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Americans are hugely passionate about their home-grown sports, but for decades games like baseball, basketball, and football have remained distinctly American.

Thanks to globalization though, sports fans in the UK, Australia, and Asia are now getting as much enjoyment out of classic Uncle Sam sports as Americans. In this article, we will look at how sports betting is providing a great barometer of the growth and spread of American sports.

What Are the Most Popular Sports Outside of the US?

We all know the score when it comes to March Madness, Super Bowl, and the World Series, but outside of those major sports, we as Americans tend to be somewhat ignorant to the sports that are enjoyed beyond these shores.

Soccer—or as the rest of the world knows it, "football"—is by far the most popular sport on the planet, with billions of fans dotted all around the globe. 

That won’t come as a surprise to those of you who have ever tuned into a World Cup and watched on with amazement as tens of thousands of passionate fans pack out the stands.

What might come as a surprise though is the world’s second most popular sport—cricket. The complex bat and ball game that originated in the UK has an estimated global following of 2.5 billion, which puts it just behind soccer in terms of popularity.

In fact, on the list of the most popular sports in the world, basketball and baseball are the only American entrants in the top 10, sitting seventh and eighth respectively.

Against that backdrop of figures, it is hard to imagine a time when an American sport might be in a position to rival soccer and cricket in terms of global following. 

However, if we take a look at the sports betting numbers it paints a much more positive picture for sports like baseball, basketball, and football.

American Sports Betting Growth

There is now a great range of sportsbook options here in the US, the relatively recent relaxation of sports betting laws in the country has put the American sports betting industry at a disadvantage to other markets.

What this means is that the vast majority of bets placed on American sports come from outside of the country, which provides us with a great barometer to measure the popularity of our homegrown sports abroad.

When it comes to sports betting, although betting on sporting events like UFC has become more mainstream thanks to the wide range of case pariuri online (online bookmakers), soccer still retains the top spot in the list, accounting for more than half of all sports bets placed worldwide with tennis coming in at second. However, in third place is a surprising entry for American Football.

The NFL accounts for the majority of the bets placed in a US-facing online sportsbook, but overseas there is growing interest in the sport with tens of thousands of bets being placed on the sport in the UK and the rest of Europe.

NFL is even growing in Australia and New Zealand too, with the majority of sportsbooks in those countries offering regular outrights and match-play betting on even the most regulation of encounters.

Below NFL in the list of the most bet on global sports is horse racing, followed by basketball in fifth. The differences between football betting and basketball betting provides some interesting insights into the growth of the two sports.

The vast majority of non-US Football bets are placed on the outcome of NFL games, whilst almost half of global basketball bets are not placed on the NBA. This shows the rapid spread of basketball outside of the US.

European leagues are growing in popularity every year with countries such as Lithuania viewing it as their national sport and other countries like Greece, Spain, and Turkey adopting it as their second sport.

This means that sports betting enthusiasts in Europe are just as likely to bet on the outcome of the EuroLeague as they are to bet on the NBA. 

Unfortunately though the same cannot be said of baseball, a sport which despite its popularity outside of the US performs poorly in terms of sports betting interest. 

This is most likely explained by the fact that sports betting laws are mainly prohibitive in baseball-loving countries outside of the US. In Japan for example, where there is a fervent passion for the sport, Japanese citizens are prohibited from wagering on their favorite baseball teams.

What Does All This Tell Us?

There are three key take-home points from the global sports betting figures when it comes to American sports, which are:

The NFL is a Brand

There aren’t millions of players of American football outside of the US, instead, there are millions of fans of the NFL. In the UK for example, almost 4 million people tuned in to this year’s Super Bowl to watch Tom Brady lift yet another Lombardi Trophy.

However, the most recent playing figures suggest that as little as 40,000 people regularly play Football in the UK. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that Brits and non-Americans are more interested in watching than playing Football.

Basketball Has Legs

Far fewer people in the UK watched LeBron James win the NBA Championship than tuned in to the Super Bowl, but that isn’t actually a bad thing. In the UK and other countries, basketball is growing far more organically than any other American sport.

Playing numbers year on year are growing, leading to the successful establishment of domestic tournaments and leagues. In the long run, this organic growth could well put basketball in a position to overtake football as the most popular American global sport.

Baseball is a Dud

Whilst baseball may have a high enough estimated global following to make it into the top 10 of the planet's most popular sports, its absence in the sports betting figures is worrying.

That’s because it shows that baseball isn’t really taking off in popularity in the mega markets of Europe and Oceania. 

The Euro League Baseball tournament, which was intended to be baseball’s answer to the UEFA Champions League, was short-lived, lasting for just one year and featuring just three teams.

With this level of penetration in Europe, it’s therefore not surprising to see baseball struggling to gain a foothold outside of the US. But perhaps in the future, the sport can learn the lessons of basketball and football and go on to establish itself overseas.

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