Football’s popularity is growing in these places in the 21st century

Football is undoubtedly one of the most popular sports in the world. With an estimated 3.5-4bn fans across the globe, including over half the world’s population, there is something alluring about the sport.

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In this guide, we’ll take a look at the draw that football has. We’ll explore the statistics and figures behind it and examine a couple of the countries in which its popularity has rocketed in the last few years.

Why is football so popular?

People are drawn to football for many reasons. Some people grow up kicking a ball around, playing for local teams and forging lasting friendships with their teammates. Other people go to matches with family and friends and are drawn in by the vibrant atmosphere. For some of us, football is drilled into us from birth!

We all have our own reasons for loving the sport. There’s something special about getting behind a team and willing them to victory. It’s all the more glorious when your team is the underdog and they defy the odds to win. You only have to look at the English FA Cup to see the magic football possesses.

Linked to football’s popularity is the surge in interest in online sports betting. Companies across the world have invested great sums to meet the demand and interest in this beloved sport.

You can now stream many football matches through online betting apps, meaning you can watch more games than ever before. Betting companies have also invested a lot in providing bonuses and free bets. You can check out PA sports betting promotions for some examples.

How many people watch football?

Football has a global appeal. The English Premier League, for example, is watched in 188 countries out of 193 states recognized by the United Nations.

This popularity is more evident than ever when examining viewer figures for some of the sport’s biggest events.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup final between France and Croatia, for instance, was watched by around 1.1bn people, making it the most watched game in the world. According to FIFA, the entire World Cup that year was watched by a total of around 3.5bn people — around half of the global population.

Other significant games on the football calendar also draw in mega crowds. The Champions League final draws an average of 180m viewers a year. El Clasico, the game between perennial rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona is often broadcast to about 650m people worldwide.

It isn’t just men’s football that’s popular either, the Women’s World Cup final of 2019 drew in around 82m viewers.

Where is football growing in popularity?

The popularity of football is clear to see, but where has this materialized the most?


China is one of the world’s biggest countries, with a population exceeding 1bn people. Around 20% of its population claim to be football fans, according to a 2019 survey.

Wealth levels are rising in China as the economy grows. This means people have more money to spend on watching football and going to matches. This, in turn, has led to major investment in the Chinese Super League (CSL).

Top players and managers from around the world, like Rafa Benitez and Javier Mascherano, have found themselves in the CSL in recent years, which has helped boost the quality and popularity of the sport.

It’s only predicted to become even more popular over the next few years.


Football in India has been on a bit of a journey over recent years. Between 1996 and 2014, the league was reinvented a number of times, finally becoming known as the Indian Super League (ISL).

Investment has been flowing into the ISL in the last few years too. The owners of Manchester City, for example, purchased a controlling stake in Mumbai FC in 2019, which provides an idea on where the sport could be heading in the next few years.

However, its popularity still lags behind that of cricket, the national sport. Around 37m Indians watched the last European Championship in 2021. In comparison, cricket is seen as something of a religion in India. In 2021, the India-Pakistan T20 match saw a record 167m people tune in.

Football still has some way to go in India, but the growth in popularity is evident, and the next few years will prove interesting in seeing if it becomes the number one sport.

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