Volleyball is More Popular Than The NFL

An outdoor FIVB World League volleyball game in Rome.  Photo: FIVB

An outdoor FIVB World League volleyball game in Rome.  Photo: FIVB

Recently, Viral Patel of The Cauldron, wrote an article about the most popular athlete alive today. In the end, he crowned Cristiano Ronaldo king. That's pretty difficult to disagree with. The man is worth something like $250 million dollars and don't we all agree soccer is the most popular sport on earth?

It's not the predicable result, but the data Patel discovered that you should be interested in. He cites this article as a base for sport popularity worldwide. The numbers weren't based on sport participants, but fans.  The top five was a bit surprising from a Western perspective, other than the obvious soccer and cricket. The break down:

The Most Popular Sports in the World

  1. Soccer
  2. Cricket
  3. Field Hockey
  4. Tennis
  5. Volleyball

Volleyball before Football (American), Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey. Patel's reaction sums it up:

"Wait, field hockey and volleyball?! I mean, I’ve caught some volleyball games during the Summer Olympics, but I am guessing few Americans recognize those sports as that popular."

The Top Athletes

He goes on to highlight, through listing the top 5 athletes by Google Trends metrics for each of the top 10 sports, that volleyball struggles from a lack of name power. The top volleyball athlete is Saori Kimura, who has an unofficial annual contract of about $1.1 million dollars. That's no Cristiano Ronaldo money.

No volleyball player even made Patel's final top 10 list. Even a field hockey player made the last spot. And yet it seems a fair conclusion to arrive at. In fact, most of us in the volleyball community probably take away a positive message about being placed so high in the top 5 sports worldwide. But, to me, this asks so many more questions than it gives answers.

The Most Popular Volleyball Players in the World

Sure, you probably know Giba, Misty and Kerri. But why isn't this translating into a more successful product? And why can't it seem to specifically translate to the North American market? Examples like Ichiro Suzuki, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel (the real-life inspirations behind the Disney film Million Dollar Arm) in baseball and Yao Ming in basketball show the huge success that international athletes have in this market. The diaspora fill stadiums anywhere that these athletes arrive. How else did the 2007 Blue Jays sell out the stadium a couple of times a year? One athlete could bring in more fans than the New York Yankees, all of a sudden. On a larger scale, many consider the MLS to have largely succeeded in North America.

Let's Talk About the Female Athletes

One other thing that needs to be spotlighted is the incredible success of female volleyball athletes. Four of the five names of the most popular volleyball athletes today are women, and they deserve every bit of that. The women's game in volleyball is right up there with tennis in terms of bringing an equal (and at times better) product as the men's to the court. This hasn't been the case with basketball in North America, as recently the best player in the WNBA was retained by her Russian squad that simply offered more money. There isn't a real professional women's hockey league in North America to speak of, for some reason women are pushed to softball instead of baseball, and the Lingerie Football League is bullshit (excuse my language). Why hasn't some massive corporation with nothing to lose taken a chance on a massive international, female fanbase? It's a nothing-to-lose, low risk chance to take. Instead, the same sponsors simply try to force a female audience into a pre-existing male fanbase, followed by quickly giving up.

Volleyball 

I believe that volleyball is one of the five most popular sports in the world. But I'm imagining trying to convince my average buddy of that while we grab wings and watch the Raptors game. We all know how that would go. Yet we have young boys who look to the NFL like it's religion. They know if they are good enough, their education will be paid for. They could be a professional, revered and respected in their communities. Millionaires. They could have what we define as a successful life. Why aren't our youth given that same vision for volleyball? 

How do we give it a chance?