The Battle Of The Sports: Basketball vs Football Popularity [2023]

There’s something about how basketball and football are played in America that feels right.

Basketball is graceful like a ballet dancer spinning and leaping through the air. Football is brutal, like two heavyweight boxers slugging it out in the middle of the ring.

In basketball, one well-timed jump shot can win the game. In football, one big hit can change the momentum of the game.

So, if you look at basketball vs. football popularity, which sport comes out on top?

Keep reading to find the answer!


Basketball vs. Football Popularity (Is Football or Basketball More Popular?)

Here are the different ways to measure basketball vs. football popularity:

Television Ratings

If you measure popularity by television ratings, then football is more popular. The Super Bowl is the most-watched event on television in the US, and regular-season NFL games rank higher than any other sport, including the NBA Finals.

Person watching football on tv with a remote in his hand

Over 112.3 million viewers tuned into the 2022 Super Bowl. In comparison, only 106 million viewers watched the 2022 NBA Finals.

Search Data

TV ratings aren’t the only way to measure popularity, though. If you look at Google search trends, then basketball is more popular.

“NBA” gets more searches than “NFL” every month, including during football season. In fact, “NBA” gets twice as many searches as “NFL” in some months. But does that solve the basketball vs. football popularity debate?


So let’s find out more.

Social Media Engagement

However, if you measure popularity by social media engagement, basketball is more popular.

twitter icon on mobile screen

The NBA has more followers on Twitter than any other sports league, and its players are more likely to be found in the top 100 most-followed athletes on Instagram.

After all, this is how girls manage to hook up with basketball players.


You can also measure popularity by participation in each sport. For example, according to the most recent data from NPR, 22% of sports participants 18-29 play basketball, while only 13% play football.

Even though football is the most-watched sport in America, it’s clear that basketball is gaining ground.

Is Basketball or Football More Popular Worldwide?

Basketball is more popular than football worldwide.

In China, for example, basketball is extremely popular. The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) is the most-followed sports league on social media in China, and its games are broadcasted to over 600 million people.

The NBA has also been working hard to grow its global reach. The league has opened offices in Africa, China, and India, and it plans to open an office in Brazil.

Basketball vs football popularity

Meanwhile, the NFL has struggled to gain a foothold in China. A 2017 report found that only 3% of Chinese people were interested in the NFL.

Today’s NBA features more international stars than ever before. In 2022, the 3 leaders in the MVP conversation were Giannis Anteokounmpo (Greece), Joel Embiid (Cameroon), and Nikola Jokić (Serbia).

21.8% of all NBA players are international. As a result, these players generate a lot of interest in their home countries, which helps grow the popularity of basketball globally.

Basketball has come a long way since the “Dream Team” days when the US dominated the sport. International Olympic teams are now competitive with the US. The United States has fallen in international play to France, Argentina, and even Lithuania.

Africa is one of the NBA’s hottest new markets – check out this video that explains the growth of basketball on the African continent.

Why is Basketball More Popular Than Football?

There are a few reasons basketball might be more popular than football, both in the United States and worldwide.

Basketball is easier to play than football. All you need is a ball and a hoop, and you can play by yourself or with a group of friends. Football requires more equipment, and it’s harder to find people alongside.

Basketball is also less dangerous than football. The risk of serious injury is lower in basketball, which might be why participation rates are higher.

Basketball is a more inclusive sport than football. Both men and women can play together, and there are organizations like the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) that promote female athletes.

In contrast, football is a male-dominated sport. Just like soccer.

Basketball is a faster-paced and more exciting sport than football. More points are scored in a basketball game, and the action is continuous. Conversely, football can be slow, with long periods of inaction between plays.

basketball player shooting the ball

How Does The NFL Create An Exciting Product?

The NFL seeks to create parity among its teams to produce a more exciting and competitive product for the consumer ( fans of the sport) and fosters more popularity. This is accomplished in several ways.

First, all teams share equally in the revenue generated by television contracts and sponsorships.

Over 65% of NFL money comes from these television contracts, divided equally among teams.

Likewise, the league divides sponsorship money from companies like Gatorade, Nike, and Pepsi equally. Total revenue is about $9.2 billion per year, which is divided among the teams.

NFL match in process

In addition, the NFL has a salary cap ($208.2 million) that limits how much each team can spend on player salaries.

This ensures that small-market or less successful teams are not at a competitive disadvantage against larger market or more successful teams. 

No team can outspend another on players, giving all teams an equal chance to win.

The NFL also gives the first pick in the annual draft to the team with the worst record from the previous season. The better a team does, the later it picks in the draft.

The team with the worst record from the previous season gets the first draft, and the remaining teams select players in reverse order of their won-loss records.

This system allows the worst teams to improve their rosters and become more competitive. Struggling teams can improve quickly and get back into contention.

These factors allow an equal chance to compete for all teams and create parity in the NFL. As a result, any team can win on any Sunday, making the product more exciting and enjoyable.

How Does The NBA Generate Viewership?

The answer is quite simple. Good players. The NBA has the best athletes in the world playing a speedy and entertaining brand of basketball.

The NBA cultivates an uptempo, fan-friendly environment better than any other sports league. 

NBA match is in process

The NBA instituted rules to prevent teams from stalling on offense, which led to an increase in scoring.

Another way the NBA generates popularity is by having a global reach. The NBA is televised in over 200 countries and has players from all over the world. This makes the NBA attractive to fans from many different countries.

Similar to the NFL, the NBA creates parity by having a draft and salary cap ($122 million). This means that the worst teams can improve quickly, and that no team can keep its core together forever.

The NBA has also done a fantastic job of marketing its players. Players like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant are household names, even for people who don’t follow basketball.

Will the NFL or the NBA Be More Popular In The Future? (Why?)

Basketball popularity is surging worldwide, and the NBA is leading the charge. In the United States, the NBA has seen a significant increase in popularity over the past few years.

The NFL is still the most popular sport in America, closing the gap. According to a recent poll, 47% of Americans from the 18-34 age demographic consider themselves fans of the NBA.

The NFL ratings are also declining compared to a few years ago. This is likely due to a combination of things, including the national anthem protests and concerns about concussions.

Domestic violence controversies are also taking a toll on the NFL’s popularity. Domestic violence has long been a problem for the National Football League.

In recent years, the issue has come to the forefront due to several high-profile incidents and the league’s lenient response to such incidents. 

In 2014, for example, then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on camera punching his then-fiancée in the face. The NFL initially suspended Rice for only two games.

Will NBA or NFA more popular in future
Image via usatoday

The league later increased his suspension to indefinite after the video of the incident was made public, but by then the damage was done.

Carolina Panther’s defensive end Greg Hardy was placed on the inactive list after assaulting a former girlfriend.

These and other instances have led many to criticize the NFL’s handling of domestic violence cases, many calling for harsher penalties for those found guilty of such crimes.

While the NFL’s popularity is plateauing, the NBA is seeing its popularity grow. 

The NBA is currently experiencing a golden age. The league has never been more popular, both in the United States and internationally.

Basketball is taking hold in Canada, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The game is being played at a high level in countries like Spain, France, Serbia, Turkey, China, and Australia.


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