The American Love Affair With Televised Sports Events

Watching sports events live is thrilling, but Americans just love as much to gather round the TV and follow the events as they’re happening. According to research by British internet market research and data analytics firm YouGov from 2022, for instance,
two thirds of US sports fans watch live sport (64%) on TV. On top of that, three in ten US sports fans will watch repeat broadcasts or highlights on the TV. Older sports fans show a preference for viewing sports on TV, whereas younger ones are opting more for streaming and social media to watch sports and keep up with events.

Of course, the US has some highly popular sports, such as NFL and college football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey. Soccer, however, has grown popular with the nation. Below is a look at how soccer has grown, how sports betting has improved TV viewing of live sports events and at the sports that get the most viewers.

US citizens finding a love for soccer

American may not have been very successful in the last World Cup, making it to the round of 16 before the Netherlands beat them 3-1, forcing them out of the competition; but soccer itself has won new fans, especially young fans, in the US. Gallup polling from 1937 to 1972 shows that fewer than 0.5% of Americans gave soccer as their answer when asked what their favorite sport was. In 2004, the percentage still hadn’t risen any higher than 2%.
Fast forward to 2022 and there’s a big difference. Eight per cent of Americans answered soccer as their favorite sport to watch in a poll by The Washington Post. That’s almost as popular as basketball (12%) or baseball (11%) and, in previous polls by the newspaper on the subject, has trumped motor racing, hockey and golf. Naturally, it will take something mighty special to knock American football off its perch, which is the favorite sport overall, not just to watch.

How online betting makes watching sports on TV even better

Sports betting, especially in-play betting online, which enables players to bet online while an event is ongoing, has had a real impact on how people enjoy live sports events. This is partly because the sportsbooks update the odds regularly during the event. Punters can see what’s happening in the event, check the odds, which can improve during events, and then place their bet.

People who previously weren’t into sports betting have now taken it up and it has become part of their experience when watching a sports event on TV. They’ll get together with friends to follow the game and socialize, but they’ll also have group chats in the week to strategize their betting for the event.
There is a strong link between interest and sports betting. People tend to bet on sports that they’re interested in, which is why sports such as American football are so popular with sports bettors in the US (as opposed to soccer leagues being more popular for betting in some European countries). The betting enables fans to engage with the event and, more generally, with the sport and their favorite athletes more.

Some sports bettors will adopt new teams, as a result of the emotional relationships they’ve built from following the teams and the sport. This encourages them to watch more sports events on TV. If a sport fan is betting on an event, they’re also more likely to watch it and see how it unfolds.

Most popular sports for viewing

Americans love sport and it’s common to see fans glued to their TV screens following live events. In fact, sport is one of the most watched genres of programming on traditional TV in the US. Events can attract some of the highest numbers of viewers in the country, as millions of viewers tune in. Super Bowl games, for instance, constitute nearly all the top 30 most watched broadcasts in US history. CBS sport coverage of the 2024 Super Bowl LVIII attracted an estimated average of 123.7 million viewers, which is almost as many as the Apollo 11 moon landing, which is believed to have been watched by between 125 and 150 million in the US.
In 2023, the NFL was the most watched sports league in the US, as you might expect. According to data from Statista, people watched a combined 974.7 billion minutes of action across the 284 games televised between November 2022 and November 2023. This was way out ahead of the Major League Baseball (LB), which accumulated 329.7 billion minutes; the NBA, which had sports fans in front of their TV sets for a combined 285.2 billion minutes; and the National Hockey League (NHL), which racked up 181.3 billion minutes.

Americans love following sports events on TV, especially American football, but soccer is gradually becoming more and more popular. It has already taken over some other sports, according to some polls. How many more will it overtake?

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