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What are the most popular sports in the United States?

Some American sports are similar to pastimes in other countries, while others are unique to the United States. Read on to their more in this guide.

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Some American sports are similar to pastimes in other countries, while others are unique to the United States. Read on to their more in this guide. 

1. American football

Of all the sports played in the United States, American football (simply called “football” in the U.S.) is by far the most popular. Though in recent years there’s been a bit of a decline in its popularity, it still remains the leading spectator sport. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 37% of Americans say that football is their favorite sport to watch. The most popular forms of football are professional football (the National Football League) and college football (the National Collegiate Athletic Association for Football).

The NFL

The NFL consists of 32 teams that are equally divided across the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC).

The most popular teams include the Green Bay Packers of Green Bay, Wisconsin, the New England Patriots of Foxborough, Massachusetts, the Pittsburgh Steelers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Dallas Cowboys of Dallas, Texas,  the Philadelphia Eagles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Denver Broncos of Denver, Colorado.

The NFL season runs for a total of 17 weeks each year, from the beginning of September until the end of December. Each team plays a total of 16 games.

At the end of the regular season, six teams from both conferences move to the playoffs, where they participate in an elimination tournament. The last two teams remaining advance to play in the Super Bowl, the game that marks the official end of the football season. Usually, the Super Bowl is held on the first Sunday of February each year, and it’s the most-watched sporting event in the country.

2. Baseball

Known as “America’s pastime,” baseball is the second most popular sport in the United States and is the 7th most popular sport in the world.

Professional baseball in the United States is played by the teams that make up the Major League Baseball (MLB). Teams are divided into the National League (NL) and the American League (AL). There are a total of three divisions in the NL and the AL: East, West and Central.

There are a total of 30 MLB teams. The most popular teams include the New York Yankees from New York, New York, the Chicago Cubs of Chicago, Illinois, the Boston Red Sox from Boston, Massachusetts, the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles, California and the St. Louis Cardinals from St. Louis, Missouri.

Baseball season usually runs from March or early April through the end of September to early October each year. There are 162 games, with each of the 30 teams on the AL and NL playing. There are also post-season games, which usually run until late October but can go into November.

At the completion of the regular season, three divisional champions and two wild-card teams from the AL and the NL advance to the playoffs. The two winners of the playoffs advance to the World Series (also referred to as the Fall Classic), and the winning team receives the Commissioner’s Trophy.

3. Basketball

The third most popular sport in the U.S. is basketball, which is also one of the most popular sports in the world, with an estimated 825 million fans worldwide. The sport originated in the United States but is now played in countries on every continent (with the exception of Antarctica).

The U.S. professional basketball league is called the National Basketball Association (NBA). There are NBA teams, which are divided into the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Among the most popular NBA teams are the Chicago Bulls from Chicago, Illinois, the Boston Celtics of Boston, Massachusetts, the Los Angeles Lakers from Los Angeles, California, the Golden State Warriors of San Francisco, California and the New York Knicks from New York, New York.

The NBA season usually runs from October through April. Each team plays 82 games during the regular season. The top eight teams from each conference advance to the playoffs, and the two winning playoff teams advance to the NBA Finals.

4. Soccer

Association football, known as “soccer” in the U.S. and as “football” in most other countries, is the fourth most popular sport in America.

In the U.S., the United Soccer League (USL) is the professional men’s soccer league. There’s also the Major League Soccer (MLS), which is sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF).  The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is the professional women’s soccer league. Both USL and NWSL are relatively equal in terms of popularity.

Soccer in the U.S. abides by the same rules as football in other countries. Two teams compete against each other on an evenly divided field, with the objective of scoring a goal in the opposition’s net.

There are a total of 30 USL leagues in the U.S. and Canada and a total of 24 MLS teams. Among the most popular soccer teams in the United States are the United States Men’s National Soccer Team and the United States Women’s National Soccer Team, both of which represent the entire country.

5. Ice hockey

Ice hockey (or just “hockey”) is another beloved sport in the United States. The National Hockey League (NHL) is the professional hockey league of North America.

The NHL is comprised of a total of 31 teams: 24 from the U.S. and 7 from Canada. Two teams compete against each other on an evenly divided ice rink. The teams pitch a puck back and forth, the objective of which is to score the puck into the competition’s goalpost.

Hockey season usually runs from October until April. Teams play 82 games, and the three teams that have the highest place in each division and two wild card teams compete in the playoffs. The winning playoff team is the Stanley Cup champion. 

The most popular NHL teams include the Boston Bruins from Boston, Massachusetts; the Montreal Canadians of Montreal, Canada; the New York Rangers from New York, New York; the Chicago Blackhawks of Chicago, Illinois and the Toronto Maple Leafs of Toronto, Canada.

Other popular sports

Other popular sports in the U.S. include:

Tennis. Though not as popular as other sports, tennis does have a strong following in the United States. Some of the most popular players over the years have included Serena Williams, Venus Williams, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Andre Gassy. The U.S. Open is the most popular tennis game in the U.S. 

Golf. More than 24 million Americans play golf. The Professional Golfers' Association of America, the main professional body, hosts three main tournaments each year: the Senior PGA Championship, the Women's PGA Championship and the PGA Professional National Championship. Top players today include Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods.

The takeaway

In the United States, just like most other countries in the world, sports play a significant part in the culture of American people. Whether you’re looking to play or spectate, when it comes to sports in the U.S., you’ll certainly have plenty of options to choose from.

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