Sports in the United States are an important part of the country's culture. Based on revenue, the four major professional sports leagues in the United States are Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Hockey League (NHL). The market for professional sports in the United States is roughly $69 billion, roughly 50% larger than that of all of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa combined.Major League Soccer is sometimes included in a "top five" of leagues of the country. All four enjoy wide-ranging domestic media coverage and are considered the preeminent leagues in their respective sports in the world, although only basketball, baseball, and ice hockey have substantial followings in other nations. Three of those leagues have teams that represent Canadian cities, and all four are the most financially lucrative sports leagues of their sport. Football is the most popular sport in the United States followed by baseball, basketball, ice hockey, and soccer, the latter being one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Tennis, golf, wrestling, auto racing, arena football, field lacrosse, box lacrosse and volleyball are also popular sports in the country.
Professional teams in all major sports in the U.S. operate as franchises within a league, meaning that a team may move to a different city if the team's owners believe there would be a financial benefit, but franchise moves are usually subject to some form of league-level approval. All major sports leagues use a similar type of regular-season schedule with a playoff tournament after the regular season ends. In addition to the major league–level organizations, several sports also have professional minor leagues, active in smaller cities across the country. As in Canada and Australia, sports leagues in the United States do not practice promotion and relegation, unlike many sports leagues in Europe.
Sports are particularly associated with education in the United States, with most high schools and universities having organized sports. College sports competitions play an important role in the American sporting culture, and college basketball and college football are as popular as professional sports in some parts of the country. The major sanctioning body for college sports is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Unlike most other nations, the United States government does not provide funding for sports nor for the United States Olympic Committee.
Main article: History of sports in the United States
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(March 2017)
The History of sports in the United States shows that most sports evolved out of European practices. However basketball, volleyball, skateboarding, and snowboarding are American inventions, some of which have become popular in other countries and worldwide. Lacrosse and surfing arose from Native American and Native Hawaiian activities that predate Western contact.
In Chesapeake society (that is, colonial Virginia and Maryland) sports occupied a great deal of attention at every social level, starting at the top. In England hunting was severely restricted to landowners. In America game was more than plentiful. Everyone—including servants and slaves—could and did hunt, so there was no social distinction to be had. In 1691 Sir Francis Nicholson, the governor of Virginia, organized competitions for the “better sort of Virginians onely who are Batchelors,” and he offered prizes “to be shot for, wrastled, played at backswords, & Run for by Horse and foott.”
Main article: United States at the Olympics
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is the National Olympic Committee for the United States. U.S. athletes have won a total of 2,522 medals (1,022 of them being gold) at the Summer Olympic Games and another 282 at the Winter Olympic Games. Most medals have been won in athletics (track and field) (801, 32%) and swimming (553, 22%). American swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, with 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold.
The United States has sent athletes to every celebration of the modern Olympic Games except the 1980 Summer Olympics hosted by the Soviet Union in Moscow, which it boycotted because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The United States has won gold at every games at which it has competed, more gold and overall medals than any other country in the Summer Games and also has the second-most gold and overall medals at the Winter Games, trailing only Norway. From the mid-20th century to the late 1980s, the United States mainly competed with the Soviet Union at Summer Games and with the Soviet Union, Norway, and East Germany at the Winter Games. However, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it now primarily contends with China and Great Britain at the Summer Games for both the overall medal count and the gold medal count and with Norway at the Winter Games for the overall medal count.
The United States has topped the gold medal count at 17 Summer Olympics and one Winter Olympics: 1932 in Lake Placid. The United States has set multiple records for the number of medals won: the most medals (239) of any country at a single Summer Olympics, the most gold medals (83) of any country at a single Summer Olympics and the most medals (37) of any country at a single Winter Olympics.
The United States hosted both Summer and Winter Games in 1932, and has hosted more Games than any other country – eight times, four times each for the Summer and Winter Games:
Los Angeles will host the Olympic Games for a third time in 2028, marking the ninth time the US hosts the Olympic Games.
Main article: Motorsport in the United States
Motor sports are widely popular in the United States but Americans generally show little interest in the major international competitions, such as the Formula One Grand Prix series and MotoGP, preferring home-grown racing series. However, some Americans have achieved great success in these international series, such as Mario Andretti and Kenny Roberts.
Americans, like the rest of the world, initially began using public streets as a host of automobile races. As time progressed it was soon discovered that these venues were often unsafe to the public as they offered relatively little crowd control. Promoters and drivers in the United States discovered that horse racing tracks could provide better conditions for drivers and spectators than public streets. The result has been a long-standing popularity of oval track racing, which is not used in the rest of the world, while road racing has generally waned. However, an extensive though illegal street racing culture still persists.
Main article: Indianapolis 500
Historically, open wheel racing was the most popular nationwide, with the Indianapolis 500 being the most widely followed race. However, an acrimonious split in 1994 between the primary series, CART (later known as Champ Car), and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (the site of the Indy 500) led to the formation of the Indy Racing League, now known as INDYCAR, which launched the rival IndyCar Series in 1996. From that point, the popularity of open wheel racing in the U.S. declined dramatically. The feud was settled in 2008 with an agreement to merge the two series under the IndyCar banner, but enormous damage had already been done to the sport. Post-merger, Indycar continues to remain with slight gains per year, despite a product that has become compelling.
Main article: NASCAR
The CART-IRL feud coincided with an enormous expansion of stock car racing, governed by NASCAR, from its past as a mostly regional circuit mainly followed in the Southern United States to a truly national sport. NASCAR's audience peaked in the mid 2000s, and has declined a bit, though it continues to have around 2–4 million viewers per race. Among NASCAR's popular former drivers are Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Richard Petty. Among NASCAR's popular active drivers are Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and Kyle Larson. NASCAR's most popular race is the Daytona 500, the opening race of the season, held each year at Daytona Beach, Florida in February.
Among the better known sports car races in the United States are the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, and Petit Le Mans, which have featured in the World Sportscar Championship, IMSA GT Championship, Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, FIA World Endurance Championship, American Le Mans Series, Rolex Sports Car Series and currently the United SportsCar Championship.
Another one of the most popular forms of motorsports in the United States is the indigenous sport of drag racing. The largest drag racing organization is the National Hot Rod Association.
Several other motorsports enjoy varying degrees of popularity in the United States: short track motor racing, motocross, monster truck competitions (including the popular Monster Jam circuit), demolition derby, figure 8 racing, mud bogging and tractor pulling.
Main article: Golf in the United States
Golf is played in the United States by about 25 million people. The sport's national governing body, the United States Golf Association (USGA), is jointly responsible with The R&A for setting and administering the rules of golf. The USGA conducts three national championships open to professionals: U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Senior Open, and will add a fourth, the U.S. Senior Women's Open, in 2018. The PGA of America organizes the PGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship and Women's PGA Championship. Three legs of the Grand Slam of Golf are based in the United States: the PGA Championship, U.S. Open and The Masters. (The Open Championship, known in the U.S. as the British Open, is played in the United Kingdom.)
The PGA Tour is the main professional golf tour in the United States, and the LPGA Tour is the main women's professional tour. Also of note is PGA Tour Champions, where players 50 and older compete. Golf is aired on several television networks, such as Golf Channel, NBC, ESPN, CBS and Fox.
Notable golfers include Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Patty Berg, Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs and Babe Zaharias.
See also: Category:Tennis in the United States.
Tennis is played in the United States in all five categories (Men's and Ladies' Singles; Men's, Ladies' and Mixed Doubles); however, the most popular are the singles. The pinnacle of the sport in the country is the US Open played in late August at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. The Indian Wells Masters, Miami Masters and Cincinnati Masters are part of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 and the former WTA Tier I (currently Premier Mandatory and Premier 5).
The United States has had considerable success in tennis for many years, with players such as Don Budge, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors (8 major singles titles), John McEnroe (7 major singles titles), Andre Agassi (8 major singles titles) and Pete Sampras (14 major singles titles) dominating their sport in the past. More recently, the Williams sisters, Venus Williams (7 major singles titles) and Serena Williams (23 major singles titles), have been a dominant force in the women's game, and the twin brothersBob and Mike Bryan have claimed almost all significant career records for men's doubles teams.
Track and field
Main articles: United States records in track and field and USA Track & Field
USA Track & Field is the governing body for track and field in the United States. It organizes the annual USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and USA Indoor Track and Field Championships. The IAAF Diamond League currently features one round in the United States, the Prefontaine Classic; the series formerly included the Adidas Grand Prix as well. Three of the World Marathon Majors are held in the United States: the Boston Marathon, Chicago Marathon and New York City Marathon. The Freihofer's Run for Women is also an IAAF Road Race Label Event.
The United States has frequently set world standards in various disciplines of track and field for both male and female athletes. Tyson Gay and Michael Johnson hold various sprint records for male athletes, while Florence Griffith Joyner set various world sprint records for female athletes. Alan Webb's personal record on the mile is just three seconds short of the world record, while Mary Slaney set many world records for middle-distance disciplines.
A turning point occurred in US track in the running boom of the 1970s. After a series of American successes in various distances from marathoners Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers as well as middle-distance runners Dave Wottle and Steve Prefontaine, running as an American pastime began to take shape. High school track in the United States became a unique foundation for creating the United States middle-distance running talent pool, and from 1972 to 1981 an average of 13 high school boys in the United States would run under 4:10 in the mile per year. During this time, several national high school records in the United States were set and remained largely unbroken until the 2000s. The number of high school boys running the mile under 4:10 per year dropped abruptly from 1982, and female participation in many distance events was forbidden by athletic authorities until the 1980s. However a renaissance in high school track developed when Jack Daniels, a former Olympian, published a training manual called "Daniels' Running Formula", which became the most widely used distance training protocol among American coaches along with Arthur Lydiard's high-mileage regimen. Carl Lewis is credited with "normalizing" the practice of having a lengthy track career as opposed to retiring once reaching the age when it is less realistic of gaining a personal best result. The United States is home to school-sponsored track and field, a tradition in which most schools from middle school through college feature a track and field team. Due to the amount of American athletes who satisfy Olympic norm standards, the US holds national trials to select the best of its top-tier athletes for Olympic competition.
Boxing in the United States became the center of professional boxing in the early 20th century. The National Boxing Association was founded in 1921 and began to sanction title fights. In the 1960s and 1970s, Muhammad Ali became an iconic figure, transformed the role and image of the African American athlete in America by his embrace of racial pride, and transcended the sport by refusing to serve in the Vietnam War. In the 1980s and 1990s, major boxers such as Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe were marked by crime and self-destruction.
Mixed martial arts developed in the 1990s, and has achieved popularity in the early 21st century. Many companies promote MMA cards, with the U.S.-based UFC the most dominant.
Traditional wrestling is performed at the scholastic level; high school wrestling is one of the most popular participatory sports for young men in the United States, and college wrestling has a small following.
Professional wrestling, which evolved into a mostly scripted (kayfabe) form of sports entertainment over the course of the 20th century, enjoys widespread popularity as a spectator sport. Interest in pro wrestling peaked during the Monday Night Wars of the 1980s and 1990s. This was due to the competition between the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and WCW, which were the two biggest professional wrestling organizations in the country during the last two decades of the 20th century. It is also stated that, between the two companies, an estimated 16 million viewers tuned in every week. Following the conclusion of the Wars and WCW's subsumption into WWF to become the modern WWE, professional wrestling's audience has diminished; however, it still pulls in some of cable television's highest weekly ratings. WWE remains the dominant professional wrestling company in the U.S.; it does not hold a monopoly, as numerous smaller federations have existed, two current examples including Impact Wrestling (formerly known as TNA) and Ring of Honor (ROH).
Judo in the United States is not very popular and is eclipsed by more popular martial arts like Karate and Taekwondo.
Swimming and water sports
Swimming is a major competitive sport at high school and college level, but receives little mainstream media attention outside of the Olympics.
Surfing in the United States and watersports are popular in the U.S. in coastal areas. California and Hawaii are the most popular locations for surfing. The Association of Surfing Professionals was founded in 1983.
Other popular individual sports
- Skateboarding – Skateboarding culture was born in the U.S., which holds many of the top tournaments and produces the majority of professional skateboarders.
- Hunting and fishing are popular in the U.S., especially in rural areas. Other popular outdoors activities in the country include hiking, mountain climbing, paintball and kayaking. In winter, many Americans head to mountainous areas for skiing and snowboarding.
- Road bicycle racing has increased in popularity, fueled by the success of cyclists Greg LeMond and the eight consecutive Tours de France won by American contestants (although all eight were discarded in the wake of dopingrevelations against the two winners, Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis). Mountain biking is also widely practiced, especially in the Rocky Mountains.
- Rodeo – The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is the main professional rodeo organization in the world. Bull riding, a subset of the rodeo, enjoys popularity as a standalone sport, especially the pro competition, Professional Bull Riders.
- Horse racing – The Breeders' Cup and the Triple Crown are the two most prominent competitions.
- Bowling – Bowling is the most popular participation "game" sport in the U.S. with more than 43 million people going bowling at least once a year.
- Figure skating is a sport in which individuals, duos, or groups perform on figure skates on ice. It was the first winter sport included in the Olympics, in 1908.
Popular team sports
Main article: Professional sports leagues in the United States
The most popular team sports in the United States are American football, baseball/softball, basketball, ice hockey, and soccer (association football). All five of these team sports are popular with fans, are widely watched on television, have a fully professional league, are played by millions of Americans, enjoy varsity status at many Division I colleges, and are played in high schools throughout the country.
|NCAA DI Teams|
(Men + Women)
|American football||37%||7002111900000000000♠111.9m||NFL||8.9 m||249 (249M + 0W)||50|
|Basketball||11%||24.4m||NBA||30.3 m||589 (298M + 291W)||50|
|Baseball/Softball||9%||40.0m||MLB||29.3 m||698 (351M + 349W)||48|
|Soccer||7%||27.3m||MLS||13.6 m||531 (205M + 332W)||50|
|Ice hockey||4%||27.6m||NHL||3.1 m||95 (59M + 36W)||15|
- TV viewing record measures the game with the most TV viewers in the U.S. since 2005 for each sport: 2016 Super Bowl, 2016 NBA Finals Game 7, 2016 World Series Game 7, 2014 FIFA World Cup Final, and 2010 Winter Olympics Gold medal ice hockey game.
- The column titled "States (HS)" represents the number of states that sponsor the sport at the high school level.
Main articles: American football in the United States, History of American football, National Football League, and College football
Football, known as American football outside the United States, has the most participants of any sport at both high school and college levels, the vast majority of its participants being male.
The NFL is the preeminent professional football league in the United States. The NFL has 32 franchises divided into two conferences. After a 16-game regular season, each conference sends six teams to the NFL Playoffs, which eventually culminate in the league's championship game, the Super Bowl.
Nationwide, the NFL obtains the highest television ratings among major sports. Watching NFL games on television on Sunday afternoons has become a common routine for many Americans during the football season. Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest annual sporting event held in the United States. The Super Bowl itself is always among the highest-rated programs of all-time in the Nielsen ratings.
Millions watch college football throughout the fall months, and some communities, particularly in rural areas, place great emphasis on their local high school football teams. The popularity of college and high school football in areas such as the Southern United States (Southeastern Conference) and the Great Plains (Big 12 Conference and Big Ten Conference) stems largely from the fact that these areas historically generally did not possess markets large enough for a professional team. Nonetheless, college football has a rich history in the United States, predating the NFL by decades, and fans and alumni are generally very passionate about their teams.
During football season in the fall, fans have the opportunity to watch high school games on Fridays and Saturdays, college football on Saturdays, and NFL games on Sundays, the usual playing day of the professional teams. However, some colleges play games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, while the NFL offers weekly games on Monday (since 1970) and Thursday (since 2006). As recently as 2013, one could find a nationally televised professional or college game on television any night between Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekend.
Notable former NFL players include Roger Staubach, Dick Butkus, Joe Greene, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Walter Payton, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Emmitt Smith, Ray Lewis, Peyton Manning, and Tony Romo. Notable current NFL players include Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, J. J. Watt, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and Aaron Rodgers.
Indoor American football or arena football, a form of football played in indoor arenas, has several professional and semi-professional leagues. The Arena Football League was active from 1987 to 2008 and folded in 2009, but several teams from the AFL and its former minor league, af2, relaunched the league in 2010. Most other extant indoor leagues date to the mid-2000s and are regional in nature.
Women's American football is seldom seen. A few amateur and semi-professional leagues exist, of varying degrees of stability and competition. Football is unique among scholastic sports in the U.S. in that no women's division exists for the sport; women who wish to play football in high school or college must compete directly with men.
Main articles: Baseball in the United States and Major League Baseball
Baseball and a variant, softball, are popular participatory sports in the U.S. The highest level of baseball in the U.S. is Major League Baseball. The World Series of Major League Baseball is the culmination of the sport's postseason each October. It is played between the winner of each of the two leagues, the American League and the National League, and the winner is determined through a best-of-seven playoff.
As baseball developed over 150 years ago in the northeast, it has been played and followed in this region longer than in others. The New York Yankees is noted for having won more titles than any other US major professional sports franchise. The Yankees' chief rivals, the Boston Red Sox, also enjoy a huge following in Boston and throughout New England. The fierce National League rivalry between the former Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants was transferred to the West Coast when the teams became the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, and California has always been among the US states which have supplied the most players in the major leagues. Chicago sports fans also avidly follow the Chicago Cubs and to a lesser extent the Chicago White Sox despite the comparative lack of success for the teams, with Chicago Cub fans being known throughout the country for their passionate loyalty to the team despite their not having won a championship from 1908 to 2016. Historically, the leagues were much more competitive, and cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis had rival teams in both leagues up until the 1950s.
Notable American baseball players in history include Babe Ruth (714 career home runs), Ty Cobb (career leader in batting average and batting titles), Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Ted Williams (.344 career batting average), Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle (16-time all star), Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Yogi Berra (18-time All-Star), Hank Aaron (career home run leader from 1974 to 2007), Nolan Ryan (career strikeouts leader), Roger Clemens (7 Cy Young awards), Derek Jeter and Jackie Robinson, who was instrumental in dissolving the color line and allowing African-Americans into the major leagues. The more noted players of today include Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols.
An extensive minor league baseball system covers most mid-sized cities in the United States. Minor league baseball teams are organized in a six-tier hierarchy, in which the highest teams (AAA) are in major cities that do not have a major league team but often have a major team in another sport, and each level occupies progressively smaller cities. The lowest levels of professional baseball serve primarily as development systems for the sport's most inexperienced prospects, with the absolute bottom, the rookie leagues, occupying the major league squads' spring training complexes.
EVERY game from
Watch live and on-demand
All 67 games from March Madness, including Bracketology Sunday show, First Four and much more. Get your EXCLUSIVE March Madness pass today. Plus Women's March Madness, SEC Network, ESPNU, hundreds of college sport games and much more!
with any subscription
Some of the greatest sport documentaries ever made, ESPN Films, now included FREE with any ESPN Player subscription.
Watch the best of
Live & On-Demand College Sports
The NCAA College Pass is the ultimate College Sports ticket. Watch over 5,000 of the best college games and shows from the biggest conferences Live and On-Demand, including Football, Basketball, Baseball & much more. Plus, 24/7 coverage of ESPN College TV Channels SEC Network, ESPNU & Longhorn Network.
See it your way.
Watch on your PC or MAC, iPad and iOS & Android Smartphones.
A selection of great sport content
from across the ESPN Network.
ESPN Select is ESPN Player's multisport channel, streaming a diverse mix of sports programming LIVE and ON-DEMAND from across the ESPN Global Network. Coming up this month: Watch X Games ASPEN live, plus World of X
Live & On-Demand Coverage
Watch all 16 races, including the Indianapolis 500, from the Verizon IndyCar Series live & on-demand on ESPN Player.
NCAA College Pass
LIVE & ON-DEMAND
The ultimate College Sports ticket. Watch over 3,000 of the best college games from the biggest conferences.
PACKAGES & PRICES
View the Schedule
LIVE & ON-DEMAND
Watch all 16 race weekends
from the Verizon IndyCar Series
including the Greatest Spectacle in Racing,the Indianapolis 500
PACKAGES & PRICES
View the Schedule
ESPN Player is not currently available in your region.
If you have an account on ESPN Player and have recently changed location, or need to cancel your account, please email email@example.com.
For more information, please read our FAQ pages.
The game you visited is not available now.
This website requires the Adobe Flash Player. Get Flash
Game is not available now.
For more information please check our FAQ page for more details.