The global footprint of American sports league - NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB
December 11th, 2023, Rishad Dsouza

The global footprint of American sports league - NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB

The NFL commands the highest interest in the US, but it is the NBA that wins the global appeal contest. Additionally, NHL has a commanding presence in certain icy-weather countries and the MLB has diverse pockets of interest.

In this piece we examine rates of interest in the four major US sports leagues in 11 markets spanning multiple continents, using our Global Fan Profiles data, which tracks sports and esports insights in 51 markets overall.

Nowhere is the NFL more popular than its home market, but very sizeable shares of consumers in the other North American markets also show an interest – Canada (28%) and Mexico (32%). Rates are also higher than the global average (21%) in Brazil (22%), Saudi Arabia (24%), India (34%), Philippines (29%).

Quite unlike the NFL, the NBA’s domestic popularity is eclipsed in several markets, not least in Philippines where three in five (59%) consumers say they are either somewhat interested or that the league is one of their top interests. Interest levels are also high in China (36%), India (30%), Brazil (31%) and Mexico (30%). Other than this, rates in Saudi Arabia (26%) and Canada (27%) are roughly similar to those in the States.

When it comes to the NHL, more than twice as many Canadians (45%) are interested as their US (20%) counterparts. Canada does have a very strong representation in the NHL, with seven out of the 32 teams located there, still the gap between the two markets is noteworthy. Sizeable rates are logged in India (34%), Finland (23%), Philippines (21%) and Saudi (19%) too. Finland is one of only two markets in this list, other than Canada, where interest for the NHL is higher than the other leagues. Not coincidentally, these markets have some of the most northernly borders in the world – the cold temperatures making ice hockey particularly conducive to these environments. Although not in the list of markets we examine here – the NHL has strong interest in other cold countries like Russia, Sweden, Slovakia and Czech Republic.

The MLB has a strong following in Japan (22%) – a market which doesn’t share the same level of enthusiasm for the other major American leagues as some of its Asian counterparts. More than a quarter of consumers in Canada (28%), Philippines (27%) and Mexico (27%) also say they are interested in the baseball tournament.

Much like several other aspects of US culture, it’s evident that American sports – and sports leagues – have also made a significant impact on the global landscape. In the sample of markets we examine, UK stands out as the sole market where none of the leagues attract the interest of at least a fifth of consumers. That perhaps has to do with the well-formalised local sports ecosystem. But even here, the NFL commands interest of nearly a tenth of consumers (9%).

Methodology: YouGov Global Fan Profiles, which includes data from 51 markets, is based on continuously collected data from several sources, rather than from a single limited questionnaire.