ufc fight, full of crowds

How Popular Is MMA as Compared to Soccer and Basketball?

MMA has started to become more and more popular in the last 10 years, where now the top fighters are virtually a household name. But, I wanted to know exactly how MMA compares to soccer and basketball. I looked into the statistics to get an idea about how MMA compares.

Overall, UFC is a little bit behind the popularity of soccer but is more popular than basketball. In the most recent FIFA, world cup 3 million people attended live, and it’s estimated there are 825 billion basketball fans around the world. Whereas, an average UFC PPV gets 1 million PPV buys.

Also, an average UFC event can have 10,000 people live. There are some other good metrics to look at to get an idea about how MMA compares to basketball and soccer (football). So, below I will provide in-depth data and answer whether MMA is growing in popularity if MMA is the most-watched sport, and how MMA ranks in popularity compared to other sports.

Is MMA the Most Watched Sport

It’s clear that there are a lot of MMA fans around the world, and I myself love to watch the big events. However, there are a lot of very entertaining sports, so here’s a quick summary of whether MMA is the most-watched sport.

Overall, MMA is not the most-watched sport. Soccer is the most-watched sport and has more than 14 million people attend live events, whereas, MMA only has about 2 million people attend live events each year. The numbers are very similar for people who watch these sports on TV.

Another good metric to look at is the total Youtube subscribers the official channels of these sports have. Here’s a list showing this info.

  • UFC channel – 13.5 million subs
  • NBA youtube channel -18.3 million subs
  • All soccer youtube channels – 20 million subs

The English Premier League is one of the most popular soccer leagues internationally. In my research, I noticed that each team has somewhere around 1 million subscribers each. Some are more, for example, very popular teams like Chelsea have 4 million subscribers, whereas, a team that isn’t as popular has around 600,000 subscribers.

These Youtube subscribers give a rough gauge of how popular each sport is. Other data points I looked at were the total pay-per-view buys (PPV). As you may know, popular sports will have events that are free to watch, whereas, others that are really big events will charge a fee to watch the game or entire event.

  • About 3 million people attend the FIFA world cup in person. 
  • More than 14 million per year attend soccer games in person each year (source). 
  • About 600,000 to 800,000 people attend NBA games in person each year. 
  • NBA games average about 15,000 fans per game.
  • On average 420,000 to 4.2 million people attend live UFC events each year.
  • Between 10,000 and 100,000 people attend each UFC event during the year

Therefore, based on this data MMA is about as popular as basketball if not more popular. On top of these numbers, there are people who watch the events on TV. 

The UFC averages about 1 million to 5 million PPV buys per big event, such as UFC 260 or UFC 261. The UFC holds on average 42 UFC events per year. 

Interestingly, WorldAtlas.com estimates there are:

  • 4 billion soccer (football) total fans
  • 1.5 billion MMA fans (own estimation)
  • 825 million total basketball fans

Based on these numbers it’s reasonable to assume that MMA is somewhere between 825 million fans and 4 billion fans.

Is MMA Growing in Popularity

MMA was a relatively unknown sport until recently with the huge popularity of the UFC. Nowadays, virtually everyone has heard of the UFC. But, is the number of people who watch UFC on TV, and attend live increasing or decreasing.

MMA does not appear to be growing in popularity. It also does not appear to be declining in popularity. On average, the same amount of people attend MMA live events and the total number of people attending isn’t increasing or declining. 

Here’s a table that shows some representative numbers of the number of people that attend UFC events live:

UFC EventDateLive attendance
UFC 273: Volkanovski vs. The Korean ZombieApr 9, 202214,605
UFC on ESPN: Blaydes vs. DaukausMar 26, 202218,630
UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs. AspinallMar 19, 202217,081
UFC Fight Night: Santos vs. AnkalaevMar 12, 202219,425
UFC 271: Adesanya vs. Whittaker 2Mar 5, 202217,872
UFC 270: Ngannou vs. GaneJan 22, 202217,387
UFC 269: Oliveira vs. PoirierDec 11, 202118,486
UFC 268: Usman vs. Covington 2Nov 6, 202120,715
UFC 267: Błachowicz vs. TeixeiraOct 30, 202110,171
UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. OrtegaSep 25, 202119,029

From the table, you can see that the average attendance appears pretty much static. There are minor differences between each event, however, this is largely due to the capacity size of the arena they are held at, and the overall popularity of the fighters on the card.

What Rank Is MMA Is Sports

Some sports are hugely popular internationally, while others are much more popular only in specific countries. But, overall where does MMA rank in popularity compared to all other sports.

MMA is the 3rd most popular sport. Soccer is the most popular sport, and MMA, cricket, basketball, and field hockey are about the same in terms of popularity. Therefore, MMA is somewhere in the top 5, and most likely the top 2 to 3 most popular sports.

It’s hard to get a really accurate number of the total fans of each sport. But, there are various metrics that can be looked at. Here’s a table that shows an estimate of the number of fans of each sport. The data is based on aggregate data based on various different data points.

SportNumber of fans estimate
Soccer3.5 billion
Cricket2.5 billion
MMA2.5 billion
Basketball2.5 billion
Field Hockey2 billion
Tennis1 billion
Volleyball900 million
Table tennis850 million

From the estimate of the total fans of each sport, it can be seen that MMA is somewhere in the top 5, and likely 2nd equal to cricket, basketball, and field hockey.

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