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The Athletes and Clubs Driving Global Sports Fandom and Viewership

Live sports draw viewers and captivate fans, but which sports entities – leagues, clubs, competitions, and athletes – are global sports fans most interested in watching?

Global sports are more accessible than ever before, but which leagues, clubs, competitions, and athletes are generating the most interest among international fans? Altman Solon’s 2020 Global Sports & News Survey, which gauged viewing and fandom among sports fans in 10 countries across North America, Europe, and Latin America, shows that NFL teams and top quarterbacks dominate viewership interest in the U.S., while tennis stars and top football clubs and players appeal most to European fans.

The survey, which asked fans about their interest in 40+ sports leagues and competitions and 500+ teams, clubs, and athletes, reveals similarities and differences in sports interests globally. A look at the top-ranked favorite sports entities to watch shows strong interest for top players and individual athletes in all countries tested.

In the U.S., six of the top 25 favorite sports entities to watch are athletes, and in Germany athletes are eleven of the top 25. In the U.K., 20 of the top 25 most popular entities are athletes including seven tennis players and Formula 1 drivers, Olympians, footballers, and snooker players. The survey also identifies more localized sports interests that garner significant country-level interest, reinforcing the diverse interests of modern sports fans.

Here’s a snapshot of which sports entities – defined as a league, team, competition, or athlete – sports fans say they want to watch most:


The results show the reach and influence that individual athletes have on sports fandom and the importance of athletes in creating value for sports teams, leagues, broadcast partners, and sponsors. The findings also support the growing trend of athletes seeking to develop personal brands and using their name, image, popularity, and connections to start or invest in new business opportunities.

In the U.S., NFL teams, top QBs drive fandom and viewing habits

What drives viewing of professional sports leagues in the U.S.? Of the four major pro sports, the NFL was the number one sport for viewers who wanted to watch their favorite team (79% of NFL fans). In contrast, the NBA had the fewest respondents who watch because of a favorite team (64%), but the highest number of respondents that watch because of a favorite player. This confirms the player-driven focus of the NBA and the impact high-profile players have on the sport.


Given fans’ strong interest in teams, U.S. properties could explore similar strategies as European teams that have launched dedicated programming channels to reach and engage with fans 24/7 across different media platforms. FC Liverpool, Bayern Munich, and many others have launched their own video offering including club news, exclusive interviews with the team and staff, training highlights and player tips, press conferences, and more.

What are U.S. sports fans’ favorite sports entities to watch? The NFL is the overwhelming winner, chosen as the favorite league with eight teams and four quarterbacks (Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees) cited among the 25 top entities. More than half of the top 25 favorite sports entities are NFL entities, while College Football is the fourth most popular.

Major League Baseball is the second most popular entity and has two teams in the top 25 (New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs) but no baseball players made the top 50. In contrast, the NBA is the seventh most popular entity but the only league with two players – Steph Curry and LeBron James – in the top 30. Only one NBA team (Los Angeles Lakers) made the top 25.


In Europe and LatAm, love of football and clubs drives fandom and viewing habits

What drives viewing of European football? The enjoyment of the game (“I just enjoy watching”) is the top reason European fans watch their favorite leagues, while the next top reason to watch is because of a favorite team. Fans of the English Premier League (EPL) and Bundesliga are more likely to watch to be social, while fans of Serie A and Ligue 1 are more likely to have bet money on the match.

The recent reports of a possible “European Premier League” involving the top football clubs in Europe raises the question “Which clubs are most popular with football fans outside their home country?” to attract fans to this new proposed super-league? In Europe, top Spanish clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as EPL’s Liverpool and Manchester City are cited among the top 25 favorites.

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In Latin America, top European clubs are also popular, with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City, Juventus, and Bayern Munich cited among the top 25 favorite entities to watch. These clubs (among others) have been rumored to be associated with the new European Premier League, which points to potential interest in this new league across Latin America and the global opportunity for a “super-league”.


The popularity of individual footballers also drives fandom for clubs, even far away from the home pitch. For instance, Everton is one of the most popular English Premier League clubs in Colombia, which recently signed James Rodriguez, one of Colombia’s top national team players.

Altman Solon conducted the 2020 Global Sports & News Survey in August-September with more than 14,000 respondents across 10 countries. Altman Solon tapped its expertise across Europe and the Americas following this summer’s merger of the U.S.-based Altman Vilandrie and Europe-based Solon Consulting to form the world’s largest Telecommunications, Media, and Technology consulting firm. To see more results from the survey, please click here.

Leadership & Oversight

Christian Esser


Matt Del Percio


Christoph Sommer


Thank you to Jonathan Hurd for his leadership on this piece.