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NFL vs NBA ratings: Which sport has a bigger audience in the UK?

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When it comes to being number one in the hearts of UK fans, football remains unrivalled. This cultural behemoth’s sheer influence is certainly unmatched within the country, but this does not mean that all UK sports lovers live and breathe football exclusively. In fact, there is more than enough room for other sports on the British islands.

NFL vs NBA ratings

Tennis and cricket, for instance, are near and dear to UK individuals, and US staples such as American football as well as basketball have slowly but surely carved themselves a place in British culture. This does not mean that they are equals, however, and this will become evident as we examine the state of the NFL and the NBA in Great Britain in terms of popularity.

The NFL’s background in the UK

Once upon a time, it was believed that American football was the darling of Americans and no one else. While this might have rung true in the sport’s very early days, things did gradually change throughout the decades.

In the UK, American football dates all the way back to the early years of the twentieth century. For a while, the occasional live game was Britain’s main exposure to the sport.

Fast forward to the 1980s, however, and the landscape of American football within the country improved quite a bit. This is where the NFL comes in, as one pivotal step towards popularizing the sport in Britain was Channel 4’s airing of a weekly NFL programme in 1982. In 2017, the league’s popularity further rose, as viewership increased by 60% as reported by Econ Review. This growth was felt internationally as well, and in 2021, the league reported that 17.3 million viewers on average tuned in to watch the NFL according to TheAthletic’s Bill Shea.


It is now easier than ever before to stay informed about the NFL if you live in Britain. Those passionate about the sport can take advantage of the NFL’s Game Pass, or they can tune in to Sky Sports’ dedicated NFL channel for their daily fix of American football. In addition, networks such as the BBC and MTV have done a lot to introduce British individuals to the sport thanks to hosting NFL shows on a regular basis.

This gives ample opportunity for the league’s viewership to grow, and a lot of this is part of an ongoing effort to popularize the NFL in the UK so that a London-based franchise might become reality. Something like this can only happen in a nation strongly interested in the sport, and it looks like the efforts of the NFL are slowly paying off.

In fact, an estimated four million fans tuned in to the 2021 Super Bowl LV hosted on Sky and the BBC as stated by Richard Graves. This is more than impressive, and things seem to be heading in the right direction as a whole.

Wider UK audience is outside the NBA’s reach

Now that we have established where the NFL stands currently, it is time to examine if the NBA is also up to snuff. Unfortunately, it seems that basketball itself is largely underrated in Britain, a stark contrast to how loved the sport is by the general international audience.

In Britain, basketball’s current state is one of constant struggle even by the standards of its status as a minority sport. UK based leagues are facing difficulties due to underfunding, and all in all, basketball’s lack of popularity within the region is evident.


This, of course, does not bode well for the NBA’s state in the UK. Indeed, Great Britain’s already lukewarm feelings towards basketball just further worsened the NBA’s prospects of gaining traction and more viewers.

It is certainly not for lack of trying either, given that NBA events do get covered at Sky Sports, and the NBA League Pass is available for avid fans of the league.

British sports bettors will also find that the league is an option at most bookmakers that cater to the region, and there are even resources that help UK punters learn how to calculate NBA betting odds.

The situation is certainly puzzling, especially if we, again, take into account the international scene’s overwhelming fondness for the sport itself, and the fact that the NBA’s overall ratings have even taken a significant upturn in 2021 compared to recent years. Sadly, the prospect of something like this happening in the UK in the near future remains unlikely.

NFL vs NBA ratings – Final Verdict

In the end, which of the two enjoys a broader audience in the United Kingdom?

They are both very popular in the betting industry.

The odds are available for each game at online sportsbooks, and they’ll all attract their fair share of volume. For both sports you can find the odds calculator is perfect for showing you how to calculate NBA betting odds or NFL.

It is indisputable that both leagues are fairly niche when it comes to the British sports scene as a whole, but currently, the NBA fares worse than the NFL in terms of popularity and viewership. Even the leagues’ perception on social media looks more promising for the NFL, with the NFL’s UK Twitter account boasting 236,000 followers at the time of writing, more than twice the follower count of NBA UK.

We nonetheless hope that, eventually, the NBA will have a true breakthrough in the British market, and that the NFL will continue to grow in the region.

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