Attempting to determine which U.S. pro sports are presently waxing or waning in popularity is a daunting prospect. Actually, it's a little bit like tracking down Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster: A lot of folks have opinions, but few have any real evidence to support their claims.

For example, one website claimed - much to my surprise - that bull riding was "the fastest growing professional sport." But other than informing me that former champion rider Tuff Hedeman's son is named after the late Lane Frost, "because Lane was his best friend," the article did nothing to bolster my knowledge of bull riding, or document its rising popularity.

In Pictures: 8 Money-Saving Tips For Sports Fans

USA Today columnist Michael Hiestand was a little more helpful. In a 2007 article entitled "X Games Still Tries to Be Hip, Gain Viewers," he revealed that the 2006 X Games "averaged 0.9% of U.S. cable TV households on ESPN and just 1% of U.S. TV households on ABC." That jives with my own research showing that the popularity of the X Games, which feature extreme action sports, is largely in the minds of ESPN executives. For comparison purposes, "Starstruck," a recent Disney Channel movie, averaged a 5.2% audience share, equating to 6 million total viewers.

Still, that didn't stop one online reader from questioning Hiestand's numbers.

"Your [sic] a jerk Michael Hiestand, many people watch the X Games," username111 notes on the USA Today website. "Just because your hair cut looks like your [sic] from the 40s and you stink at writing, you should quit your job."

Well, username11 is right about the hair, of course, but I'm not exactly sure what Nielsen number corresponds to "many people." I'm guessing it's still less than the digits generated by "Starstruck," but what do I know? My coif is even more retro than Heistand's.

Since 1985, Harris Interactive has conducted a survey asking Americans to name their favorite sport. The following table summarizes those results:

On the Rise Declining


% Change


% Change
Pro Football +7

Baseball -7
Auto Racing +3

Men\'s Tennis -4
Hockey +3

Horse Racing -3
College Football +2

Men\'s College Basketball -1
Men\'s Golf +1

Men\'s Po Basketball 0

What's especially intriguing is that hockey, which seems to have been in the popularity penalty box lately, has actually gained supporters since 1985. Still, talk is cheap and I wanted to see if sports fans put their money where their mouths were, so I dug deeper and found revenue totals for some of the nation's major sports:

Pro Sports Revenue (2008-09)

  • Horse racing $8 billion.
  • Major League Baseball (MLB) $6.2 billion.
  • National Football League (NFL) $6 billion.
  • National Basketball Association (NBA) $3.2 billion.
  • National Hockey League (NHL) $2.4 billion.
  • Other spectator sports leagues $3.3 billion.

These numbers from Plunkett Research, Ltd. present a more accurate picture, especially when viewed in light of season length. Horse racing is a year-round activity that takes place at a number of racetracks; MLB plays 162 regular season games; the NBA 82; the NHL 80; and the NFL just 16.

The Next Big Thing?
Nonetheless, as informative as all of this data is, none of it highlights what many consider to be the fastest-growing sport of them all: mixed martial arts, or MMA. According to an October 27, 2008, report by Emerging Growth Research, LLP, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was on track to "exceed $250 million in revenue in 2008."

"I think the sport of mixed martial arts has already proved in the past five years that it can have a very fast rate of growth," noted UFC welterweight Josh Koscheck on AOL's Fanhouse recently. "I believe that in the next five years, it'll be like NFL football, NBA basketball. You'll see kids in gyms and dojos around the country, inspired by MMA. We're going to break a lot of records, that's for sure."

Is Koscheck correct? Will MMA be the next National Football League or National Basketball Association, or has the former "Ultimate Fighter" cast member taken one too many blows to the head? Clearly, MMA has proved itself in the pay-per-view arena. "UFC 100", which featured a main event pitting former pro wrestler Brock Lesnar against Frank Mir, reportedly drew 1.6 million PPV buys, easily outpacing the 1.25 million buys generated from the Manny Pacquiao/Miguel Cotto World Boxing Organization welterweight title bout. Additionally, a 2008 EliteXC match between Kimbo Slice and James Thompson that aired in prime time on CBS peaked at 6.51 million viewers (about 500,000 more than "Starstruck"), according to Nielsen Media Research. (See the biggest upsets from 2009 in Sports Bets That Would Have Made You Rich.)

Yet, as an investment opportunity, MMA has been a disaster. With numerous entities competing for a piece of the pugilistic pie, publicly traded MMA companies like The Fight Zone (OTC:TFZI) and ProElite Inc. (OTC:PELE) have seen their share prices tumble faster than Jack and Jill went down the hill. At $0.0001 a share, The Fight Zone makes bankrupt Washington Mutual look like Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A), while ProElite shares are down over 99% since the end of 2008 (in fairness, both companies trade on the over-the-counter market and, thus, are very volatile).

So, it looks like readers will just have to draw their own conclusions as to which sports are gaining or losing fans. As for me? I'm thinking about getting a new haircut.

Related Articles
  1. Bonds & Fixed Income

    Credit Default Swaps: An Introduction

    This derivative can help manage portfolio risk, but it isn't a simple vehicle.
  2. Economics

    Management Strategies From A Top CEO

    Jack Welch is a legend in the business world: during the two decades he was CEO of General Electric, the company’s value rose by 4000%.
  3. Investing

    From Supermodel to Entrepreneur: Gisele Bündchen's Sejaa Pure Skincare

    As one of the highest-paid models in history, Bündchen has turned her name and image into a worldwide brand, and Sejaa is part of her massive empire.
  4. Investing News

    Learn from These Big CEO Blunders

    A ceo can seem to have it all: power, influence and gravitas. But it can all erode — along with a company’s share price — in the wake of a scandal.
  5. Investing

    Oprah Takes a Big Bet With Weight Watchers

    Does "The Oprah Effect" still work, and can Winfrey reinvigorate a brand that's been struggling for years?
  6. Personal Finance

    How Major League Baseball Makes Money

    Major League Baseball is big business. Let's take a look at where the money comes from.
  7. Economics

    Top 5 Biggest Bank Failures

    In recent decades, there have been some major bank failures. Here are five of the biggest in U.S. history.
  8. Investing

    11 Top Celebrity Restaurants

    These 11 celebrities may come from a variety of industries but they have all seen the allure of the restaurant business, both high-end and low-end.
  9. Investing News

    Celebrities Who Opened Their Own Businesses

    From Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop to Jessica Alba's "Honest" products, a look at celebrities who have become entrepreneurs.
  10. Investing

    How Gordon Ramsay Built His Restaurant Empire

    Gordon Ramsay is already well-known as a successful media personality. But he is also a hardened businessman, who has turned failure into success.
  1. Do penny stocks trade after hours?

    Penny stocks are common shares of public companies that trade at a low price per share. These companies are normally small, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Why is Manchester United (MANU) carrying so much debt?

    The takeover of Manchester United by the Glazer family beginning in 2005 saddled the historic club with substantial amounts ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What are Manchester United's (MANU) largest revenue sources?

    Manchester United is one of the most popular U.K. soccer teams. Its principal stadium is Old Trafford, located in the heart ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does Manchester United (MANU) own Old Trafford stadium?

    Old Trafford Stadium was built for and is currently still owned by Manchester United Football Club (Man Utd.). This means ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What's the biggest sports endorsement deal ever signed?

    According to Forbes, basketball player Derrick Rose holds the largest endorsement deal as of 2014; the deal is for more than ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are the biggest stadium naming rights deals of all time?

    The top three stadium naming rights deals of all time were all for stadiums hosting New York City teams. The largest was ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Take A Bath

    A slang term referring to the situation of an investor who has experienced a large loss from an investment or speculative ...
  2. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  3. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  4. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
  5. Quick Ratio

    The quick ratio is an indicator of a company’s short-term liquidity. The quick ratio measures a company’s ability to meet ...
  6. Black Tuesday

    October 29, 1929, when the DJIA fell 12% - one of the largest one-day drops in stock market history. More than 16 million ...
Trading Center