Professional sports are watched by hundreds of millions of people around the globe. It's a beloved pastime, an exercise in bonding, even a ritualistic tradition for fans. It's also a lucrative business for team owners, players, and television stations all over the world.
From baseball and cricket to boxing and soccer, people flock to stadiums, bars, and their living rooms to watch their favorite athletes perform. The revenue this generates can range from hundreds of thousands to billions of dollars.
So what sports rake in the most dough? We've compiled a list based on ticket sales, broadcast licensing, merchandising, and commercial deals.
Read on for a list of the top 10 sports that bring in the most money worldwide.
10. Motorcross - $300 Million
Motocross (dirt biking) started in Europe. It was more of a personal enrichment sport for adrenaline seekers. But since the inception of the popular X Games, it's developed into a serious spectator sport.
With solid ticket sales, network licensing, and merchandise sales, motocross is definitely an income-generating sport that is on its way up.
9. Tennis - $700 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 be in the top 10.
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.
8. 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.
7. Formula 1/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 that flocked to the event.
Between the 3 major touring series, the Cup series, and local, smaller races, NASCAR is still a sport to be financially reckoned with.
6. 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, by any means 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.
5. NHL - Hockey - $3 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 land at the number 5 position.
4. NBA - Basketball - $8 Billion
After being badly impacted by the COVID pandemic, 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 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.
3. MLB - Baseball - $10.7 Billion
"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 world wide 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.
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.
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.
Ticket sales aside, the NFL has licensing deals with CBS, ESPN, NBC, 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.
The teams that generate the most income include Dallas, New England, New York Giants, and Denver.
1. 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.
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.
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Written by Garrett Parker
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