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What Sport is #1?

by Craig Edwards

Posted on August 29, 2008 at 2:58 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:40 PM

By Craig Edwards

Here's a common question that comes up in the Sports office every so often: "Do people care more about Sport A than they do Sport B?" Another one: "Is Sport A more important than Sport B?"

These questions sometimes spark debates that can last all night.

Not being one who likes to shy away from such arguments, I decided to come up with an answer to those questions, in the form of a list.

So for your consideration, here are my rankings for the sports hierarchy in the USA, numbered 1-15. This is not a list of what I consider the most important or what I like the best, but where I think the sports stand in the hearts and minds of the entire country.

1. National Football League

Duh! The most powerful sports league in the world dominates this list. If you want to build a sports league, this is the example to follow. For the fan, the shorter schedule (16 games) and fantasy football make every regular season game important to somebody. Parity also rules, as this is the one league where fans truly feel every team CAN beat another on any given day.

2. College Football

See above, and add college pride to the mix (though you have to subtract some of the parity).

3. Major League Baseball

But baseball's called our national pastime for a reason folks. Where football is helped by its shorter schedule, baseball is helped by its longer one. The nightly baseball game is just part of people's lives. It's a sport you can have on the radio or TV, while you're doing other stuff. However, baseball must resolve its parity issue, because the world is getting tired of just the Yanks and the Sox.


Here's probably the first controversial entry. I am not a NASCAR fan, but numbers don't lie. These races do monster TV ratings and draw crowds of 100,000+ almost every week. What was once a niche sport confined to the South, is now one of the world's biggest draws.

5. National Basketball Association

The NBA has taken its lumps in the post-Jordan years (it doesn't help that David Stern seems bent on destroying the league with bad decisions), but no league markets its individual stars better than the NBA, which will always keep it popular and relevant.

6. College Basketball - Men's and Women's

It's hard to market individual stars when the best players are only around for a year or two. However, there's nothing more exciting than the NCAA tournament.

7. National Hockey League

One of the traditional Big 4 pro sports, hockey has been dropping like a lead balloon for the last few years. First, league leaders canceled a season, then went out of their way to make sure fans can NOT see games by putting them on an obscure cable network no one gets. I love hockey, but 5 years from now, it may not be a top 10 sport if the NHL doesn't get its act together.

8. Mixed Martial Arts

Another sport I've tried to watch, and failed to get into. But again, numbers don't lie. Combine TV ratings, attendance, and Pay-per-view buys, and MMA has replaced Boxing and Pro Wrestling as the top ring-sport draw.

9. PGA

Golf is home to easily the most marketable star in sports, Tiger Woods. It's also arguably the most popular participant sport for weekend warriors, which guarantees it a top 10 spot.

10. Tennis

Probably the only sport where women stand equal or better to men in terms of popularity or marketability. The tournament format also leads to great drama, with the big tournaments always a must-see for most sports fans.

11. Arena Football

5 years ago, the AFL would be a few spots lower. However, it's grown in attendance and TV ratings every year. More importantly, the sport has gotten some big name fans and owners. When you have Philadelphia Soul owner Jon Bon Jovi talking about how great the game is every chance he gets... fans start listening and believing.

12. Major League Soccer

Face it folks, the world's most popular sport... just ain't popular here in the U.S. The reasons why would take up an entire blog of their own. However, the reason MLS doesn't really work is simple: Baseball's best international players play in the U.S. Same for basketball and hockey. Soccer's best players play in Europe. Major League Soccer is NOT a major league.

13. WNBA

Neither is the WNBA. America's top stars play in Europe. The WNBA is their off-season job.

14. LPGA

Quick! Name 5 LPGA stars not named Annika Sorenstam or Michelle Wie. Don't worry... Neither could I.

15. Lacrosse (Indoor and Outdoor)

Lacrosse is now in the same position that NASCAR was in a decade ago. It's a niche sport very popular in one region (the Northeast) and slowly spreading nationally. Will it get to the same position as NASCAR? Probably not... but only time will tell.

There you have it. That's my list.

Let the Debate Begin!!!!