, but the sport is growing in the United States. Expansion teams in Las Vegas and Seattle help to grow the sport into previously unserved areas, as well.
What’s America’s Fifth Sport?
You could make a case for several sports as the fifth most popular in the United States, even professional wrestling. Golf, tennis, and auto racing all serve as great individual sports options, but the fifth spot has to belong to soccer. Millions of Americans watch soccer, though they tend to cheer for an English Premier League team rather than an MLS team in the US. When the World Cup comes around, the average American will watch a lot of soccer, too.