Sports in the United States
- Disc Golf
- Mixed martial arts – Developed in the 1990s, MMA has achieved noticeable mainstream popularity in the 21st century. Many companies promote MMA cards, with the U.S.-based UFC being by far the most dominant.
- Equestrian competition – Despite lacking the national popularity seen in Europe, America usually performs extremely well in international equestrian competition.
- Wrestling – Though not a popular sport on a national level (except perhaps during the Olympics), high school wrestling is frequently one of the most popular participatory sports for young men in the United States.
- Shooting sports
- Skateboarding – Skateboarding culture was born in the United States, which continues to hold many of the top tournaments and produce the majority of professional skateboarders.
- Horse racing
- Swimming – Swimming is a major competitive sport at high school and college level, but receives little mainstream media attentions outside of the Olympics.
- Mountain biking
- Soaring - over 12,000 participants
- Bowling – Bowling is the most popular participation "game" sport in the United States with more than 43 million people going bowling at least once a year.
- Figure skating
- X Games
- 1 Popular team sports
- 2 Other team sports
- 3 Organization of American sports
- 4 Sports media in the United States
- 5 Most popular sports in the United States
- 6 List of Sports Leagues in the United States
- 7 See also
- 8 References
Popular team sports
The most popular team sports in the United States, measured by number of participants in 2009, are below. (Most figures are from the 2009 U.S. Census).
- Basketball (0 million)
- Soccer (0 million)
- Baseball (0 million)
- Volleyball (0 million)
- American football (0 million)
- Disc Ultimate (0 million)
- Hockey (0 million)
- Lacrosse (0)
- Water Polo (0)
The most popular team sports in the United States are basketball, baseball/softball, soccer, football, disc ultimate and ice hockey. All six of these team sports are played by millions of Americans, have a fully professional league, and enjoy varsity status at various Division 1 colleges.
The NFL is the preeminent professional football league in the United States. Through expansion teams and the landmark merger with the American Football League in 1970, the NFL has reached its current mark of 32 franchises divided into two conferences. After a 16-game regular season, each conference sends six teams to the NFL Playoffs, which eventually culminate in the league's championship game, the Super Bowl.
Millions watch college football throughout the fall months, and some communities, particularly in rural areas, place great emphasis on their local high school football teams. The popularity of college and high school football in areas such as the Southern United States (Southeastern Conference) and the Great Plains stems largely from the fact that these areas historically generally did not possess markets large enough for a professional team. Nonetheless, college football has a rich history in the United States, predating the NFL by decades, and fans and alumni are generally very passionate about their teams.
During football season, football fans in the United States have the opportunity to enjoy watching live or on television, high school games on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, college football on Saturday afternoons and evenings, and NFL games on Sundays, the usual playing day of the professional teams. This is not necessarily universal; some colleges have taken advantage of the need to fill television air time by playing games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, while the NFL has added weekly games on Monday (since 1970) and Thursday (since 2006). Between September and Thanksgiving weekend, and again from mid-December through New Year's Day, there is at least one nationally televised college or professional football game every day.
Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest annual sporting event held in the United States. The Super Bowl itself is always among the highest-rated programs off all-time in the Nielsen ratings. Some notable players include Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Larry Csonka, Roger Staubach, Walter Payton, Brett Favre, Dick Butkus, Jack Youngblood, Joe Greene, Alan Page, Troy Aikman, Joe Montana, Otto Graham, Emmitt Smith, John Elway, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenton, Kurt Warner, Ray Lewis, Lawrence Taylor and Johnny Unitas. Some notable current NFL players include Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, J.J. Watt, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson.
Indoor American football, a form of football played in indoor arenas, has several professional and semi-professional leagues. The Arena Football League, which plays by the formerly proprietary code of arena football, was active from 1987 to 2008 and folded in 2009, but several teams from the AFL and its former minor league, af2, relaunched the league in 2010. Most other extant indoor leagues date to the mid-2000s (decade) and are regional in nature.
The Canadian Football League has a niche market in the United States; the league has not had any teams in the United States since the mid-1990s but has had at least some television coverage continuously since 2004.
Baseball and the variant, softball, are popular participatory sports in the U.S. The highest level of baseball in the U.S. is Major League Baseball. The World Series of Major League Baseball is the culmination of the sport's postseason each October. It is played between the winner of each of the two leagues, the American League and the National League, and the winner is determined through a best-of-seven playoff.
Notable American baseball players in history include Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Cap Anson, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks, Carl Yastrzemski, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripken, Roger Clemens, Tony Gwynn, and Jackie Robinson, who was instrumental in dissolving the color line and allowing African-Americans into the major leagues. Among the more noted players of today are Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Buster Posey, and Albert Pujols.
Baseball is popular in certain East Asian countries—Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan—and Latin American countries or territories such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Venezuela. Among the Latin American stars of the past who became legends in the major leagues were Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Oliva, Tony Pérez, Luis Aparicio and Fernando Valenzuela.
Basketball was invented in 1891 by physical education teacher James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts. Of those Americans citing their favorite sport, basketball is ranked second (counting amateur levels) behind football. More Americans play basketball than any other team sport, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, with over 26 million Americans playing basketball. However, in regards to professional sports, basketball, or the NBA, is ranked third.
The National Basketball Association, more popularly known as the NBA, is the world's premier men's professional basketball league and one of the major professional sports leagues of North America. It contains 30 teams (29 teams in the U.S. and 1 in Canada) that play an 82-game season from October to June. After the regular season, eight teams from each conference compete in the playoffs for the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy. The American Basketball Association, active from 1967 until 1976, when it merged with the NBA, was the last major competitor of the NBA.
Since the 1992 Summer Olympics, NBA players have represented the United States in international competition and won several important tournaments. The Dream Team was the unofficial nickname of the United States men's basketball team that won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics.
Basketball at both the college and high school levels is popular throughout the country. Every March, a 68-team, six-round, single-elimination tournament (commonly called March Madness) determines the national champions of NCAA Division I men's college basketball.
Most U.S. states also crown state champions among their high schools. Many high school basketball teams have intense local followings, especially in the Midwest and Upper South. In states like Indiana and Kentucky, it is common for high school basketball teams to play in gyms that seat more than 5,000 spectators, even in rural areas. Indiana alone has 10 of the 12 largest high school gyms in the United States and is famous for its basketball passion, famously known as Hoosier Hysteria.
Notable NBA players in history include Wilt Chamberlain (4 time MVP), Bill Russell (5 time MVP), George Mikan, Bob Pettit (11 time all NBA team), Bob Cousy (12 time all NBA team), Pete Maravich, Jerry Lucas, Willis Reed, Earl Monroe, Walt Frazier, Elvin Hayes, Jerry West, (12 time all NBA team), John Havlicek, Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6 time MVP), Magic Johnson (3 time MVP), Larry Bird (3 time MVP), Michael Jordan (6 time finals MVP), John Stockton (#1 in career assists and steals), Karl Malone (14 time all NBA team), Shaquille O'Neal (3 time finals MVP), and Jason Kidd (#2 in career assists and steals). Notable players in the NBA today include Kobe Bryant (15 time all NBA team), LeBron James (4 time MVP), and Tim Duncan (3 time finals MVP).
In the past decade, an increasing number of players born outside the United States have signed with NBA teams, sparking league interest in different parts of the world. Among the notable foreign-born players in the NBA today are two-time MVP Steve Nash (a South Africa-born Canadian), 2007 Finals MVP Tony Parker (France), and 11 time all-star Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), the first European to win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award. Notable retired foreign-born players who have won several NBA awards include Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) and Dikembe Mutumbo (DR Congo).
Ice hockey is another popular sport in the United States. The sport is commonly referred to simply as "hockey." In the U.S. the game is most popular in regions of the country with a cold winter climate, namely the northeast and the upper Midwest. However, since the 1990s, hockey has become increasingly popular in the Sun Belt due in large part to the expansion of the National Hockey League to cities like Anaheim, California; Tampa, Florida; Dallas, Texas; Raleigh, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; and Phoenix, Arizona, coupled with the mass relocation of many former Rust Belt residents (such as those from Buffalo, New York, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Detroit, Michigan, all of which have strong hockey support) to these Sun Belt locations.
The NHL is the major professional hockey league in North America, with 23 U.S.-based teams and 7 Canadian-based teams competing for the Stanley Cup. Other professional leagues in the U.S. include the American Hockey League and the ECHL. Additionally, nine U.S.-based teams compete in the three member leagues of the Canadian Hockey League.
Although hockey does not enjoy the same popularity as football, baseball and basketball in the U.S., one of the nation's greatest ever sporting moments came during the 1980 Winter Olympics when the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union 4–3 in the first game of the medal round before going on to beat Finland to claim the gold medal. The game has since been called the "Miracle on Ice". While NHL stars are still not as readily familiar to the general American public as are stars of the NFL, major league baseball, and the NBA, average attendance for NHL games in the US has been steadily increasing and in fact, has surpassed average NBA attendance in recent seasons, buoyed by the 2003 introduction (and later permanent establishment) of occasional games in outdoor stadiums.
Historically, the vast majority of NHL players had come from Canada, with a small handful of Americans (mostly out of the Minnesota, Michigan and New England areas); only one European-trained player made his NHL debut during the 1942–67 Original Six era. After the NHL doubled in size in 1967, this began to change. During the 1970s and 1980s, the number of American-trained players dramatically increased, and the first wave of European players entered the league, mostly from Sweden, Finland, and Eastern Europe. After the fall of communism in Europe, many players from the former Soviet bloc flocked to the NHL, primarily from the Czech Republic, Russia, and Slovakia. Western European players have also significantly increased their presence. The late 2000s (decade) saw another surge in the number of American-trained players. Today, a slight majority of NHL players are Canadian, slightly more than 20% are Americans, and virtually all of the remainder are European-trained. (For a more complete discussion, see Origin of NHL players.)
Notable NHL players in history include Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Maurice Richard, Chris Chelios, Eddie Shore, Stan Mikita, Guy Lafleur, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Gordie Howe, Mark Recchi, Mike Modano, Nicklas Lidstrom, Bobby Hull, Trevor Linden, Dominik Hasek and Bobby Orr.
College hockey has a regional following in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States. It is increasingly being used to develop players for the NHL and other professional leagues, much in the way junior ice hockey does in Canada (the U.S. has junior leagues, the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League, but they are more restricted to protect junior players' college eligibility). The Frozen Four is college hockey's national championship.k
A variation of ice hockey, played primarily at the recreational level, is pond hockey. Several national tournaments are held in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States each year.
Soccer, although not as popular in the U.S. as certain American sports such as baseball and American football, has been increasing in popularity in recent years. Soccer is played by over 13 million people in the U.S., making it the third most played sport in the U.S. Most Division 1 colleges field both a men's and women's varsity soccer team. Many American sports fans, as compared to decades ago, now follow international competitions such as the World Cup, and club competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and England's Premier League, and there is growing interest in the top local professional league, Major League Soccer.
The United States men's and women's senior national teams, as well as a number of national youth teams for both sexes, represent the United States in international soccer competitions and are governed by the United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer). The U.S. men's team is one of only seven teams in the world to have qualified for every World Cup since 1990.
Major League Soccer is the premier soccer league in the United States. MLS has 19 clubs (16 from the U.S., 3 from Canada). The 34-game schedule runs from mid-March to late October, with the playoffs and championship in November. Soccer-specific stadiums continue to be built for MLS teams around the country. Other professional soccer leagues in the U.S. include the Division II North American Soccer League, the Division III USL Pro, and the Major Indoor Soccer League.
Women's professional soccer has not seen sustained success. The first two attempts at fully professional leagues—the Women's United Soccer Association and Women's Professional Soccer—each folded after playing three seasons. U.S. Soccer has since established a new professional league, the National Women's Soccer League, which started in 2013. However, at the lower levels of the salary scale, the NWSL is effectively semi-professional. The new league has financial and operational backing from U.S. Soccer, and additional financial support from the Canadian Soccer Association and Mexican Football Federation.
Many notable international soccer players have played in NASL — including Pelé, Eusébio, George Best, Franz Beckenbauer, and Johan Cruyff — or in MLS — including Roberto Donadoni, Lothar Matthäus, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Robbie Keane. Notable international women to have played professionally in the U.S. include Marta, Birgit Prinz, and Christine Sinclair.
The best American soccer players enter the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame. Particularly notable American players, past and present, include Bert Patenaude, Kyle Rote, Jr., Shep Messing, Roy Lassiter, Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, Tony Meola, Eric Wynalda, Brad Friedel, Brian McBride, Kasey Keller, Jeff Cunningham, Claudio Reyna, Eddie Pope, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey. Notable female American players include Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers, Christie Rampone, Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, and Alex Morgan.
Other team sports
Lacrosse is a team sport that is believed to originate with the Iroquois, a confederacy of indigenous tribes that reside in Canada and what is now upstate New York, and was popular among numerous tribes both within and outside the Iroquois in the eastern United States well before the arrival of European settlers. The Iroquois field their own separate national team, the Iroquois Nationals, in recognition of the confederacy's creation of the sport.
Lacrosse is most popular in the East Coast area. All forms of lacrosse are increasing in national popularity. NLL and MLL are the national box and outdoor lacrosse leagues, respectively, and have increased their following in recent years, with the NLL slightly more popular than MLL. Also, many of the top Division I college lacrosse teams draw upwards of 7–10,000 for a game, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas.
Australian rules football
Australian rules football in the United States is a fast growing team and spectator sport. The sport was first played in the country in 1996. The United States Australian Football League is the governing body for the sport in the United States with many clubs and leagues around the country. The National Championships are held annually in a different location each year. There is a national team the United States national Australian rules football team, there is also a women's national team which both regularly play international matches and play in the Australian Football International Cup, which is essentially a World Cup for all competing countries apart from Australia.
Volleyball is also a notable sport in the United States, especially at the college and university levels. Unlike most Olympic sports which are sponsored widely at the collegiate level for both sexes, the support for college volleyball is dramatically skewed in favor of the women's game. In the 2011–12 school year, over 300 schools in NCAA Division I alone (the highest of three NCAA tiers) sponsored women's volleyball at the varsity level, while fewer than 100 schools in all three NCAA divisions combined sponsored varsity men's volleyball, with only 23 of them in Division I. This is partially due to Title IX; female-oriented sports such as volleyball help balance a college's athletic opportunities for women with those for men.
Beach volleyball has increasingly become popular in the United States, in part due to media exposure during the Olympic Games.
Rugby union, popular in other English-speaking nations, is not as well known in the United States. Rugby is played recreationally and in colleges, though it is not governed by the NCAA (see College rugby). There are more than 457,983 registered and unregistered players, with more than a quarter being women. The semi-professional Rugby Super League is the premier domestic competition. The U.S. national team competes at the Rugby World Cup, and the country's national team in the sevens variation of the sport is now one of the 15 "core teams" in the annual IRB Sevens World Series.
Rugby participation in the US has grown significantly in recent years, growing by 350% between 2004 and 2011. A 2010 survey by the National Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association ranked rugby as the fastest growing sport in the US. Rugby's profile in the U.S. has received a tremendous boost from the IOC's announcement in 2009 that rugby would return to the Olympics in 2016. Since the Olympic announcement, rugby events such as the Collegiate Rugby Championship, the USA Sevens, and the Rugby World Cup have been broadcast on network TV. The USA Sevens, held every year in February, regularly draws more than 60,000 fans to Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.
Two recent American presidents have been rugby players. Bill Clinton developed an interest in rugby in England, playing at Oxford University. George W. Bush was a keen player, during high school and University, and was on Yale's 1st XV, and in 1968, he was part of their dramatic win over Harvard.
Water polo is a team water sport. The playing team consists of six field players and one goalkeeper. The winner of the game is the team that scores the most goals by getting the ball past the opposing team's goalkeeper into the net. Gameplay involves swimming, players passing the ball while being defended by opponents, and scoring by throwing into a net defended by a goalie. Water polo, therefore, has strong similarities to the land-based game of team handball. The frequency of 'man-up' (or 'power play') situations also draws comparisons with Ice hockey.
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Cricket, another common sport in Commonwealth countries, is not a popular sport in the U.S. Many amateur cricket leagues have been formed by Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Australian, South African, English and Caribbean (more specifically Commonwealth Caribbean) immigrants, and as a result, the sport has made limited inroads into the mainstream sports community because of a large influx of migrants from cricketing countries who make up almost 16 million of the American population. Cricket used to be the most popular sport in America during the 18th century, 19th and early 20th centuries, when it suffered a rapid decline. In fact the first intercollegiate tournament in America was a cricket tournament.
The first annual Canada vs. U.S. cricket match, played since the 1840s, was attended by 10,000 spectators at Bloomingdale Park in New York. The U.S. vs. Canada cricket match is the oldest international sporting event in the modern world, predating even today's Olympic Games by nearly 50 years. The U.S. participated in the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy where they were comprehensively beaten in matches against Australia and New Zealand. United States of America Cricket Association governs the professional Cricket in the country and are an associate member of International Cricket Council. United States Cricket team currently plays in World Cricket League Division IV to work their way up to 2013 Cricket World Cup Qualifier in order to enter 2015 Cricket World Cup. In 2011, they played Americas Region Twenty20 Division One tournament and qualified for the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier. United States Cricket team also plays in the ICC Americas Championship and were qualified for ICC Intercontinental Cup in the past.
United States Youth Cricket Association formed in 2010 to develop the interest in sport among the young kids. Women's cricket is one of the plans of USACA but it is a long road to build the infra-structure. Cricket is one of the most watched pay per view sports in the U.S., and multiple channels are provided by DirecTv, Dish Network and Comcast TV services. Starting 2012, ESPN will broadcast Cricket on ESPN3 and on its regular channels. The only professional Cricket Stadium in the U.S. is Central Broward Regional Park located in Lauderhill, Florida. The Leo Magnus Cricket Complex in Los Angeles and Philadelphia Cricket Club in Philadelphia are few other established Cricket Grounds in the country that could qualify to play professional Cricket. Compton Cricket Club is a private club in Los Angeles that uses Cricket to promote Peace and good will among the troubled neighborhood of Compton.
Ultimate and Disc Sports (Frisbee)
Alternative sports, using the flying disc, began in the mid-sixties. As numbers of young people became alienated from social norms, they resisted and looked for alternative recreational activities, including that of throwing a Frisbee. What started with a few players like Victor Malafronte, Z Weyand and Ken Westerfield experimenting with new ways of throwing and catching a Frisbee, later would become known as playing freestyle. Organized disc sports, in the 1970s, began with promotional efforts from Wham-O, a few tournaments and professionals using Frisbee show tours to perform at universities, fairs and sporting events. Disc sports such as Freestyle, Double Disc Court, Guts, Disc Ultimate and Disc Golf became this sports first events. Two events, the team sport of Disc Ultimate and Disc Golf are very popular worldwide and are now being played semi professionally. The World Flying Disc Federation, Professional Disc Golf Association, and the Freestyle Players Association, are the official rules and sanctioning organizations for flying disc sports worldwide.
Disc ultimate is a team sport played with a flying disc. The object of the game is to score points by passing the disc to members of your own team, on a rectangular field, 120 yards (110m) by 40 yards (37m), until you have successfully completed a pass to a team member in the opposing teams end zone. There are currently over four million people that play some form of organized ultimate in the US. Ultimate is also being played semi professionally with two newly formed leagues, the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) and Major League Ultimate (MLU).
Curling is popular in northern states, possibly because of climate, proximity to Canada, or Scandinavian heritage. The national popularity of curling is growing after significant media coverage of the sport in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics.
Gaelic football and hurling are governed by North American GAA and New York GAA. They do not have a high profile, but are developing sports, with New York fielding a representative team in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.
Team handball, a common sport in European countries, is not a popular sport in the U.S. The sport is mostly played in the country on the amateur level. Handball is not a NCAA sport, but is played in the Summer Olympics. The sport's governing body is USA Team Handball.
Inline hockey was invented by Americans as a way to play the sport in all climates. The PIHA is the league with the largest number of professional teams in the nation. Street hockey is a non-standard version of inline hockey played by amateurs in informal games.
Other team recreational activities
Angleball is a high fitness sport developed in the 1940s by College Hall of Fame football coach Rip Engle as a way for players to maintain physical fitness in the off-season. It has light contact and minimal rules. Angleball is used for muscle conditioning in the NFL, and for fun by colleges, schools, camps and all-age groups. Because of angleball's light contact gameplay that emphasizes skill, accuracy and endurance, it has been called the best game ever developed for groups up to 40 composed of mixed ages and genders. Angleball gameplay is simple. Two large balls are placed atop standards (normally 10' tall posts with a 10' radius circle around the post) at opposite sides of a field. Teams pass a smaller ball back and forth, attempting to knock the other team's ball off its perch with the smaller ball. An offensive player who is touched by a defensive player cannot shoot for a goal and has three seconds to pass the ball.
Capture the flag is played recreationally by adults and children.
Dodgeball is played traditionally by children in school, though adult leagues in urban areas have formed within the past 10 years. A caricatured version was portrayed in the 2004 film comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.
Kickball is also played recreationally by adults and children, especially at the elementary school level. Its rules are largely identical to baseball, except that no bat is used and instead a large rubber ball is rolled along the ground for the "batter" to kick.
Roller derby is a fast-growing contact sport played on roller skates. Roller Derby was portrayed in the 2009 film Whip It and in the 2012 documentary "Derby, Baby! A story of love, addiction and rink rash" Since September 2009, there were 350 women's, men's, and junior leagues in the U.S.A. There are multiple Associations that govern roller derby: JRDA = Junior Roller Derby Association MADE = Modern Athletic Derby Endeavor MRDA = Men's Roller Derby Association OSDA = Old School Derby Association RDCL = Roller Derby Coalition of Leagues USARS = USA Roller Sports WFTDA = Women's Flat Track Derby Association WFTDA-AL = WFTDA Apprentice
Organization of American sports
The extent in the United States to which sports are associated with secondary and tertiary education is rare among nations. Millions of students participate in athletics programs operated by high schools and colleges. Student-athletes often receive scholarships to colleges in recognition of their athletic potential. Currently, the largest governing body of collegiate sports is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
High school and college sports fill the developmental role that in many other countries would be the place of youth teams associated with clubs. The major professional sports leagues operate drafts once a year, in which each league's teams selected eligible prospects. Eligibility differs from league to league. Baseball and ice hockey operate minor league systems for players who have finished education but are not ready or good enough for the major leagues. The NBA also has a development league for players who are not ready to play at the top level.
Especially in basketball and football, high school and particularly college sports are followed with a fervor equaling or exceeding that felt for professional sports; college football games can draw six-digit crowds and, for upper-tier schools, sports are a significant source of revenue.
For the most part, there is no system of promotion and relegation in American professional sports. Major sports leagues operate as associations of franchises. The same 30–32 teams play in the league each year unless they move to another city or the league chooses to expand with new franchises.
All American sports leagues use the same type of schedule. After the regular season, the 10–16 teams with the best records enter a playoff tournament leading to a championship series or game. American sports, except for soccer, have no equivalent to the cup competitions that run concurrently with leagues in European sports. Even in the case of soccer, the cup competition, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, draws considerably less attention than the regular season. Also, the only top-level U.S. professional teams that play teams from other organizations in meaningful games are those in MLS. Since the 2012 season, all U.S.-based MLS teams have automatically qualified for the U.S. Open Cup, in which they compete against teams from lower-level U.S. leagues. In addition, four of these teams qualify to play clubs from countries outside the U.S. and Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League. NBA teams have played European teams in preseason exhibitions on a semi-regular basis, and recent MLS All-Star Games have pitted top players from the league against major European soccer teams, such as members of the Premier League.
International competition is not as important in American sports as it is in the sporting culture of most other countries, although Olympic ice-hockey and basketball tournaments do generate attention. The first international baseball tournament with top-level players, the World Baseball Classic, also generated some positive reviews after its inaugural tournament in 2006.
No American government agency is charged with overseeing sports. However, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports advises the President through the Secretary of Health and Human Services about physical activity, fitness, and sports, and recommends programs to promote regular physical activity for the health of all Americans. The U.S. Congress has chartered the United States Olympic Committee to govern American participation in the Olympic Movement and promote amateur sports. Congress has also involved itself in several aspects of sports, notably gender equity in college athletics, illegal drugs in pro sports, sports broadcasting and the application of antitrust law to sports leagues.
Sports media in the United States
Sports have been a major part of American broadcasting since the early days of radio. Today, television networks and radio networks pay millions (sometimes billions) of dollars for the rights to broadcast sporting events. Contracts between leagues and broadcasters stipulate how often games must be interrupted for commercials. Because of all of the advertisements, broadcasting contracts are very lucrative and account for the biggest chunk of pro teams' revenues. Broadcasters also covet the television contracts for the major sports leagues (especially in the case of the NFL) in order to amplify their ability to promote their programming to the audience, especially young and middle-aged adult males.
The advent of cable and satellite television has greatly expanded sports offerings on American TV. ESPN, the first all-sports cable network in the U.S., went on the air in 1979. It has been followed by several sister networks and competitors.
Many of the professional sports teams run their own cable networks. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner started the YES Network which broadcasts primarily Yankees games and television shows. His starting of his own network led to almost all teams having a station for their franchises.
Despite the size of the sports market in the U.S., the country does not have a national daily sports newspaper. This is because the contiguous 48 states spread across four time zones, and games on the West Coast may not end until early morning in the East (resulting in the phenomenon of East Coast bias). This makes it difficult to distribute a national newspaper with the scores of late games in time for morning delivery. However, there are many weekly American sports magazines, the best-known being Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News, and the development of the Internet also has allowed for national sports Web sites to flourish.
Sports are also widely broadcast at the local level, ranging from college and professional sports down to (on some smaller stations) recreational and youth leagues. Internet radio has allowed these broadcasts to reach a worldwide audience.
Most popular sports in the United States
In the broadest definition of sports—physical recreation of all sorts—the four most popular sports among the general population of the United States are exercise walking (90 million), exercising with equipment (53 million), swimming (52 million) and camping (47 million). The most popular competitive sport (and fifth most popular recreational sport) is bowling (43 million). Other most popular sports are fishing (35 million), bicycling (37 million), weightlifting (33 million), aerobics (30 million), and hiking (28 million).
Baseball vs. Football
Though baseball has historically been called the "national pastime", American football has considerably grown in popularity with the advent of television over the last several decades. Most debates about "America's most popular sport" tend to center on the degree of Americans' identification with either of these two games; the question is a difficult one to resolve.
Advocates of baseball point to the overwhelming number of baseball tickets sold annually in the United States and Canada, compared to NFL football. It is likely that the average American sports fan will attend many more major league baseball games than NFL football games in his or her lifetime, due in part to baseball's longer schedule and football's (generally) higher ticket prices.
Advocates of football, in turn, point to football's large television audience, including the Super Bowl, though the sport is also facing some negative publicity in the world of youth sports due to media coverage of documented health and injury risks posed to players, including the potential long-term health concerns which concussions pose for children or teenagers. Certain teams of both sports, such as the Green Bay Packers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers, have cultivated famously loyal fan bases across the country.
In many cases, identification with a certain football or baseball team is a matter of family inheritance going back many generations and local identity. Furthermore, the popularity of each, as well as of other major team sports, may vary depending on region, ethnicity and age.
Comparative Popularity of Major Team Sports
As baseball developed over 150 years ago in the northeast, it has been played and followed in this region longer than in others. The city of New York is for many sports fans synonymous with the New York Yankees and their logo. The team is noted as having been the team of many of the all-time greats in the history of the game, and for having won more titles than any other US major professional sports franchise. The city was also host to two other highly popular baseball teams in the National League, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, before their transfer to California beginning with the 1958 season. The Yankees' chief rivals, the Boston Red Sox, also enjoy a huge following in Boston and throughout New England. The fierce National League rivalry between the former Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants was transferred to the West Coast when the teams became the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, and California has always been among the US states which have supplied the most players in the major leagues. Chicago sports fans also avidly follow the Chicago Cubs and to a lesser extent the Chicago White Sox despite the comparative lack of success for the teams, with Chicago Cub fans being known throughout the country for their passionate loyalty to the team despite their not having won a championship since 1908.
Across the entire country, it is the NFL which invariably obtains the highest television ratings for regular and post-season games among major sports. This situation began in the late 1960s and early 1970's with the establishment of the Super Bowl and merger of the existing professional leagues, the old NFL and the American Football League, into one NFL league. Since then, watching NFL games on television on Sunday afternoons has become a common routine for many Americans during the football season. Among the professional American football teams in the NFL which have become practically identified with their host cities are the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins. It could also be said that college football (i.e. NCAA) enjoys unparalleled popularity in the southeastern states, where there are fewer professional teams in the major sports leagues. In many of these areas, college football is the most avidly followed sport, with the Saturday college games being the biggest event of the week.
Aside from its huge popularity as a high school and college sport in Indiana and Kentucky, basketball may also be the most popular professional sport in cities during particular periods when the local NBA team may be enjoying an era of remarkable success, such as in Chicago during the dynasty days of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan during the 1990s, or especially in Los Angeles today with the Los Angeles Lakers having won multiple titles in the past few decades, becoming the most popular sports team in the city and the league's glamour team due to the many Hollywood stars regularly attending their games. Professional basketball is also primarily followed in cities where there are no other sports teams in the four major professional leagues, such as in the case of Oklahoma City with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento with the Sacramento Kings, San Antonio with the highly successful San Antonio Spurs, or in Portland with the Portland Trail Blazers. New York City has also had a long historical connection with college and professional basketball, and many basketball legends initially developed their reputations playing in the many playgrounds throughout the city. Madison Square Garden, the home arena of the New York Knicks, is often referred to as the "Mecca of basketball."
Ice hockey competes for "most popular sport" status in areas of northern and western New York State, the northern Great Lakes states and in some parts of New England. NHL teams such as the Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Boston Bruins, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the New York Rangers are among the most popular sports teams in their home cities. However, as compared to the other major sports leagues, the sport has comparatively less fan following among minorities in the US, and the majority of players in the NHL are still Canadian or European rather than American. But regardless of that feature, hockey remains one of the four major team sports in the United States and continues to generate great passion and excitement for its fans.
Many migrants living in the United States, especially those of European or Latin American descent, also continue to follow soccer as their favorite team sport just as they did in their home countries, and US professional soccer has a particularly solid following in parts of the Pacific Northwest, where there is a strong regional rivalry between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, which along with the Canadian team Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer contest the annual Cascadia Cup as part of their annual competition within the league. Younger generations of Americans are also developing stronger fan appreciation for the sport, due to factors such as the US hosting of the 1994 World Cup and the formation of Major League Soccer, as well as increased US television coverage of the top soccer competitions in the world.
In truth, many keen sports fans in the U.S. may actually resist naming which team sport in particular is their favorite, instead preferring to avidly follow throughout the year whichever particular team sport is on its specific playing season: baseball in the summer, pro and college football in autumn and winter, and basketball during the late winter and NCAA college basketball championships in March (called the March Madness), followed by the succeeding NBA playoffs in the spring, or ice hockey in the late winter up to the playoffs and Stanley Cup finals in June. Also, the relatively lower levels of fan appreciation of Major League Soccer, as compared to the top four professional sports leagues, is not the best gauge of the overall popularity of soccer as a spectator sport in the United States, as many soccer fans in the United States also tend to follow the European or Latin American leagues and international competitions as much as, if not more than, the local professional leagues, which usually have a different playing season than leagues in other countries. It is thus possible for US sports fans to follow top-level soccer competition throughout the entire year and not only during a particular playing season as in the case of the top four major team sports.
Organized college and high school sports
The most popular college sports, measured by NCAA reporting on varsity team participation, are: (1) football (64,000), (2) baseball/softball (47,000), (3) track and field (46,000), (4) soccer (43,000), (5) basketball (32,000), (6) cross-country running (25,000), and (7) swimming/diving (20,000). The most popular sport among female athletes is soccer, followed closely by track and field.
Among organized high school sports, the sports with the highest number of participants are: (1) football, (2) basketball, (3) track & field, (4) baseball/softball, (5) soccer, and (6) cross-country. Wrestling is the sixth most popular sport for boys, while volleyball is the third most popular sport for girls.
List of Sports Leagues in the United States
Other Sports Leagues
- United States Australian Football League (USAFL)
- American National Rugby League (AMNRL)
- American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL)
- Arena Football League (AFL)
- Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP)
- Bellator Fighting Championships
- Champions Tour, for men's golfers 50 and over; operated by the PGA Tour
- Grand-Am Road Racing
- IndyCar (was Indy Racing League (IRL), merged with Champ Car)
- International Motor Sports Association (IMSA, sanctions ALMS)
- LPGA Tour
- Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL)
- Major League Lacrosse (MLL)
- Major League Soccer (MLS)
- Major League Ultimate (MLU)
- National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR)
- National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
- National Hot Rod Association (NHRA)
- National Lacrosse League (NLL)
- National Pro Fastpitch
- National Women's Soccer League (NWSL)
- North American Soccer League (NASL)
- PBA Tour
- Professional Bull Riders (PBR)
- PGA Tour
- Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA)
- Professional Inline Hockey Association (PIHA)
- Ring Of Honor Wrestling (ROH)
- Rugby Super League (RSL)
- TNA Wrestling
- Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)
- United Football League (2009) (UFL)
- United States of America Cricket Association (USACA)
- United States Bowling Congress (USBC)
- United States Tennis Association (USTA)
- USA Rugby League (USARL)
- USA Swimming (USA-S)
- USL Professional Division (USL-Pro)
- Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA)
- Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)
- World Juggling Federation (WJF)
- World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
- Xtreme Soccer League (XSL)
- Doping in the United States
- United States at the team sports international competitions
- Sports Museum of America
- Professional sports in the Western United States
- U.S. Census Bureau, Participation in Selected Sports Activities: 2009, http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s1249.pdf
- U.S. Lacrosse, 2011 Participation Survey, http://www.uslacrosse.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=tIqhe4P9DsM%3D&tabid=14645
- International Rugby Board, Year in Review 2012, page 46, http://www.irb.com/mm/document/newsmedia/mediazone/02/06/57/96/638irbyir2012lrv3.pdf
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- Roller Derby Worldwide
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- The NCAA defines a participant as someone who "as of the day of the varsity team's first scheduled contest: (a) is listed as a team member; (b) practices with the varsity team and receives coaching from one or more varsity coaches; or (c)received athletically-related student aid."
- The NCAA does not give a number for total track and field, but breaks the figures into outdoor and indoor. The number given is for outdoor track and field. The total is likely to be somewhat higher.
- National Federation of State High School Associations, Indianapolis, The 2007–2008 High School Athletics Participation Survey
- "Labor Issues And The Four Major Sports Leagues". Docsports.com. Retrieved 2012-09-04.
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