In the brave new world of the 2020s, top-level sport takes place on a global platform. International TV deals, live mobile streaming, even the online sports betting apps – they all bring a wider range of events and tournaments to a wider range of sports fans. It’s served to broaden everyone’s horizons, but nowhere has this been more acutely observed than in the USA.
30 years ago, the most popular American sports were quite different to the most popular sports in the rest of the world. The NFL, NBA, World Series and so on were practically unheard of outside North America, while sports like soccer, rugby and cricket were similarly mysterious to Americans. How times have changed. Over the past decade, Europe has gone NFL crazy, and in the US, the sports kids are playing today are shifting away from the old favorites.
MLS is hugely popular across the US. But while you might not be surprised to hear that it’s now achieved as high a profile as the “big four” sports, did you know it is actually overtaking some of them? Soccer is now the second most popular spectator sport among under-35s in America. There are also more youngsters taking up the game than ever before, especially as it is seen as a safer option than football after all the adverse publicity relating to head injuries.
The gentlemanly game of cricket used to be associated with English villages, cucumber sandwiches and stopping play at the first drop of rain. All that changed when T20 was introduced, a fast-moving version of the game that’s big on razzmatazz, with its cheerleaders, music, colored kits and huge sponsorship deals. T20 is huge across Asia, and the excitement of the games, along with cricket betting tips from the experts, have captured the imaginations of US sports fans. Now, there’s news of a billion dollar investment that will aim to set up a T20 league in the US – exciting times are ahead.
Another traditional English game, rugby in the US has mostly been confined to a few college clubs over the past decades. However, interest in last year’s Rugby World Cup has raised the profile of the game, and new leagues are appearing at youth, high school and pro level. Again, it is no coincidence that rugby’s popularity is coinciding with football’s decline, as the two games have certain similarities.
Most sports that grow in popularity do so because people see the pros in action and decide to try it for themselves. MMA has followed the opposite path. It’s always been a popular activity for fitness, but only in the UFC era has it started to be taken seriously as a sport. There are those who feel it is still in some way inferior to boxing, but that gap is naturally closing. Expect to see more high-profile crossovers, like the famous Mayweather vs McGregor bout, over the coming months and years. These will serve to further raise the sport’s mainstream profile and popularity.