We Know Football Is Popular, but Just How Big Is It?

Baseball may be America’s favorite pastime, but ask most sports fans and they’ll tell you that football is America’s favorite sport. On game days, whether you’re a sports fan or not, it’s usually impossible to avoid predictions, trash talk, and quick-takes. So, we know football is popular – but just how big is it? It’s a tough question that doesn’t have a solid answer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a stab at it anyway.

By the Numbers: the NFL’s TV Ratings

While plenty of youngsters learn the ins and outs of the game by taking part in high school and college ball, it’s safe to say that most football fans aren’t participants, but rather viewers. Far and away, the National Football League is the most popular league for the sport, and if somebody’s talking about a game, they’re more than likely referencing an NFL game. So, how many people tune in to watch NFL games? The number depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which is the network the game airs on, but anywhere from 20 to 40 million viewers per game isn’t out of the ordinary. Of course, the Super Bowl is consistently the most-watched game, with more than 110 million people having tuned into 2015’s Super Bowl 50.

Other Indications of Football’s Popularity

TV ratings might be a good indicator of how big football is, but they aren’t the whole picture. What about the thousands of people who actually attend the games, the people who listen along to the play-by-plays on the radio, and the people who miss out on televised games but still love the sport? There’s a poll for that – specifically the Harris Poll, which regularly measures trends across all industries, especially sports. In 2015, a third of sports fans polled said that their favorite sport was professional football, while 10 percent said college football was their favorite.

Interestingly, over the past 30 years, baseball and football have gone from being neck-and-neck to baseball being 10 points behind today.

Football Outside the United States

You don’t need to know much about soccer to know that it’s seldom called “soccer” outside of America. In most countries around the world, soccer is instead referred to as “football,” while our football is instead “American football.” Confusing, right? No more confusing than outsiders to (American) football find our nation’s favorite game. However, while soccer is arguably the most popular sport in the world, people outside of America still play or watch football – though at a much, much lower number than in the States. For example, Canadians make up a sizeable amount of NFL viewership and even play their own variant on the game with slightly different rules. Farther away, leagues such as the German Football League keep the game popular with a foreign audience.

While it might be impossible to say exactly how many football fans there are in the world, the statistics point a pretty obvious picture: football is huge, and perhaps bigger than ever. The NFL is certainly doing all right, raking in billions of dollars each year. And with more teams joining the professional conferences in the near future, there’s no need to worry about football going anywhere. In short, you won’t be hanging up your fan jersey any time soon.

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