Across the globe, various sports have developed loyal fan bases, yet some are much larger than others. Although the lines have previously been blurred regarding the world’s most popular sport, Sports Show states that association football (soccer) now leads the way. As per their data, the sport has an estimated following of 3.5 billion fans. By comparison, cricket, which ranks second, is one billion fans behind the game we Americans call soccer. (Ed. note: “soccer” and “rugger” were terms coined in the British universities in the 1880s to distinguish association football from rugby football. “Soccer” was a usual term for the sport in the UK until the 60s or so, when it was supplanted by the term “football.” We Americans use the British term to distinguish the sport from our American football.)
There are numerous sports on the rise in the United States, including the NBA, NFL, and NHL, as well as cricket’s unprecedented popularity in India. As a result of this, there are now doubts about whether association football can sustain its status as the world’s leading sport. Over the coming years, a power shift isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. So, let’s assess association football’s (soccer’s) popularity and consider if the long-term landscape will eventually change.
Is Association Football’s Superiority Sustainable?
Depending on the source, association football’s global following ranges between three and four billion people, thus it boasts a significant lead over the chasing pack. This has been achievable through its ability to appeal to audiences outside of the sport’s major European league home countries. According to Nielsen, the United Arab Emirates possess the highest population percentage of people engrossed in association football. As of 2018, 80 percent of people from the UAE declared themselves either interested or very interested in the world’s leading sport. The rest of the top five consists of Thailand, Chile, Portugal, and Turkey, respectively. Each of these regions boasts an interest level of at least 75 percent.
Fascinatingly, the United Kingdom, which is home to the globe’s most lucrative domestic association football division, possesses just a 51 percent population interest level. However, this speaks volumes about the appeal of association football. Despite a total of 49 percent being uninterested, the division recorded over 2 million UK-based viewers on nine occasions during the 2017-18 season.
However, there are indications that association football’s progression may now be stagnating. In 2017, Sky stated that their average spectator figures per match fell by 14 percent compared to the previous year. Moreover, following the introduction of video assistance technology, increasing numbers of spectators have fallen out of love with the game. In turn, this may open the door for other sports to capitalize on association football’s current struggles.
Will American Football Surpass Cricket?
Although football is on the rise in the US, it’s not currently a top-four sport. At the time of writing, American football, baseball, basketball, and hockey lead by example in America. Per Gallup, since the early 1970s, American football has retained its status as the leading sport in the US. In 2018, 37 percent of people in the country stated that the gridiron sport was their favorite to watch. Per the earlier Sports Show data, American football is the world’s ninth-most popular sport, with 410 million fans. Indeed, if Our Beloved Ducks keep producing Hall of Famers, as we touched on at FishDuck.com, American football could use its popularity as a springboard for broader global success.
Concerning an imminent threat to association football’s superiority, it’s impossible to overlook cricket, as the bat-and-ball sport boasts the second-largest fan base in the world. Ultimately, cricket poses genuine opposition to association football’s current top spot because of its continual exploration of new ventures.
Crucially, since the Indian Premier League came to fruition in 2008, the sport has been revolutionized, and many globally would argue that few other sports rival cricket’s excitement. With the best players on show battling against each other in a short format, the IPL has long produced edge-of-the-seat drama. In 2020, the 13-year-old event attracted 405 million viewers in India alone, which speaks volumes about its local popularity.
In the future, advancements regarding off-field immersion will likely further heighten cricket’s global popularity. Aside from fantasy platforms, such as Dream11, sports betting sites such as Asiabet.org will be at the heart of enhancing spectator interactivity. Bonus-offering operators host odds on the latest markets and events, including the IPL and the 2021-22 Ashes series between Australia and England. Moreover, bettors can also explore opportunities relating to various formats, such as ODIs, T20s, and test matches.
This is proving popular and the market is predicted to continue to grow as the sport inevitably reaches new fans. In turn, this will likely play a leading role in helping cricket achieve association football-like levels of popularity and participation in off-field events over the coming years.
Association Football Prevails, but for How Much Longer?
Although association football has experienced something of a slump in recent years, that doesn’t mean that it’s facing a rapid decline. Should it continue to stagnate, then it allows American football and cricket to take advantage. With the NFL seeking to expand outside of the US, and the IPL attracting the globe’s best players, there are now genuine competitors to association football’s throne.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
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