Basketball and football are often considered the two most popular sports in the United States. Each has its own unique fan base and following, with basketball’s focus on high-flying dunks and fast-paced action inducing an excitement rivaled only by the drama of a last-second field goal.
But when it comes to which sport is more popular, it’s difficult to say which is the winner. While there is no definitive answer, some suggest that football is slightly more popular in the United States since it enjoys higher viewership ratings for nationally televised games than basketball does.
How Popular is Basketball Compared to Football?
Football is significantly more popular than basketball in the United States. This is evident in the fact that the Superbowl has become a de facto holiday for about 100 million Americans already.
However, basketball does have an advantage when it comes to global coverage, as its popularity has soared all over the world. In fact, it’s become one of the most played sports in the world, along with soccer.
Regardless, both sports are immensely popular – with organized basketball leagues in schools across the country and Super Bowl Sunday becoming a national holiday – ensuring that each sport continues to be beloved by fans across all ages.
Ultimately, whichever sport you prefer likely depends on your personal preferences; but in terms of sheer popularity, both basketball and football share significant support from millions of fans around the world.
Basketball has been popular in the United States for well over a century. The sport started in 1891, when James Naismith created it at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. What began as a simple physical education exercise soon spread to other YMCAs and colleges around the country.
Soon after, different professional teams sprung up and competed against each other in the 1920s. However, what really helped basketball become popular was television: games were broadcast on network TV channels across the country during the 1950s and 1960s, enabling people to watch their favorite teams or follow college rivalries without leaving home.
Of course, another factor in basketball’s popularity was the emergence of legendary players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, who changed the face of the sport forever with their skill and charisma.
Today basketball remains one of America’s most beloved sports; millions of people tune into games every year – either live or on television – creating an ever-growing fan base for this fast-paced pastime.
Countries Where Basketball is Popular
Basketball has become a global sport, much like soccer. It’s played in almost every country in the world, at least in some form or another. In fact, it’s become so popular that it’s a perennial contender as the third most popular sports in the world after soccer and cricket.
Football doesn’t crack the world stage’s top five most popular sports list.
According to a quick Google Trends search, the relatively young sport seems to have cast a wide net, with search results surging in all continents, such as in the following countries with their corresponding Google Trends score:
- United States – 100
- The Philippines – 58
- Australia – 38
- Canada – 32
- Lithuania – 25
How Many People Watch Basketball?
While basketball may be one of the most popular sports in the world, its popularity in the United States tells a different story. In fact, basketball ranks behind football, baseball, and hockey in terms of popularity in the US.
We rounded up the available viewership numbers on the NBA Finals in the United States here:
- 2019 Finals – 15.1m
- 2020 Finals – 7.5m
- 2021 Finals – 9.9m
How Many People in the World Play Basketball?
It’s estimated that around 450 million people in the world play basketball. That’s a lot of people shooting hoops! The sport is especially popular in the United States, where around 26 million people play.
But it’s not just Americans who are big fans of basketball. The game is played all over the world, from Brazil to China to Africa. In fact, basketball is one of the only sports that is truly global in scope. No matter where you go, you’re likely to find someone who knows how to shoot a three-pointer.
So, if you’re ever feeling lonely, just pick up a ball and start playing. Chances are, you’ll soon have plenty of company.
Football is hands down the most popular sports in the United States. It reels in the most viewers and attracts the most live audiences across the entire nation.
The popularity also isn’t confined to the professional league. Even the collegiate league has garnered some of the best viewership numbers that some professional leagues that isn’t football would envy.
And because of the attention, football has become the most lucrative sports organization in the world with over $15 billion in average annual revenue. The ratings have brands fighting for Superbowl ad spots which are worth $13 million for a one-minute run time.
Where is Football More Popular?
A quick Google Trends search shows that American football’s popularity is concentrated mostly in the United States, other western nations, and in some South American nations. Here’s a quick overview:
- United States – 100
- Canada – 10
- United Kingdom – 6
- Germany – 3
- Mexico – 3
How Many People Watch Football?
Like in basketball, one good indicator of how many people watch football is in its Finals viewership numbers. And just by these numbers, it’s easy to see just how far basketball has to catch up to football in terms of viewership numbers in the United States.
Here’s what we got:
- 2019 Superbowl – 98.5m
- 2020 Superbowl – 101.3m
- 2021 Superbowl – 92.5m
How Many People Play Football in the World
In terms of participation rate, football does not seem to perform well. It doesn’t even break the top 10 list of most played sport in the world. So, basketball’s 450 million participants completely dwarfs that of football’s 5.6 million.
A huge part of the reason why football’s participation rate is so low is because it’s virtually absent in countries other than the United States. This is especially true if you don’t count Australian Rugby as a version of American Football.
8 Popular NBA and NFL Players
It’s no secret that the NBA has more star power than the NFL. Just think about all the household names in the NBA: LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, etc.
In contrast, how many truly recognizable faces are there in the NFL? Sure, there are some talented players, but very few of them have the same level of name recognition as the average NBA superstar.
Part of this is due to the fact that basketball is simply a more popular sport than football. But it’s also due to the fact that the NBA does a better job of promoting its individual players. Thanks to initiatives like player-focused marketing campaigns and social media engagement, NBA stars have become global celebrities, while most NFL players are still largely unknown outside of hardcore fans. As a result, it’s no surprise that the average person is more likely to recognize an NBA player than an NFL player.
According to YouGov America, here are the most recognizable names and faces in both the NBA and NFL ranked:
1. LeBron James (NBA)
2. Tom Brady (NFL)
3. Aaron Rodgers (NFL)
4. Stephen Curry (NBA)
5. Kevin Durant (NBA)
6. Rob Gronkowski (NFL)
7. Patrick Mahomes (NFL)
8. Odell Beckham Jr. (NFL)
Wrapping Things Up: Basketball vs. Football: Which Sport is More Popular?
Over the past few decades, basketball has become one of the most popular sport in the world, with nearly half a million participants across the globe.
Today, there are hundreds of professional basketball leagues around the world, and the sport shows no signs of slowing down.
However, though basketball is certainly one of the most popular sports in the world, its popularity in the United States doesn’t quite reflect that. In the football vs. basketball viewership numbers rivalry in the country, basketball comes in at a distant second behind football.
But that’s not to say that Americans don’t enjoy watching basketball. In fact, when it comes to professional sports leagues, the NBA is regularly one of the top three most watched. So while basketball may not be America’s favorite sport to play, it’s certainly one of our favorite sports to watch. And with the popularity of players like LeBron James and Steph Curry, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.