Sports in the United States

Sports in the United States

Sports in the United States are an important part of the national culture. However, the sporting culture of the U.S. is different from that of many other countries. Compared to any other nation, Americans prefer a unique set of sports. For example, soccer, the most popular sport in many other countries, is not as popular in the U.S. compared to the four most popular team sports, namely, American football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey. The major leagues of each of these sports enjoy massive media exposure and are considered the preeminent competitions in their respective sports in the world. The preeminence of the major leagues is partially attributed to their strong financial power and huge domestic market, as well as the fact that relatively few other countries play some of their dominant sports, like American football, to any significant extent.

In addition to the difference of popular sports, sports are also organized differently in the United States. There is no system of promotion and relegation like sports in Europe and major sports leagues operate as associations of franchises. Moreover, all major sports leagues use the same type of schedule with a playoff tournament after the regular season. Also, unlike many other countries, schools and colleges and universities sports competitions play an important role in the American sporting culture.

American sports are quite distinct from those played elsewhere in the world. The top four spectator team sports are American football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey. Baseball is the oldest of these. Professional baseball dates from 1869 and had no close rivals in popularity until the 1960s; though baseball is no longer the most popular sport it is still referred to as the "national pastime." Also unlike the professional levels of the other popular spectator sports in the U.S., Major League Baseball teams play almost every day from April to October. American football (known simply as "football" in the U.S.) now attracts more television viewers than baseball; however, National Football League teams play only 16 regular-season games each year, so baseball is the runaway leader in ticket sales. Basketball, invented in Massachusetts by the Canadian-born James Naismith, is another popular sport, represented professionally by the National Basketball Association. Most Americans recognize a fourth major sport - ice hockey. Always a mainstay of Great Lakes and New England-area culture, the sport gained tenuous footholds in regions like the American South in recent years, as the National Hockey League pursued a policy of expansion.

The top tier of stock car auto racing, NASCAR, has grown from a mainly Southern sport to one with a following nationwide. It has largely outgrown a previously provincial image; it is now avidly followed by fans in all socioeconomic groups and NASCAR sponsorships in the premier Sprint Cup division are highly sought after by hundreds of the U.S.'s largest corporations.

Unlike in Europe, Africa, and Latin America, soccer, despite being the most popular sport in the world, has a relatively small following. It is popular with the large European and Latino immigrant populations, like in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Texas. The sport was widely played by children of affluent backgrounds (giving rise to the "soccer mom" stereotype), though participation in other demographics have risen in the past decade, making that stereotype less accurate. Dramatic growth in youth participation has fueled the men's national team's steady rise in caliber of play since 1990, with the US participating in every World Cup since that time. Almost as many girls as boys play youth soccer in the U.S., contributing to the women's national team becoming one of the world's premier women's sides. The top domestic league, Major League Soccer, is not traditionally considered one of the major leagues in the country but it has continued to rise in popularity. Another interesting recent trend has been the popularity of foreign games broadcast from England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Argetina, and other nations. Many American soccer fans follow other leagues in place of, or in addition to MLS.

The extent in America to which sports are associated with secondary and tertiary education is unique among nations. In basketball and football, high school and particularly college sports are followed with a fervor equaling or exceeding that felt for professional sports; college football games can draw six-digit crowds, many prominent high school football teams have stadiums that seat tens of thousands of spectators, and the college basketball championship tournament played in March, known as March Madness, draws enormous attention. For upper-tier schools, sports are a significant source of revenue. Though student athletes may be held to significantly lower academic requirements than non-athletes at many large universities, minimum standards do exist.

Team sports

American Football

Football, known as gridiron or American football outside the U.S. and Canada, attracts more television viewers cite web|url=|title=Harris Poll of top sports: 2006] than baseball, and is considered the most popular sport in the United States. The 32-team National Football League (NFL) is the most popular and only major professional American football league. Its championship game, the Super Bowl, is watched by nearly half of US television households. Additional millions also watch college football throughout the autumn months, and some communities, particularly in rural areas, place great emphasis on their local high school football team. Arena football, a form of American football played in indoor arenas, has its own professional league, the Arena Football League, which attracts comparatively little attention, and is often considered a niche sport.

American Football is similar to the English sport Rugby.


The most popular baseball league in the U.S. is Major League Baseball. Because of its 162 game schedule, it attracts more ticket sales than any other sport in the United States, but is not regarded as the most popular.

Major League Baseball teams play almost every day from April to October. The World Series is the championship series of Major League Baseball, the culmination of the sport's postseason each October. It is played between the winner of each of the two leagues, the American League and the National League and the winner is determined through a best-of-seven playoff. Notable baseball players include Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax and Hank Aaron. Baseball and the variant, softball, are also popular participatory sports in the U.S. However, unlike American football, baseball is also popular in many other countries, notably Japan and Latin American countries such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Venezuela.

Baseball somewhat resembles the English sport Rounders.


Basketball, invented in Springfield, Massachusetts , by physical education teacher James Naismith, is another popular sport, and is considered a staple among the top three team sports . The National Basketball Association, more popularly known as the NBA, is the world's premier men's professional basketball league and one of the major professional sports leagues of North America. In late April, the NBA Playoffs begin. Eight teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs and compete for the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy. Notable NBA players in history include Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Larry Bird, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant.

Since 1992 Summer Olympics, NBA players have represented United Stated in international competition and won several important tournaments. The Dream Team was the unofficial nickname of the United States men's basketball team that won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics.

Like American football, basketball at both the college and high school levels is quite popular throughout the country. Every March, a 65-team, six-round, single-elimination tournament determines the national champions of college basketball. Most U.S. states also crown state champions among their high schools. More Americans play basketball than any other team sport, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Unlike the more popular American sports - American football and baseball - basketball is extremely popular in Europe and is often played in schools. The NBA is very popular in places like Italy, France and Spain than the MLB or NFL. More people would have heard of Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant than any players from the other major leagues. In addition to international popularity, professional basketball through the NBA and the WNBA (to a lesser degree) is one of the most popular sports in the United States.

Netball, a derivative of basketball usually played by women, is popular in Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the West Indies.

Ice Hockey

Ice hockey is another popular sport in the United States. Commonly referred to simply as "hockey" in the U.S., the game is most popular in regions of the country with a cold winter climate, namely New England and the states of Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. However, in recent years hockey has become increasingly popular in the Sun Belt due in large part to the expansion of the National Hockey League to cities like Tampa, Florida; Dallas, Texas; and Phoenix, Arizona.

The NHL is the major professional hockey league in North America, with 24 U.S.-based teams and six Canadian-based teams competing for the Stanley Cup. Other professional leagues in the U.S. include the American Hockey League and the ECHL. Additionally, nine U.S.-based teams compete in the three member leagues of the Canadian Hockey League.

USA Hockey is the official governing body for amateur hockey in the U.S. The United States Hockey Hall of Fame is located in Eveleth, Minnesota.


Soccer has historically had a smaller following in the United States than in many other parts of the world. Several attempts have been made to bring top-level competition to the United States, most recently Major League Soccer (MLS). Since the 1980s, soccer participation at the recreational and scholastic levels has grown significantly, fueling interest in the men's and women's national teams, as well as MLS, though viewership and attendance levels for soccer games still remain relatively low, when compared to other professional leagues. Soccer is widely played by both men and women in the U.S., one factor in the pioneering success and popularity of the women's national team, and the United States is one of only a few nations (along with China, Canada, and Scandinavia) where the women's national team is more successful than the men's team. Soccer in the U.S. has a surge of media and fan interest following the arrival of David Beckham to MLS side LA Galaxy in a big money move in July, 2007. MLS is continuing to grow in terms of fan base and media coverage and has become much more financially secure. As a result the MLS has had a huge amount of interest from businesses and investors looking to bring a franchise to their respective cities in the next few years. Popular players having played in the U.S. include Pelé, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer, in the North American Soccer League (NASL) in '70s, and Landon Donovan and David Beckham in the MLS.International soccer in the United States is reasonably popular. The United States Mens National Team regularly sells out games and in major tournaments is followed by a large portion of the country. Foreign national teams are also popular do to the large immigrant population. Rivalries between teams such as US and Mexico sell out some stadiums.

Other team sports

*Lacrosse is a team sport of Native American origin. Although it is not a very popular sport nationwide, it is quite popular in mid-Atlantic and New England states and is increasing in national popularity. NLL and MLL are the national box and outdoor lacrosse leagues, respectively, and have increased their following in recent years. Also, many of the top Division I college lacrosse teams draw upwards of 7-10,000 for a game, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas.

* Rugby union, common in other English-speaking nations, is not as well known in the United States. Rugby is played recreationally, professionally and in colleges, though it is not governed by the NCAA (see College rugby). There are an estimated 63,000 registered players, [cite web|url= |title=USA country profile |publisher=International Rugby Board |accessdate=2008-01-16] with more than a quarter being women. The semi-professional Rugby Super League is the premier domestic competition and two American teams also participated in the North America 4. More recently the national side has been competing at the Rugby World Cup.

*Rugby league is a growing sport with semi-professional teams competing in the AMNRL competition. The national team, the Tomahawks, participate in regular competition with other nations and competed in the qualifying stages for the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.

*Australian rules football is governed by US Footy in the U.S. and, though little-known in the country, it is also a developing sport with regular international competition against Canada.

*Curling is popular in northern states, possibly because of climate, proximity to Canada, or Scandinavian heritage.

*Gaelic football and hurling are governed by North American GAA and New York GAA. Like Australian rules football, they do not have a high profile but are developing sports, with New York fielding a representative team in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.

* Volleyball is also a notable sport in the United States, especially at the college and university levels. There is a dramatic difference in the support of university athletic programs for men's and women's volleyball. Over 300 schools in NCAA Division I alone (the highest of three NCAA tiers) sponsor women's volleyball at the varsity level, [cite web|url= |title=NCAA Sports Sponsorship: Division I Women's Volleyball |publisher=NCAA |accessdate=2008-01-06] while only 82 schools in "all three NCAA divisions combined" sponsor varsity men's volleyball, with only 22 of them in Division I. [cite web|url= |title=NCAA Sports Sponsorship: Division I Men's Volleyball |publisher=NCAA |accessdate=2008-01-06] [cite web|url= |title=NCAA Sports Sponsorship: Division II Men's Volleyball |publisher=NCAA |accessdate=2008-01-06] [cite web|url= |title=NCAA Sports Sponsorship: Division III Men's Volleyball |publisher=NCAA |accessdate=2008-01-06]
*Inline hockey was invented by Americans as a way to play the sport in all climates. The PIHA is the league with the largest number of professional teams in the nation. Road hockey is a non-standard version of inline hockey played by amateurs in informal games.

* Ultimate was initially popular with high school and college students, and many now continue to play in adult recreational leagues.

* Cricket, another common sport in Commonwealth countries, is not a popular sport in the U.S. Many amateur cricket leagues have been formed by Indian, Pakistani, Australian, South African, English and Caribbean immigrants, and as a result, the sport has made limited inroads into the mainstream sports community because of a large influx of migrants from cricketing countries who make up almost 16 million of the American population. Cricket used to be the most popular sport in America during the 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s till it suffered a rapid decline. In fact the first intercollegiate tournament in America was a cricket tournament. The first annual Canada vs. USA cricket match, played since the 1840s, was attended by 10,000 spectators at Bloomingdale Park in New York. The USA vs.Canada cricket match is the oldest international sporting event in the modern world, predating even today's Olympic Games by nearly 50 years. USA participated in the 2004 Champions Trophy where they got comprehensively beaten in matches against Australia and New Zealand.

Individual sports

Motor sports

Motor sports are also widely popular in the United States, but Americans generally ignore major international series, such as Formula One and MotoGP, in favor of home-grown racing series. Americans, like the rest of the world, initially began using public streets as a host of automobile races. As time progressed it was soon discovered that these venues we're often unsafe to the public as they offered relatively little crowd control. Promoters and drivers in the United States discovered that horse racing tracks could provide better conditions for drivers and spectators than public streets. The result has been long standing popularity for oval track racing while road racing has waned. [ [] "My Take on Open Wheel Racing In America" Accessed 2008-07-22]

Historically, open wheel racing was the most popular nationwide, with the Indianapolis 500 being unquestionably the most widely followed race. However, an acrimonious split in 1994 between the primary league, CART (later known as Champ Car), and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (the site of the Indy 500) led to the formation of the Indy Racing League, which launched the rival IndyCar Series in 1996. From that point, the popularity of open wheel racing in the U.S. declined dramatically. [cite web|url= |title=American open-wheel racing held hostage: Year 13 |first=John |last=Oreovicz |publisher="" |date=2008-01-06 |accessdate=2008-01-06] The feud was settled in 2008 with an agreement to merge the two series under the IRL banner, but not until enormous damage had been done to the sport. [cite news|url= |title=After 12 years of conflict, IRL and Champ Car merge |author=Associated Press |publisher="" |date=2008-02-22 |accessdate=2008-02-22]

The CART-IRL feud coincided with an enormous expansion of stock car racing, governed by NASCAR, from its past as a mostly regional circuit mainly followed in the southeastern U.S. to a truly national sport. NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series generally harnesses an 8 million person audience on television, as well as sold-out crowds at many tracks that can hold up to 170,000 spectators.

Another one of the most popular forms of motorsports in the United States is the indigenous sport of drag racing. The largest drag racing organization, the National Hot Rod Association, boasts 80,000 members, more than 35,000 licensed competitors and nationwide television coverage [ [ Inside the NHRA: NHRA: World's largest auto racing organization ] ] .

Golf, tennis, boxing, and track and field

Outside of team events, U.S. athletes compete in sports such as boxing, golf, tennis, and track and field events. Golf is very popular in the U.S. as a recreational activity, especially among business people. The United States is home to the world's richest men's professional tour, the PGA Tour, and three of the four major championships in men's golf, and also to the richest women's professional tour, the LPGA Tour. America has consistently been the most successful nation in men's professional golf since World War I. The U.S. was also the dominant nation in women's professional golf until around the turn of the 21st century, when Asian and other international golfers began to dominate the LPGA Tour.

Tennis is played nationally at high school and college levels, and the country hosts one of the four annual Grand Slam tournaments, the US Open, at the USTA National Tennis Center, Queens, New York City. Many of the of the all-time greats of the sport are American, such as Bill Tilden, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, and Venus and Serena Williams.

Professional boxing was one of the major sports in the U.S. from the late 19th century up to the middle decades of the 20th century. U.S. boxers such as Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson rank among the all time greats of the sport. However boxing has decreased in popularity over the past several decades while the sport of mixed martial arts has recently enjoyed mainstream success.

Track and field gets little mainstream attention from Americans apart from competition in the Olympic Games, although it is always a mainstay of high school and college athletic departments.

Outdoors sports

Hunting and fishing are very popular in the U.S., especially in rural areas. Other popular outdoors activities in the country include hiking, mountain climbing, paintball and kayaking. In winter, many Americans head to mountainous areas for skiing and snowboarding. Cycling has increased in popularity, fueled by the success of Texan cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Other popular individual sports

* Equestrian competition - Despite lacking the national popularity seen in Europe, America usually performs extremely well in international equestrian competition.
* Wrestling - Though not a popular sport on a national level (except perhaps during the Olympics), high school wrestling is frequently one of the most popular participatory sports for young men in the United States.
* Martial arts competitions
* Shooting sports
* Skateboarding - Skateboarding is the act of riding on and performing tricks with a skateboard. A person who skateboards is referred to as a skateboarder or skater.
* Surfing
* Fencing
* Swimming
* Running
* Mountain biking
* Bowling

The organization of American sports

Amateur sports

The extent in the United States to which sports are associated with secondary and tertiary education is rare among nations. Millions of students participate in athletics programs operated by high schools and colleges. Student-athletes often receive scholarships to colleges in recognition of their athletic potential. Though student athletes may be held to significantly lower academic requirements than non-athletes at some universities, a minimum standard does exist.

High school and college sports fill the developmental role that in many other countries would be the place of youth teams associated with clubs. Professional teams draft top student athletes when they finish their education. Baseball and ice hockey operate minor league systems for players who have finished education but are not ready or good enough for the major leagues.

Especially in basketball and football, high school and particularly college sports are followed with a fervor equaling or exceeding that felt for professional sports; college football games can draw six-digit crowds and, for upper-tier schools, sports are a significant source of revenue.

Professional sports

There is no system of promotion and relegation in American professional sports. Major sports leagues operate as associations of franchises. The same 30-32 teams play in the league each year unless they move to another city or the league chooses to expand with new franchises.

All American sports leagues use the same type of schedule. After the regular season, the 8-16 teams with the best records enter a playoff tournament leading to a championship series or game. American sports, except for soccer, have no equivalent to the cup competitions that run concurrently with leagues in European sports. Even in the case of soccer, most casual soccer fans are unaware of the existence of a cup competition. Also, major-league professional teams in the U.S. never play teams from other organizations in meaningful games, although NBA teams have played European teams in preseason exhibitions on a semi-regular basis.

International competition is not as important in American sports as it is in the sporting culture of most other countries, although Olympic ice-hockey and basketball tournaments do generate attention. The first international baseball tournament with top-level players, the World Baseball Classic, also generated some positive reviews after its inaugural tournament in 2006.

Government regulation

No American government agency is charged with overseeing sports. However, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports ( advises the President through the Secretary of Health and Human Services about physical activity, fitness, and sports, and recommends programs to promote regular physical activity for the health of all Americans. The U.S. Congress has chartered the United States Olympic Committee to govern American participation in the Olympic Movement and promote amateur sports. Congress has also involved itself in several aspects of sports, notably gender equity in college athletics, illegal drugs in pro sports, sports broadcasting and the application of antitrust law to sports leagues.

ports media in the United States

Sports have been a major part of American broadcasting since the early days of radio. Today, television networks pay millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast sporting events. Contracts between leagues and broadcasters stipulate how often games must be interrupted for commercials. Because of all of the advertisements, broadcasting contracts are very lucrative and account for the biggest chunk of pro teams' revenues. Broadcasters also covet the television contracts for the major sports leagues (especially in the case of the NFL) in order to amplify their ability to promote their programming to the audience, especially young and middle-aged adult males. Teams do not cover their fields and uniforms with sponsors' logos as European tams often do.

The advent of cable and satellite television has greatly expanded sports offerings on American TV. ESPN, the first all-sports cable network in the U.S., went on the air in 1979. It has been followed by several sister networks and competitors.

Despite the size of the sports market in the U.S., the country does not have a national daily sports newspaper. This is because the contiguous 48 states spread across four time zones, and games on the West Coast may not end until early morning in the East. This makes it difficult to distribute a national newspaper with the scores of late games in time for morning delivery. However, there are many American sports magazines, the best-known being "Sports Illustrated".

List of Major Sports Leagues in the United States

* American Hockey League (AHL) (Semi-Pro)
* American Indoor Football Association (AIFA) (Semi-Pro)
* Arena Football League (AFL)
* Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL) (Semi-Pro)
* East Coast Hockey League (ECHL)
* Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) (Semi-Pro)
* Major League Baseball (MLB)
* Major League Lacrosse (MLL)
* Major League Soccer (MLS)
* National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR)
* National Basketball Association (NBA)
* National Football League (NFL)
* National Hockey League (NHL)
* United States of America Cricket Association (USACA)
* National Lacrosse League (NLL)
* United States Tennis Association (USTA)
* United Indoor Football (UIF) (Semi-Pro)
* United States Australian Football League (USAFL)
* Womens National Basketball Association (WNBA)
* Professional Inline Hockey Association (PIHA)
* Rugby Super League (RSL)
* American National Rugby League (AMNRL)
* World Juggling Federation (WJF)

See also

*Major professional sports leagues of the United States and Canada
*United States at the Olympics


External links

* [ "Arts, Entertainment and Recreation,"] "Statistical Abstract of the United States", 2006 ed., U.S. Census Bureau (PDF file).
* [ Sports leagues and activities in the United States]
* [ Harris Poll of Most Popular American Sports]
* [ Major League Baseball]
* [ National Football League]
* [ National Basketball Association]
* [ National Collegiate Athletic Association]
* [ National Hockey League]
* [ Major League Soccer]
* [ United States of America Cricket Association]
* [ Australian Football Association of North America]
* [ USA Rugby (union)]
* [ Soccer Network]

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