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Numerous sports are booming at the moment, with increased interest from broadcasters and sponsorships helping to drive growth across the industry.

Live attendances are on the up in several sports, while the average global viewership across various top-class competitions are also increasing.

All of this is happening despite the economic challenges impacting many nations worldwide at the moment – money may be tight, but fans still want their sports fix.

With that in mind, we have analysed some of the most popular leagues, competitions and sporting events to determine how they stack up against each other.

Which League/Sport has the Highest Annual Sponsorship Revenue?

When it comes to maximising global sponsorship opportunities, no one does it better than the National Football League (NFL) in North America.

The NFL generates more annual sponsorship income than the Olympic Games and World Cup – a staggering achievement for a single-nation competition.

League/Sport Annual Sponsorship Revenue
NFL $2.7bn
Olympic Games $2.3bn
World Cup $1.7bn
NBA $1.6bn
Premier League $1.6bn
Formula 1 $434m
UFC $140m
Indian Premier League $121m

The NBA and Premier League also break through the billion-dollar sponsorship barrier each year courtesy of their massive appeal to sports fans worldwide.

Given Formula 1’s global reputation, it is perhaps surprising to see the annual motorsports competition lagging some way behind the top leagues and sports in this category.

Which League/Sport has the Highest Annual Broadcast Revenue?

Despite having a season that runs for around five months, the NFL rakes in a whopping $10 billion annually in broadcast revenue.

That figure puts it way in front of the NBA, Olympic Games, World Cup and Premier League, all of which have more matches and events to sell to broadcasters.

League/Sport Annual Broadcast Revenue
NFL $10bn
NBA $3.12bn
Olympic Games $3.1bn
World Cup $2.96bn
Premier League $2.8bn
Indian Premier League $1bn
UFC $700m
Formula 1 $678m

The organisers of cricket’s Indian Premier League have done a stellar job to secure $1bn annually from their broadcast revenue, putting them nicely ahead of the UFC.

F1 brings up the rear in this category, although their numbers may increase in the next few years due to increased interest in the series in North America.

Who are the Highest Earners in Each League/Sport?

The figures in the highest earners section are a little skewed due to how some of the different leagues and sports are structured.

For example, Cristiano Ronaldo’s annual $74 million salary comes from playing for a club in Saudi Arabia rather than representing Portugal at major football tournaments.

League/Sport Athlete Total Annual Salary
World Cup Cristiano Ronaldo $74m
Formula 1 Max Verstappen $55m
NFL Aaron Rodgers $50.2m
NBA Stephen Curry $48m
Olympic Games Kevin Durant $44.1m
Premier League Kevin De Bruyne $25.7m
UFC Israel Adesanya $4m
Indian Premier League Sam Curran $2.26m

It is a similar story with NBA star Kevin Durant, with his annual salary paid by the Phoenix Suns rather than the United States men’s basketball team.

Perhaps most the noteworthy element in this category is the $55 base salary Max Verstappen receives for driving around in circles most weekends!

Which League/Sport has the Highest Average Global Broadcast Viewership?

Calculating the average global broadcast viewership for each league or sport is no easy task given the different way each one is structured.

For instance, the Olympics is a multi-sports event staged over more than two weeks, meaning comparisons with major leagues are a little unfair.

League/Sport Average Global Broadcast Viewership
Olympic Games 179.4m
Formula 1 70m
World Cup 56m
NFL 16.7m
Indian Premier League 8m
Premier League 7.9m
NBA 1.6m
UFC 800,000

The average viewership for the Games has been worked out on a per-day basis, while each of the others represents per-match or event figures.

F1’s average of 70m viewers per race is undoubtedly impressive when compared to standalone competitions such as the NFL and Premier League.

Which League/Sport has the Highest Average Attendance?

Similar to the broadcast figures, the average for the Olympics is calculated as a daily average based on the number of tickets initially sold for Tokyo 2020.

F1’s attendance is worked out as an average of the number of people who attend from Friday to Sunday on the weekend of a single race.

League/Sport Highest Average Attendance
Olympic Games 160,000
Formula 1 90,000
NFL 69,442
World Cup 53,191
Premier League 39,453
Indian Premier League 26,000
UFC 20,000
NBA 17,184

 The NFL’s healthy attendance average sticks out like a sore thumb in this category, highlighting just how popular the sport is in North America.

While the Premier League likes to market itself as the biggest in the world, it lags way behind its gridiron counterpart in this category.

Which League/Sport has the Largest Social Media Footprint?

While the NBA scores badly in a couple of areas when compared to rival leagues and sports, the same cannot be said about its social media footprint.

The NBA is consistently towards the top of Google’s highest trending searches, highlighting how its popularity transcends mere sporting boundaries.

League/Sport Largest Social Media Footprint
NBA 158.9m
Premier League 150m
World Cup 103.3m
NFL 77.6m
UFC 76.8m
Formula 1 41.7m
Indian Premier League 37.7m
Olympic Games 34.1m

One of the primary reasons for the NBA’s success on social is their philosophy of optimising content for each individual platform.

Many other leagues and sports use the same content across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which impacts their ability to grow their followers on each one.

How the Top Leagues & Sports Compare

Given the diverse nature of the leagues and sports analysed, it is important to note that attempting to compare how they compare overall against each other is an exercise in futility.

However, using a sliding scale points system from eight to one in each category does reveal some noteworthy points for discussion.

NFL 8 8 6 5 6 5 38
WC 6 5 8 6 5 6 36
OG 7 6 4 8 8 1 34
F1 3 1 7 7 7 3 28
NBA 4.5 7 5 2 1 8 27.5
EPL 4.5 4 3 3 4 7 25.5
IPL 1 3 1 4 3 2 14
UFC 2 2 2 1 2 4 13

What immediately leaps out from the table above is the dominating position the NFL has over other standalone competitions in other sports.

As multi-national events, it comes as no surprise to see the World Cup and Olympic Games fill the other two places un the top three.

However, the NFL is miles clear of each of the other leagues and sports, scoring highly in each of the six categories analysed.

The league beats the NBA in every metric bar social media footprint, which does suggest they may have work to do in that area.

That point unquestionably applies to the International Olympic Committee, who do not appear to have taken full advantage of what social platforms can offer.

The most obvious comparison to make is between the number of people who follow the Games’ three main social channels against those who follow the World Cup.

Both are multi-nation events staged periodically, yet the World Cup has more than three times as many followers as the Games.

The latter has the added advantage of featuring loads of different sports, which further suggests the Games are underperforming massively on social.

Another eye-catching result from the study is how F1 stacks up against the rest in the annual broadcast and revenue categories.

Since restrictions were placed on tobacco advertising, F1 has largely failed to attract the same level of sponsorship as other leagues and sports.

While broadcast viewership and live attendances are impressive, these do not appear to have impressed the people who decide where their sponsorship money should be spent.

F1’s commercial and marketing teams have been hamstrung by legislation that insists each car in their team must race in virtually the same livery.

This limits the type of sponsorship they can attract and thus impacts the revenue that can be generated through broadcast deals.

Maximising sponsorship and broadcast revenue has undoubtedly not been an issue for the Premier League since it was launched in 1992.

Having harnessed the heritage already established in English football, the EPL has become a lesson in how to successfully market a sports competition.

Second only to the NBA in terms of social media footprint, England’s top football league knows how to make itself attractive to the rest of the world.

The willingness to embrace ideas and investment from overseas has been one of the primary reasons why this domestic competition has become such a big hit.

Central to the EPL’s success is its ability to attract top-class players and managers, while continuing to be one of the most competitive leagues on the planet.

At its heart are the clubs – which is an important distinction to make when compared to other leagues and sports.

For many fans the franchise model of competitions such as the NFL, NBA and IPL is an alien concept – the antithesis of what sport should truly be about.

By contrast, EPL clubs are long-standing parts of their local communities that truly represent the people who live there.

The beauty of the Premier League is that success can be judged in different ways, a factor that does not necessarily apply in other leagues and sports.

With no promotion or relegation in the equation and a draft system designed to delivery parity, the aforementioned rival leagues can be argued to be sterile.

However, there are numerous ways of determining success in the Premier League. For instance, finishing in the top four secures qualification for the Champions League the following season.

For clubs who are unlikely to challenge for the title, this is an achievable aim and one which represents ‘success’ in the truest sense of the word.

The element of jeopardy has also helped the EPL become a genuine rival to other leagues and sports it has no right to be competing with.

The bottom three teams are relegated to the Championship at the end of the season – there is no franchise model or draft system in place to protect them.

This generates a level of drama that is tough to match and goes a long way to explaining why a league based in a country with a population of around 60 million is so popular globally.

The Premier League’s presence alongside multi-nation events and other leagues and sports located in massive countries is perhaps THE main takeaway from this study.

Given the amount of overseas investment flooding into English football, the EPL may well make further gains on rival competitions over the coming years.