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11 Sports Leagues That Bring in the Most Money Worldwide

Pro sports are watched in person and on TV. Millions of people around the globe throw their support behind a certain team or player by watching the games, buying the merchandise, and filling up bars and stadiums to tune in.

What sport brings in the most money worldwide? Quite a few sports teams bring in hundreds of millions…and even billions to the sports industry annually.

Some of the sports on the list may surprise you – not all of them are the ones that you may typically think of when you decide to head to a stadium or tune into a game at the local sports bar.

Methodology

While many sports are played around the world, not all of them have leagues –and not all generate a significant amount of money. As such, it was necessary for us to identify the sports that are bringing in the most money.

We converted all of the revenue into American dollars for purposes of comparison.

We looked at the sport, the size of the league, as well as reported revenue.

Resources include:

– League websites to tell us what teams/players are the most popular

– Sports digests to inform us about recent changes that would impact revenue

– City guides to discuss how different the population views sports

Once we gathered all the info, we were able to identify what sport brings in the most money, and we identified 11 of the top ones worldwide.

11. Tennis – $900 Million

One of the tamer sports, tennis, is extremely popular worldwide, with the top players hailing from every continent. So, while it’s not overall as popular or lucrative as some other sports, it still takes in enough to make it to our list.

Network licensing is responsible for much of it, with ESPN, NBC, and the Tennis channel broadcasting all major Opens. Ticket sales for major events like Wimbledon, The French Open, and The US Open also help make major bucks for the sport.

While tennis doesn’t have a league because it’s not a team sport, we felt it was worth including because there are so many different championships that are played – and the sport takes itself seriously enough to rank players worldwide.

The US Open, played in New York every year, generates approximately $500 million on its own between ticket sales, TV deals, as well as merchandise. The French Open generates approximately 300 million. Meanwhile, Wimbledon can bring in $200 million or more.

The economics of the sport is changing for the better, with more tennis being played. According to SPGlobal.com, Wimbledon, which is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, has been increasing its revenue over the past decade. When this list gets updated in a few years, tennis could easily be much higher on the list – especially as other tournaments learn more about TV deals and merchandising.

10. Boxing – $1 Billion

Boxing has always been a consistent money-making sport for athletes, promoters, and venues alike. Though there are still venues like the MGM Grand, which charge up to $1,000 per ticket, most of the money now comes from Pay Per View. Depending on who’s on the ticket, a PPV package could run anywhere from $50-$120.

There isn’t a lot of merchandise like many of the other sports, which is why it’s unlikely that boxing will ever grow to be a more popular sport. It’s also lost some of its appeal with other sports that are similar entering the market – such as MMA fighting.

New and old boxers alike are still relevant – and Floyd Mayweather is a boxer who is still identified as being one of the highest earners, generating an income of around $1.4 billion in US dollars.

Zipdo estimates that the boxing industry was worth approximately $680 million in the US alone in 2021. It is also played in other countries such as Mexico, Cuba, Thailand, Argentina, and Ukraine. For many boxers, it culminates in the World Championship.

9. Racing – NASCAR – $1.4 Billion

Though it’s been declining in popularity for the past 15 years, NASCAR still has a solid and loyal fan base that helps generate a lot of cash. For instance, last year, the Daytona 500 made the state of Florida almost $2 billion from fans who flocked to the event. While Forbes identifies the revenue to be around $460 million, we place it higher in the ranks because of what the teams are capable of generating as well.

Between the three major touring series, the Cup series, and local, smaller races, NASCAR is still a sport to be financially reckoned with. There is a significant amount of merchandising available, allowing fans to show support for their favorite driver. There are also several NASCAR cafes around the country.

Most of the NASCAR revenue is divided into the individual teams. For example, Hendricks Motorsports maintains between four and five drivers that compete at a time. The revenue comes from sponsorships on the cars as well as wins.

NASCAR as a whole earns most of its money through sponsorship, TV broadcasting deals, as well as ticket sales at the various racecourses around the country.

8. MMA – Mixed Martial Arts – $1.5 Billion

Mixed martial arts is a full-contact combat-style sport. It’s become increasingly popular over the past decade thanks to its raw, no-holds-bar, take a person down by any means a necessary, type of competition.

Managed by the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), MMA matches are highly lucrative events. In fact, of the top sports venue events around the globe, 11 of them are UFC fights. Two of them were held in the US and two in London.

In addition to arena events, the UFC has several Yelp events, including regular weekly, live events like Fight Night. For bigger fights, people must order it on pay-per-view.

With attention-grabbing fighters like Connor McGregor, Michael Chandler, and Jose Aldo, it’s no wonder so many people pay so much to watch these exciting events.

Additionally, the UFC generates quite a bit of revenue through UFC and MMA gear, offering fight shorts, grappling dummies, and more to ensure that aspiring MMA fighters have what they need for practice and getting into the ring.

7. PGA – Golf – $1.9 Billion

Golf has actually been growing in revenue over the past several years. When you ask what sport brings in the most money, this may be one of the more popular sports that the average person may actually play as a hobby – and it’s something that men, women, and kids can get involved in.

The Professional Golf Association (PGA) reported an impressive $1.9 billion in revenue in 2022. This is up considerably from 2021 as a result of a few TV deals worth billions.

As Golf Digest reported, the PGA tour is responsible for the majority of the revenue, which is a series of different events. Particularly for 2023, there were big changes made in terms of increasing the payouts for players who won a tournament. Some of the top events include:

  • Wells Fargo Championship
  • WM Phoenix Open
  • Sentry Tournament of Champions
  • Travelers Championship
  • FedEx Cup

Notice quite a few company names in there? The sponsorship is a significant part of the revenue boost that the PGA has gotten over the years, and it’s what allows golf to be a part of this list.

There are also quite a few golfers who are household names, which only encourages people to tune into some of the tours to see them – this includes Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy.

6. NHL – Hockey – $5.9 Billion

Hockey may not be the most popular sport in the United States, but it is the official sport of Canada. The fans in the US are usually hardcore and will spend a ton of money on tickets, merchandise, and pay per view and cable channels that air games. So this is how hockey is able to maintain a mid-level position within the list.

The NHL (National Hockey League) consists of 32 teams, which includes 25 in the United States and 7 in Canada. There are 82 games played throughout the season, which is one of the reasons why the sport is able to generate so much revenue over the course of the season – which runs from October to April.

The season culminates in the championships, known as the Stanley Cup. The final games can result in a significant amount of tourism for the hosting city as hockey fanatics will travel to see their team play. There’s also the Hockey Hall of Fame, which is where the Stanley Cup is often displayed – located in Toronto, Ontario.

5. IPL – Cricket – $7 Billion

If you’re wondering how a sport like Cricket made it onto the list, it is clearly not a sport that is popular where you live. However, it is quite a popular sport – and it’s played in such places as India and England in a competitive fashion.

The IPL is the most well-known of the Cricket sports leagues that bring in money. The Indian Premier League has the tendency to be bigger than hockey as well as quite a few individual soccer leagues around the globe.

While the IPL only consists of eight teams, and it is only played for two months out of the entire year, it generates approximately $7 billion in revenue a year.

How is that possible? Much of it has to do with the population of India. There are 1.3 billion people living in the country, and Cricket is their favorite sport. Often, when there’s a Cricket game playing in a particular town, or it is heavily televised, the entire town’s activities come to a standstill so that the game becomes the focus.

4. NBA – Basketball – $8 Billion

The National Basketball Association (NBA) covers 30 teams – 29 in the United States and one in Canada. Every year, there are 82 games that make up a season. There’s a significant amount of press around the games, including the seven games of the NBA Playoffs.

After being badly impacted by the COVID pandemic and losing an estimated $2-3 billion, this is on the upswing for the NBA. Though attendance has hovered around an all-time low of 22 million in the past few years, the league still manages to make billions through network rights (with TNT, ESPN, and others), sponsorship deals, and merchandising.

In fact, NBA merchandise is among some of the most sought-after brands around. The most profitable teams include the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, and LA Lakers.

Basketball as a whole is popular, starting with many following players early on in their careers as they play in the NCAA. March Madness is the NCAA playoffs, and many people market off of the brackets with prizes for those who accurately pick their brackets to match the actual results. While the NCAA is a different level than the NBA, many players often use college as a launch platform for a lucrative NBA career.

3. MLB – Baseball – $10.7 Billion

Major League Baseball (MLB) encompasses 30 teams across the US (with the Toronto Blue Jays being the only team based in Canada). “America’s Pastime” has fallen in popularity in the past decade, but overall, it still makes enough money overall to land in the number 3 position from a monetary standpoint. Some of that is because it’s not just America’s pastime anymore. Baseball is extremely popular in other countries, like the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

Recent ticket sales worldwide numbered 69,625,200. It’s also no secret that baseball fans love their concession stand, hot dogs, beer, shirts, hats, and foam fingers. It’s a huge moneymaker for MLB. In fact, many of the various baseball stadiums around the country are luring in celebrity chefs. For example, Guy Fieri opened a taco stand at Globe Life Field (home of the Texas Rangers) While Bobby Flay has his burgers at Yankee Stadium.

Licensing deals with FOX, ESPN, TBS, and MLB Network also add to the revenue. The top-earning teams for this sport are the New York Yankees and LA Dodgers. The Yankees have even sold their merchandise overseas – they are one of the most famous sports teams globally – and have a total worth of about $7.1 billion, according to Forbes.

2. NFL – American Football – $17 Billion

Founded in 1921, the NFL, for the most part, is only popular in the United States. However, with annual attendance rates of over 18 million people, it makes it the second most lucrative sport in the world.

It’s also important to note that the NFL is slowly expanding to play in various other cities around the globe. This is being done as a way to slowly reach a higher level of popularity. Their hope is to slowly bring soccer fans around to the NFL. At the end of November 2023, the NFL announced that there would be five international games for their 2024 season. This includes three in London, one in Munich, and the other in a new market that was undisclosed (likely either Madrid or Sao Paulo, Brazil).

Ticket sales aside, the NFL has licensing deals with CBS, ESPN, NBC, and FOX networks, to name a few. Then throw in merchandising, concession sales, and trademark rights, and the 32 teams that comprise the league are huge money machines.

These teams are responsible for playing 17 games, playoffs, and then it all culminates in a Super Bowl, complete with a celebrity-studded Half Time show. The ad revenue for the Super Bowl alone is worth about $500 million. The commercials that are played on TV during this time are often why many people tune in – they have a reputation for being epic.

Here are a few of the teams that are most known for contributing in revenue:

  • Dallas Cowboys
  • New England Patriots
  • New York Giants

If you take a closer look at what each team contributes, it averages about $137 million. It also shouldn’t surprise you that the Dallas Cowboys is consistently one of the most valuable teams. Forbes valued them at about $9 billion, but that’s the value of the team, not their revenue. Still, it says quite a bit about the sport, don’t you think?

1.   FIFA – Soccer – $50 Billion

It should come as no surprise that on the world stage, soccer has become not only the most popular, but the biggest money maker in the sports world. The 2022 World Cup alone generated over $4.7 billion in revenue.

Played in over 200 countries around the globe, professional soccer is overseen by The International Federation of Football (FIFA). There are over 40 leagues that fall under their regulations – and actually 209 members. It actually rivals that of the United Nations. Some would even say that it is the most prestigious sports organization in the world.

From huge money-making leagues like Real Madrid, La Liga, Manchester United, and La Liga to smaller ones like Turkish Super and Belgian First, these leagues join forces to create the top revenue-generating sport on Earth.

Money is made through ticket sales, marketing, and licensing rights for sporting events. FIFA has deals with networks like ESPN, FOX, and Meta. It doesn’t hurt to have wildly popular players like Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar drawing more and more fans to the sport.

Even beyond FIFA, there are other teams that play – including eight sovereign nations that FIFA doesn’t recognize. This includes Monaco, Micronesia, Nauru, and others. They are not allowed to participate in the World Cup, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still host games or contribute to the overall monetary value of soccer.

Particularly when you look at what sport brings in the most money, the answer is definitely soccer (known simply as football in countries outside the United States). FIFA is the presiding body, but it’s important to note that there are quite a few larger leagues that seem to be all-encompassing.

Here’s a look at some of the highest revenue-generating leagues:

  • Premier League (EPL) covers 32 teams in England
  • La Liga covers 20 teams in Spain
  • Bundesliga covers 18 teams in Germany
  • Serie A covers 20 teams in Italy
  • Ligue 1 covers 20 teams in France/Monaco
  • Major League Soccer covers 28 teams across the US and Canada
  • Brasileiro Serie A covers 20 teams in Brazil

There are additional leagues that encompass Russia, Japan, China, Mexico, Turkey, Argentina, Netherlands, Portugal – and the list goes on.

When you consider that there are so many countries around the world that participate in soccer (football), it’s easy to see why it brings in the most money.

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Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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