From association football to basketball, baseball and more, which sport do you think generates the most revenue?
The answers — and particularly, the order — might surprise you. From a financial standpoint, the world’s most popular sports are bigger than the vast majority of businesses, earning as much as tens of billions of pounds per year in total revenue.
They’re also big business for betters, who can place paid and free bets on their favourite sports online and through a variety of services.
Think you know which sport is the biggest? Below, we’ve listed all of the world’s most profitable sports, starting with the biggest revenue generators in the world and working our way down to a variety of smaller, less profitable professional sports.
Football — by which we mean association football or soccer — is the world’s most profitable and popular sport, and not by a small margin.
According to publicly available revenue data, the top five football tournaments — the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 — generate approximately £12.29 billion in annual revenue.
This figure doesn’t even include leagues such as Major League Soccer, Campeonato Brasileiro or the EFL Championship, all of which contribute hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue to the total amount generated by competitive football.
American football, or gridiron, is the world’s second most profitable sport, generating slightly less revenue on an annual basis than association football.
With total revenue of £10.84 billion per year for the most recent year figures are available, the total earnings from American football fall slightly behind association football. However, they’re still very impressive, considering American football isn’t widely viewed outside the USA.
On a per-team basis, the NFL actually outperforms the Premier League, generating an average of £283 million per year, per team. Add a passionate audience within the USA and Canada into the equation and American football is easily one of the world’s most profitable sports.
Interestingly, baseball generates almost as much revenue as football, with average revenue of £9.42 billion per year. Like American football, baseball’s global appeal is limited — most viewers of competitive baseball are located in the United States and Canada.
Major League Baseball is the biggest contributor to global baseball revenue, earning about $7 billion per year in total. There are also small but popular baseball leagues in Japan and South Korea, such as Korea Professional Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball.
Basketball ranks fourth in global revenue, generating about £4.3 billion in revenue per year via the NBA and other tournaments. As you’d expect, most basketball spending is concentrated in the United States, where the NBA ranks amongst the top sports tournaments.
There are also smaller, less profitable basketball leagues in European countries such as Spain and Germany, where Liga ACB and the Basketball Bundesliga respectively bring in smaller but respectable amounts of revenue every year.
Finally, ice hockey ranks among the world’s most profitable sports. With total earnings of £2.54 billion per year, the NHL is the smallest of the world’s major sports tournaments but maintains a large audience of passionate, dedicated fans.
As you’d expect, the majority of ice hockey revenue comes from Canada and the United States, with smaller leagues in countries like Russia and Germany.