Sports in the United States
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Sports are an important part of the culture of the United States. The four major professional sports leagues in the United States are Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL); all four enjoy massive US media exposure and are considered the preeminent competitions in their respective sports in the world, although only basketball and baseball (and to a lesser extent hockey) have substantial followings in other nations. Three of those leagues have teams that represent Canadian cities, and all four are among the most financially lucrative sports leagues in the world. The top professional soccer league in the United States, Major League Soccer, has yet to reach the popularity levels of the top four US sports leagues or of its international counterparts, although its popularity and average attendances have been increasing in recent years.
Professional teams in all major sports in the US operate as franchises within a league, meaning that a team may decide to move to a different city if it feels it is of financial benefit, a concept which is regarded as anathema in Europe, where teams have a historic and traditional connection to their hometown community. All major sports leagues use the same type of schedule with a playoff tournament after the regular season ends. In addition to the major league-level organizations, several sports also have professional minor leagues, active in smaller cities across the country.
Sports are particularly associated with education in the United States, with most high schools and universities having organized sports. College sports competitions play an important role in the American sporting culture, and certain college sports — particularly college football and college basketball — are at least as popular as professional sports. The major sanctioning body for college sports is the NCAA.
- 1 Olympics
- 2 Individual sports
- 3 Popular team sports
- 4 Other team sports
- 5 Organization of American sports
- 6 Sports media in the United States
- 7 Most popular sports in the United States
- 8 Sports leagues in the United States
- 9 See also
- 10 References
The United States has sent athletes to every celebration of the modern Olympic Games, except the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, USSR, which it boycotted due to the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is the National Olympic Committee for the United States.
American athletes have won a total of 2570 medals at the Summer Olympic Games and another 253 at the Winter Olympic Games. More medals have been won in athletics (track and field) (738, 29%) and swimming (489, 19%) than any others. Thomas Burke was the first athlete to represent the United States at the Olympics. He took first place in both the 100 meters and the 400 meters of the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. American swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, with 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold.
The United States has won more gold and overall medals than any other country in the Summer Games and overall. The US also has the second-most overall medals at the Winter games, trailing only Norway. Earlier United States mainly conceded to Soviet Union at summer Games and to Soviet Union, Norway, East Germany at winter Games only and now strongly fights with China only at summer Games. The United States is the only country to have won at least one gold medal at every Winter Olympics, and has won the total medal count at Lake Placid in the 1932 Winter Olympics and at Vancouver in the 2010 Winter Olympics. During the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the United States set a record for most total medals of any country at a single Winter Olympics.
The United States has hosted both Summer and Winter Games in 1932 and most occasions of the Games among other countries - eight times, four times each for the Summer and Winter Games:
- 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, 1932 Summer Olympics and 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta
- 1932 Winter Olympics and 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City
Motor sports are widely popular in the United States but Americans generally show little interest in the major international competitions, such as the Formula One Grand Prix series and MotoGP, preferring home-grown racing series. However, some Americans have achieved great success in these international series, such as Mario Andretti and Kenny Roberts
Americans, like the rest of the world, initially began using public streets as a host of automobile races. As time progressed it was soon discovered that these venues were often unsafe to the public as they offered relatively little crowd control. Promoters and drivers in the United States discovered that horse racing tracks could provide better conditions for drivers and spectators than public streets. The result has been a long-standing popularity in the US for oval track racing, which is not used in the rest of the world, while road racing has generally waned. However, an extensive though illegal street racing culture still persists.
Historically, open wheel racing was the most popular nationwide, with the Indianapolis 500 being the most widely followed race. However, an acrimonious split in 1994 between the primary series, CART (later known as Champ Car), and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (the site of the Indy 500) led to the formation of the Indy Racing League, which launched the rival IndyCar Series in 1996. From that point, the popularity of open wheel racing in the U.S. declined dramatically. The feud was settled in 2008 with an agreement to merge the two series under the IndyCar banner, but enormous damage had already been done to the sport. Post-merger, Indycar continues to remain with slight gains per year, despite a product that has become compelling.
The CART-IRL feud coincided with an enormous expansion of stock car racing, governed by NASCAR, from its past as a mostly regional circuit mainly followed in the Southern U.S. to a truly national sport. NASCAR's audience peaked in the mid 2000s, and has declined a bit but it continues to have around 2-4 million viewers per race. Among NASCAR's popular drivers are Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. NASCAR's most popular race is the Daytona 500 held each year at Daytona Beach, Florida in February. NASCAR is particularly popular within the southern states.
In addition to autoracing, several other motorsports enjoy varying degrees of popularity in the United States: dirt track racing, sprint car racing, monster truck competitions (including the popular Monster Jam circuit), demolition derby, figure 8 racing and tractor pulling.
Hunting and fishing are very popular in the U.S., especially in rural areas. Other popular outdoors activities in the country include hiking, mountain climbing, paintball and kayaking. In winter, many Americans head to mountainous areas for skiing and snowboarding. Cycling and road bicycle racing have increased in popularity, fueled by the success of cyclists Greg LeMond and the eight consecutive Tours de France won by American contestants (although all eight were discarded in the wake of doping revelations against the two winners, Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis).
Tennis is a popular sport in the U.S., with the pinnacle of the sport in the country being the US Open played every fall in New York. Tennis is popular in all five categories (Men's and Ladies' Singles; Men's, Ladies' and Mixed Doubles); however, the most popular are the singles. The United States has had a lot of success in tennis for many years, with players such as Don Budge, Billie Jean King (pictured), Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras dominating their sport in the past. More recently, the Williams sisters, Venus Williams and Serena Williams, have been a strong force in the women's game, and the twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan have claimed nearly every possible record for men's doubles teams.
Track and field
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There are many track and field events which involve individual athletes competing, including sprints, middle and long-distance events, and hurdling. Regular jumping events include long jump, triple jump, high jump and pole vault, while the most common throwing events are shot put, javelin, discus and hammer. There are also "combined events", such as heptathlon and decathlon, in which athletes compete in a number of the above events.
The United States has frequently set world standards in various disciplines of track and field for both male and female athletes. Tyson Gay and Michael Johnson hold various sprint records for male athletes, while Florence Griffith Joyner set various world sprint records for female athletes. Alan Webb's personal record on the mile is just three seconds short of the world record, while Mary Slaney set many world records for middle-distance disciplines.
A turning point occurred in US track in the running boom of the 1970s. After a series of American successes in various disciplines of running from the likes of marathoners Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers as well as track athletes Dave Wottle and Steve Prefontaine, running as an American past-time finally manifested. Carl Lewis is also credited with "normalizing" the practice of having a lengthy track career as opposed to retiring once reaching the age when it is less realistic of gaining a personal best result. The United States is home to school-sponsored track and field, a tradition in which most schools from middle school through college feature a track and field team. High school track and field in the United States provides excellent development for creating a big talent pool of athletes in the country. Due to the amount of American athletes who satisfy Olympic norm standards, the US holds national trials to select the best of its top-tier athletes for Olympic competition.
Other popular individual sports
Popular team sports
The most popular team sports in the United States are American football, basketball, baseball/softball, soccer, and ice hockey. All five of these team sports are popular with fans, are widely watched on television, have a fully professional league, are played by millions of Americans, enjoy varsity status at many Division 1 colleges, and are played in high schools throughout the country.
|Professional League||Participants||NCAA DI Teams
(Men + Women)
|American football||38.8%||111.5m||National Football League||8.9 million||249 (249M + 0W)||50|
|Basketball||15.3%||39.1m||National Basketball Association||24.4 million||698 (351M + 349W)||50|
|Baseball/Softball||14.8%||35.9m||Major League Baseball||23.3 million||589 (298M + 291W)||48|
|Soccer||8.2%||29.2m||Major League Soccer||13.6 million||531 (205M + 332W)||50|
|Ice Hockey||3.8%||8.5m||National Hockey League||3.1 million||95 (59M + 36W)||15|
- TV viewing record measures the game with the most TV viewers in the U.S. since 2000.
- The column titled "States (HS)" represents the number of states that sponsor the sport at the high school level.
The NFL is the preeminent professional football league in the United States. The NFL has 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 (Big 12 Conference and Big Ten Conference) 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 in the fall, fans have the opportunity to watch high school games on Fridays and Saturdays, college football on Saturdays, and NFL games on Sundays, the usual playing day of the professional teams. However, some colleges play games on Tuesday (the Mid-American Conference in particular played a national game Tuesday nights through the 2013 season) and Wednesday nights, while the NFL offers weekly games on Monday (since 1970) and Thursday (since 2006). As recently as 2013, one could find a nationally televised professional or college game on television any night between Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekend (as of 2014, the MAC's Tuesday night games now only occur in November, to accommodate baseball season).
Notable NFL players include Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, Roger Staubach, Dick Butkus, Joe Greene, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Walter Payton, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Emmitt Smith, and Ray Lewis. Notable current NFL players include Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Adrian Peterson.
Nationwide, the NFL obtains the highest television ratings among major sports. This situation began in the late 1960s and early 1970s 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 NFL teams which have become practically identified with their host cities are the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins.
College football (i.e. NCAA)is popular in the southeast, where there are fewer major professional sports teams. 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.
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.
Baseball and a 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, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and Jackie Robinson, who was instrumental in dissolving the color line and allowing African-Americans into the major leagues. The more noted players of today include Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout 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 and Fernando Valenzuela. The most successful major league player from Asia is Ichiro Suzuki.
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.
An extensive minor league baseball system covers most mid-sized cities in the United States. Minor league baseball teams are organized in a six-tier hierarchy, in which the highest teams (AAA) are in major cities that do not have a major league team but often have a major team in another sport, and each level occupies progressively smaller cities. The lowest levels of professional baseball serve primarily as development systems for the sport's most inexperienced prospects, with the absolute bottom, the rookie leagues, occupying the major league squads' spring training complexes and making no effort to earn money on their own. Some limited independent professional baseball exists, the most prominent being the Atlantic League, which occupies mostly suburban locales that are not eligible for high level minor league teams of their own. Outside the minor leagues are collegiate summer baseball leagues, which occupy towns even smaller than those at the lower end of minor league baseball and typically cannot support professional sports. Summer baseball is an amateur exercise and uses players that choose not to play for payment in order to remain eligible to play college baseball for their respective universities in the spring. At the absolute lowest end of the organized baseball system is senior amateur baseball, which typically plays its games only on weekends.
Of those Americans citing their favorite sport, basketball is ranked second (counting amateur levels) behind football. However, in regards to money the NBA is ranked third in popularity. More Americans play basketball than any other team sport, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, with over 26 million Americans playing basketball. Basketball was invented in 1891 by Canadian physical education teacher James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts.
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. Indiana has 10 of the 12 largest high school gyms in the United States, and is famous for its basketball passion, known as Hoosier Hysteria.
Notable NBA players in history include Wilt Chamberlain (4 time MVP), Bill Russell (5 time MVP), Bob Pettit (11 time all NBA team), Bob Cousy (12 time all NBA team), Walt Frazier, Jerry West, (12 time all NBA team), 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 (NBA's third all-time leading scorer), LeBron James (4 MVP awards), Tim Duncan (15-time NBA all-star), Dwyane Wade (10 time all-star), Kevin Durant (4 NBA scoring titles), and Chris Paul (8 time all-star).
Ever since the 1990s, 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 1 time all-star Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), the first European to win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award.2
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 in Los Angeles ever since the Los Angeles Lakers developed as a perennial powerhouse and title contender since the 1980s, becoming the most popular sports team in the city and the league's glamor team in part 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 the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Sacramento Kings, the San Antonio Spurs, or 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."
Soccer has been increasing in popularity in the United States 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., more widely played than ice hockey and American football. Most Division 1 colleges field both a men's and women's varsity soccer team .
The United States men's national team and women's national team, as well as a number of national youth teams, 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. The U.S. women's team is tied with Germany for most Women's World Cup championships, and is the only team that has never finished worse than third place in a World Cup.
Major League Soccer is the premier soccer league in the United States. MLS has 20 clubs (17 from the U.S. and 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. MLS has a particularly solid following in the Pacific Northwest, where there is a strong rivalry between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders. Other professional men's soccer leagues in the U.S. include the Division II North American Soccer League and the Division III United Soccer League, the latter of which now has a formal relationship with MLS.
Many American sports fans, as compared to decades ago, now follow international soccer competitions such as the World Cup. Soccer fans also follow foreign club competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and England's Premier League, and there is growing interest in Major League Soccer, the top domestic professional league. Younger generations of Americans are developing stronger fan appreciation for the sport, due to factors such as the U.S. hosting of the 1994 World Cup and the formation of Major League Soccer, as well as increased U.S. television coverage of soccer competitions. Many immigrants living in the United States continue to follow soccer as their favorite team sport.
Women's professional soccer in the United States has not seen sustained success. The professional women's leagues—the Women's United Soccer Association and Women's Professional Soccer—each folded after 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.
Many notable international soccer players played in the U.S. in NASL, albeit at the end of their playing careers — including Pelé, Eusébio, George Best, Franz Beckenbauer, and Johan Cruyff — or in MLS — including Roberto Donadoni, Lothar Matthäus, David Beckham, and Thierry Henry.
The best American soccer players enter the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame. Particularly notable American male players in the Hall of Fame include Bert Patenaude, Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, Tony Meola, Eric Wynalda, and Claudio Reyna. Notable female American players in the Hall of Fame include Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, and Michelle Akers.
Ice hockey, usually referred to simply as "hockey," is another popular sport in the United States. 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 the southeast and southwest U.S., coupled with the mass relocation of many residents from northern cities with 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. While NHL stars are still not as readily familiar to the general American public as are stars of the NFL, MLB, and the NBA, average attendance for NHL games in the U.S. has surpassed average NBA attendance in recent seasons,[when?] buoyed in part by the NHL Winter Classic being played in large outdoor stadiums.
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. USA Hockey is the official governing body for amateur hockey in the U.S. The United States Hockey Hall of Fame is located in Eveleth, Minnesota.
One of the nation's greatest ever sporting moments was the "Miracle on Ice", which 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.
Historically, the vast majority of NHL players had come from Canada, with a small number of Americans (mostly out of the Minnesota, Michigan and New England areas). In 1969–70, Canadians made up 95 percent of the league. Things began to change for Americans due to NHL expansion in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the creation of the World Hockey Association in the 1970s. At the time, Eastern Europeans were largely unavailable. This gave Americans their first real opportunity to prove themselves in the league, and by the 1979–80 season, more than 10 percent of NHL players were American-born.
The success of European teams, especially the Soviets, against Canadians in the 1970s helped to change stereotypes against European players. During the 1970s and 1980s, 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. The late 2000s (decade) saw another surge in the number of American-trained players. Today, the majority of NHL players are Canadian, 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 Wayne Gretzky (leading point scorer), Mario Lemieux, Chris Chelios, Guy Lafleur, Steve Yzerman, Gordie Howe (6 time MVP), Nicklas Lidstrom, Bobby Hull, and Bobby Orr. Famous NHL players today include Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, and Claude Giroux.
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.
Ice hockey is among the most popular sports in the northeast and upper Midwest. The U.S. now has more youth hockey players than all other countries, apart from Canada, combined. However, as compared to the other major sports leagues, the sport has comparatively less fan following among minorities in the US.
Other team sports
The following table shows additional sports that are played by over 500,000 people in the United States.
(Men + Women)
|Semi-Pro League(s)||Attendance Record
(109M + 1,064W)
|Premier Volleyball League||17,209 (2006)||Yes|
|Ultimate||4.9 million||——||Major League Ultimate;
American Ultimate Disc League
(1M + 5W)
|Pacific Rugby Premiership;
Atlantic Rugby Premiership
(339M + 443W)
|National Lacrosse League;
Major League Lacrosse
Lacrosse is a team sport that is believed to have 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. The National Lacrosse League and Major League Lacrosse are the national box and outdoor lacrosse leagues, respectively, with both leagues operating on a fully professional level. The most popular Division I college lacrosse teams draw 1,000 – 4,000 fans per game, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas.
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 has competed at the Rugby World Cup. In the sevens variation of the sport, the men's national team is one of 15 "core teams" that participate in every event of the annual Sevens World Series, and the women's national team is one of 11 core teams in the Women's Sevens 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.
Rugby formed the basis of modern American football; the two sports were nearly identical in the late 19th century but diverged into distinct, incompatible codes by the start of the 20th.
Ultimate and disc sports (frisbee)
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 5.1 million people that play some form of organized ultimate in the US.
Alternative sports, using the flying disc, began in the mid-sixties, when numbers of young people looked for alternative recreational activities, including throwing a Frisbee. What started with a few players experimenting with new ways of throwing and catching a Frisbee later would become known as playing disc 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 disc freestyle, double disc court, disc guts, disc ultimate and disc golf became this sport's first events.
Disc sports includes both ultimate and disc golf. Ultimate has added two new semi-professional leagues: the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL), which began play in 2012, and Major League Ultimate (MLU), which began play in 2013, however these leagues are still competing at a lower level than club teams established across the US.
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Cricket, another popular and common sport in Commonwealth countries, is not a popular sport in the U.S. but has a niche market and is slowly growing in popularity. Many amateur US cricket leagues have been formed by Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Australian, South African, English and Caribbean immigrants, and as a result, the sport has made limited inroads into America because of an influx of migrants from cricketing countries, who make up almost 16 million of the American population.
Historically, cricket used to be the most popular sport in America during the 18th and early 19th centuries, but it suffered a rapid decline as the sport of baseball overtook cricket as the bat-and-ball code of choice. The first intercollegiate tournament to take place 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, pre-dating even today's Olympic Games by nearly 50 years.
The U.S. participated in the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy where they were comprehensively beaten by Australia and New Zealand. United States of America Cricket Association governs the professional Cricket in the country. 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 was formed in 2010 to develop the interest in sport among young kids. 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.
Australian rules football in the United States is a fast-growing team and spectator sport that was first played in the country in 1996. The United States Australian Football League is the governing body for the sport in the U.S., with various clubs and leagues around the country. The National Championships are held annually. The United States men's national Australian rules football team and the women's national team both regularly play international matches and play in the Australian Football International Cup, a tournament for all competing countries apart from Australia.
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 seldom seen in the United States. The sport is mostly played in the country on the amateur level. Handball is played in the Summer Olympics, but is not sanctioned by the NCAA; all college and university teams play as club teams. 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.
Water polo does not have a professional competition in the U.S., so the highest level of competitive play is at the college level and in the Olympics. The NCAA sanctions water polo as a varsity sport for both men and women, but sport is not popular in the U.S. beyond the west coast, and no team outside of California has ever reached the finals of the NCAA Division I men's water polo championship.
Field hockey is played in the United States predominantly by women. It is played widely at numerous NCAA colleges, where it is used as a sport to offset Title IX regulations assuring equal opportunities for men and women in sports (it thus offsets male-dominated sports such as college football).
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 contact sport played on roller skates that has had brief surges of popularity throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. 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.
An adaptation of the fictional sport of quidditch held its first U.S. championship in 2015.
Organization of American sports
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.
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.
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).
Especially in football and basketball, 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.
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.
High school sports
Among organized high school sports, the team sports and individual sports with the highest number of participants are:
- Team sports
- 1,108,286 — Football
- 1,002,385 — Basketball
- 849,322 — Baseball/Softball
- 730,106 — Soccer
- 397,968 — Volleyball
- Individual sports
- 996,341 — Track & field (outdoor)
- 411,458 — Cross country
- 328,740 — Tennis
- 259,688 — Wrestling
- 259,093 — Swimming & diving
Popular high school sports in various regions of the U.S. include the Texas High School football championships, the Indiana basketball championships, and ice hockey in Minnesota.
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. Individual states may also have athletic commissions, which primarily govern individual sports such as boxing; although these commissions only have jurisdiction over their own states, the Full Faith and Credit Clause is often interpreted as forcing all other states to recognize any state athletic commission's rulings regarding an athlete's fitness for participating in a sport.
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).
According to the 2013 Harris Poll, the six sports with most fans are American football (46%), baseball (14%), basketball (10%), auto racing (7%), ice hockey (5%) and tennis (3%). In the 1985 poll, 31% of fans preferred football, 23% baseball, 12% basketball, 5% auto racing and 5% tennis.
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.
Sports leagues in the United States
The five major sports leagues
The following table shows the major professional sports leagues, which average over 15,000 fans per game and that have a national TV contract that pays rights fees.
|League||Sport||Teams||National TV contract||Average
|National Football League||American football||32||CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, NFLN||67,604|
|Major League Baseball||Baseball||30||FOX, FS1, ESPN, TBS, MLBN||30,451|
|Major League Soccer1||Soccer||20||NBC, NBCSN, FS1, ESPN, Univisión||19,148|
|National Hockey League||Ice hockey||30||NBC, NBCSN, NHLN||17,720|
|National Basketball Association||Basketball||30||ABC, ESPN, TNT, NBATV||17,347|
Other team 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)
- Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL)
- Major League Lacrosse (MLL)
- Major League Ultimate (MLU)
- National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
- National Lacrosse League (NLL)
- National Pro Fastpitch
- National Women's Soccer League (NWSL)
- North American Soccer League (NASL)
- Professional Inline Hockey Association (PIHA)
- Rugby Super League (RSL)
- United Football League (2009) (UFL)
- United States of America Cricket Association (USACA)
- USA Rugby League (USARL)
- USL Professional Division (USL-Pro)
- Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)
- Xtreme Soccer League (XSL)
Other individual sports leagues
- 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
- National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR)
- National Hot Rod Association (NHRA)
- PBA Tour
- Professional Bull Riders (PBR)
- PGA Tour
- Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA)
- Ring Of Honor Wrestling (ROH)
- TNA Wrestling
- Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)
- United States Bowling Congress (USBC)
- United States Tennis Association (USTA)
- USA Cycling (USAC)
- USA Swimming (USA-S)
- World Juggling Federation (WJF)
- World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
- Doping in the United States
- Women's sports in the United States
- Sports Museum of America
- Professional sports in the Western United States
- Record attendances in United States club soccer
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