Professional sports leagues around the world make large amounts of money and involve dozens of teams and thousands of players. Some major sports leagues like the NFL, EPL, Bundesliga, NPB, and more are not only popular and lucrative in their respective countries, but also the world over. In terms of television broadcasting, some of these are televised in over 200 countries. Most of these leagues boast a total attendance of around (and sometimes over) 10 million fans at games each season, with average attendance around 25,000 per game in their respective arenas and stadiums. So, sports leagues are today not only a multi-billion-dollar business, but also a modern-day pastime.
This article enlists the attendances of the 10 most-watched sports leagues in the world, based in some cases on the number of tickets sold or given away, rather than people actually present. The list is fully dominated by outdoor sports leagues as their average attendance figures are above and beyond those of indoor sports leagues like the NBA, NHL, etc. However, in terms of total attendance during a season, the NBA and NHL are currently the 4th and 7th most-watched professional sports league in the world on television. But, when they are compared to the leagues mentioned on our list, they have a seasonal average attendance much lower than most of the popular outdoor sports league.
So, without further ado, here are the world’s top 10 most-watched sports leagues in terms of highest average match attendance during a season.
10. Serie A (Football) – Italy – 24,655 per game
Serie A was officially inaugurated in the 1929, and it has been operating for over 80 years since then. It is the highest level of professional football league competition in Italy, contested by 20 teams each season, with the three lowest placed clubs relegated to the Serie B. Serie A is sponsored by Telecom Italia, and the league’s most notable and successful clubs in history include Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.
Serie A is regarded as one of the most-competitive football leagues in the world. It was considered the best professional football league worldwide during the 1990s, even up until the mid-2000s. Based on the performances in European cup competitions, UEFA’s league coefficient ranking has currently ranked Serie A in fourth place behind the La Liga, Premier League and Bundesliga. Serie A has produced the highest number of European Cup finalists in the history of European football; Italian clubs have reached the final of European competitions on a record 26 individual tournaments, winning the title 12 times. Also, the prestigious Ballon d’Or has been awarded to more footballers playing at a Serie A club than for clubs in any other football league in the world.
Though Serie A does not boast the worldwide television broadcast like other professional football leagues in Europe, it is still one of the most-watched sports leagues in the world. In terms of average match attendance inside the stadium, the league is currently ranked 10th out of all domestic professional sports leagues in the world. In the 2012-13 season, the average attendance in Serie A was 24,655 and the total attendance during the whole season was 8,432,075 over 380 matches played. This figure in the 2011-12 season was 23,459 for average match attendance, and the total attendance that season was 7,765,082.
9. Liga MX (Football) – Mexico – 25,434 per game
The Liga MX is Mexico’s elite football competition, established in 1943. Sponsored by BBVA Bancomer, the league is contested by 18 teams playing a total of 334 matches during a season. Liga MX is one of the most watched sports league in terms of average attendance. In the 2011-12 season, the average attendance was 25,434, more than that of European football leagues like Ligue 1, Eredivisie, Primeira Liga and even the Serie A. The total attendance during that season was 8,495,000. In the 2010-11 season, the total attendance was 7,905,999, while the average match attendance was slightly higher at 25,837.
In the Liga MX, a full season is divided into two tournaments: the Apertura, which starts in the summer; and the Clausura, which starts in the winter. The two most successful clubs in the league are America and Guadalajara with 11 titles each. America’s stadium is one of the biggest in the world; it has a crowd capacity of 105,000.
According to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, Liga MX is currently ranked 15th worldwide, and was ranked as the 10th strongest football league in the first decade of the 21st century.
8. Nippon Professional Baseball (Baseball) – Japan – 25,518 per game
Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) is the highest level of professional baseball in Japan, commonly known as “Japanese Baseball” outside the country. It was founded in 1950 and the roots of the league can be traced back to the formation of the “Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club” in 1934. NPB consists of two six-team circuits, the Central League and the Pacific League. Each season the winning clubs from the two leagues compete in the Japan Series, the championship series of NPB, just like the World Series of MLB.
It may come as a surprise to see this Japanese Baseball league in our list, but the league is truly one of the most-watched professional sports league in terms of average attendance. In the 2013 season, 12 teams played their part in a total of 864 games, with a total attendance of 22,047,491 and an average match attendance of 25,518. In the 2010 season, the total attendance was 21,679,596 and the average match attendance was 25,626. In terms of total attendance, the NPB is currently ranked as the second-best sports league in the world, just behind the Major League Baseball.
7. Canadian Football League (Canadian Football) – Canada – 27,005 per game
Canadian football is a form of gridiron football closely related to the American sport. The Canadian Football League, commonly known as the CFL, is the highest level of Canadian football competition, founded on January 19, 1958. It is the second-oldest professional gridiron football league in North America still active. The league is contested by 8 teams each season, playing a total of 72 matches.
The CFL is the second-most popular major sports league in Canada, after the National Hockey League. In terms of average attendance, it is the 7th most-watched professional sports league in the world. The league is ranked much, much lower in terms of total attendance because only 72 games are played between the 8 teams in a season. In the 2013 season, CFL’s average match attendance was 27,005 and the total attendance was 1,944,349. Both these figures were a bit higher during the 2012 season; the average match attendance was 28,193, while the total attendance was 2,029,895.
6. La Liga (Football) – Spain – 30,275 per game
La Liga is one of the most highly anticipated and most-watched sports league in the world. Founded in 1929, it is Spain’s primary football competition contested by 20 teams each season, with the three lowest placed teams relegated to the Segunda Division. La Liga has been the strongest league in Europe over the past five years, according to UEFA’s league coefficient ranking. Based on recent performances in European competition, the league is ranked 1st currently, ahead of the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga.
La Liga is one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the world, with an average attendance of 30,275 for league matches in the 2011-12 season. The total attendance for 380 matches that season was 11,504,567. This figure is the sixth-highest of any domestic professional sports league in the world and the third-highest of any professional football league in the world, behind the German Bundesliga and the English Premier League.
5. Major League Baseball (Baseball) – United States – 30,504 per game
Major League Baseball, commonly known as the MLB, was founded in 1869. Along with the NBA, the NHL and the NFL, it is one of the 4 most popular elite sports leagues in North America. MLB teams are divided into the National League and the American League; the two have been functioning as individual sports organizations since 1876 and 1901 respectively. MLB consists of 30 teams, 29 in the U.S. and 1 in Canada. Each season, teams play a total of 162 matches. Five teams in each of the two aforementioned leagues go through a 4-round postseason competition that comes to an end with a best-of-7 championship series called the World Series. It is played between the league champions of the American League and the National League.
Today, the MLB administers the World Baseball Classic tournament as well the as Minor League Baseball. Baseball games are mainly aired on television, internet and radio throughout North America and in several other other countries. Over the past few years the MLB has remained the sports league with the highest total attendance at games over the course of a season.
In the 2013 season, 30 teams played a total of 2,426 games with an average match attendance of 30,504; the total attendance throughout the season was 74,026,895. In 2011 this figure was 30,352 for average attendance and 73,451,522 for season attendance.
4. Australian Football League (Australian Football) – Australia – 33,461
Australian Rules Football, commonly known as Australian Football or Footy, is a sport played between two teams of 18 players each. It is played in either an Australian football ground, a modified cricket ground, or a similarly-sized sports field. The main way to score points is by kicking the ball between two tall goal posts. Australian Football League (AFL) is the highest governing body and team competition of the sport.
The inaugural season of AFL dates back to 1897. Today, the league is comprised of 18 teams spread over five states of Australia. Each season consists of a pre-season competition followed by a 23-round regular season which runs from March to September. The top 8 teams then face off in a finals series culminating in the AFL Grand Final, just like the NFL’s Super Bowl. The winning team in the Grand Final is termed the “premiers”, and is awarded the premiership cup.
The AFL is the most-attended sports league in Australia, and the 4th most-watched sports league in the world in terms of average match attendance. According to market research, the league is the second-most-watched sporting event in Australia, behind cricket. Over the 2013 season, the AFL averaged 33,461 people per game, and the total attendance was 6,926,380. Here’s how the average match attendance changed in the last five seasons of AFL:
- 2013 – 33,461
- 2012 – 31,509
- 2011 – 34,937
- 2010 – 36,901
- 2009 – 36,225
3. Premier League (Football) – England – 35,931
The Premier League, commonly known as the English Premier League (EPL), is today being promoted as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” It is broadcast to over 600 million people in more than 200 countries around the globe. England’s top football competition is contested by 20 clubs each season, and it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with three teams within the Football League. According to UEFA’s league coefficient ranking system, based on performances in European competitions over the last five years, the Premier League is one of the top professional football leagues, currently ranked 2nd behind only the Spanish La Liga.
For the past few years now, the Premier League has remained the second most-watched professional football league in the world. It’s average match attendance of 35,363 during the 2010-11 season was the second-highest, just behind the German Bundesliga, and the overall stadium occupancy that season was 92.2% capacity. The combined total stadium capacity of the Premier League in the 2010–11 season was 770,477 with an average capacity of 38,523.
Though the Premier League remains the most-watched football league in the world in terms of television broadcast, it remains second in terms of average attendance inside the stadium. This is mainly due to the huge gap between the stadium capacities of the league’s rich and poor, or lets say top and bottom clubs. For example: Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United has a stadium capacity of 75,957, while Bloomfield Road, the home of Blackpool, has a capacity of only 16,220.
In the 2012-13 season, the league boasted an average attendance of 35,931, and total attendance in the 380 competitive matches played was 13,653,908. Here’s how the average match attendance changed in the last four seasons:
- 2009/10 – 34,215
- 2010/11 – 35,363
- 2011/12 – 34,601
- 2012/13 – 35,931
In the 1992-93 season, the inaugural season with the name Premier League, the average match attendance at the end of the season was 21,126. The league’s record average attendance of 36,144 was set during the 2007–08 season.
2. Bundesliga (Football) – Germany – 42,421
Bundesliga is Germany’s elite football competition, founded in 1962 and the first season started in 1963. It is contested by 18 teams each season, and operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the last two teams in the final season standings. Based on UEFA’s popular league coefficient ranking system, the German Bundesliga is one of the most competitive professional football leagues in Europe, currently ranked 3rd behind the Spanish La Liga and the English Premier League. The league is broadcast on television in over 200 countries worldwide.
In terms of average attendance inside the stadium throughout the season, the Bundesliga is the number one football league around the globe. The league’s clubs have a well-renowned football fan-base not only in Germany, but in several other parts of Europe as well. Out of Europe’s five major football leagues (the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, the Italian Serie A, the Spanish La Liga and the French Ligue 1), the Bundesliga has the cheapest ticket prices and the highest average match attendance; the ticket prices are made low so that even the poor can afford to watch their teams’ matches inside the stadium. Borussia Dortmund, the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Bundesliga champion, has the highest average match attendance of any football club in the world.
In the 2012-13 season, Bundesliga boasted an average match attendance of 42,421. The total number of matches the 18 teams in the league played was 306, and the total attendance throughout the season was 13,038,533, which is still more than that of the Premier League although there are only 18 teams in the Bundesliga. Here’s how the average match attendance changed in the last five seasons:
- 2012/13 – 42,421
- 2011/12 – 45,116
- 2010/11 – 42,673
- 2009/10 – 41,802
- 2008/09 – 42,565
In the Bundesliga, all the clubs are obliged to limit the number of season tickets to ensure that everyone gets a chance to watch the matches live. In addition to that, the away club has the right of 10% of the available stadium capacity during each match. According to Bundesliga chief executive Christian Seifert, “Tickets are inexpensive, especially for the standing rooms, because it is not the clubs’ culture to raise prices. They are very fan oriented.”
Also, Uli Hoeneß, the president of Bayern Munich, was once quoted as saying “We do not think the fans are like cows to be milked. Football has got to be for everybody. That’s the biggest difference between us and England.”
1. National Football League (American Football) – United States – 68,397
The NFL, founded on August 20, 1920, is the highest professional level of American football and the most-watched sports league in the world. It is composed of 32 teams divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). Out of the league’s 32 teams, six teams including 4 division winners and 2 wild-card teams from each conference compete in the NFL playoffs, a single-elimination tournament which reaches its climax at the Super Bowl, played between the champions of the NFC and AFC. The champions of the Super Bowl are awarded the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The NFL has the highest average match attendance of any professional sports league in the world. Out of the four major professional sports leagues in North America, it is the most popular. In the 2013 season, the total of 32 teams played 254 matches in the NFL. The average match attendance during the season was 68,397 and the total attendance throughout the season was 17,304,343. In the 2011 season, the average attendance was 67,358 and the total attendance was 17,124,389.
The Super Bowl itself is among the biggest club sporting events, period. Today, it is one of the most highly anticipated and most-watched annual championship games in the world, and the individual Super Bowl games account for many of the most-watched television programs in American history. The 2014 Super Bowl (Super Bowl XLVIII) between Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos was viewed by a crowd of 82,529 people at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.