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NA vs WE: The Top 10 Sports Young Consumers Are Watching

There are important differences between what sports young people in Western Europe and in North America watch on-screen…


  • Gen Z and Millennials in both Western Europe and North America love sports, and almost three-quarters consider themselves sports fans
  • Young Europeans are a lot more likely to be watching football (soccer) on-screen compared to their North American peers
  • In North America, young consumers prefer watching basketball and American football

YPulse just released our Sports and Athletics Report, where we explore how young consumers participate, consume, and watch sports. Our research reveals that 71% of Gen Z and Millennials in North America consider themselves sports fans, and 74% do in Western Europe, meaning the vast majority of young consumers are sports fans.

For young consumers, part of the experience of being a sports fan means following their favorite leagues and spending time watching sports on-screen. As a result, advertising in the sports industry has a huge influence over brands’ sales. Take the example of Rihanna’s recent nod to her brands during the Super Bowl: according to research by Launchmetrics the move “helped garner $5.6 million in Media Impact Value in the first 12 hours for Fenty Beauty.” It is crucial for brands to understand the key differences between Gen Z and Millennials in each region when it comes to the type of sports they watch on-screen the most, so they can adapt their marketing strategy to appropriately target their audience. Here is the list of the most-watched sports according to young consumers in Western Europe and North America:

Football (soccer) is the most watched sport among young Europeans—and by far 

Four in five Gen Z and Millennials in Western Europe say they watched football (soccer) on-screen last year (79%), which makes it the most-watched sport in the region. After football comes basketball, but there is a real gap between the two sports: only 22% of young consumers in the region say they watched the sport on-screen last year. Football is simply unrivaled and dominates the attention economy among young viewers in Western Europe. It should be noted that there is no generational divide when it comes to watching football on-screen either, with Millennials being only slightly more likely than Gen Z to be watching football for their entertainment (81% vs 77%). And there’s no gender divide either: women in Western Europe enjoy almost as much as their male counterparts watching football, and three-quarters of European young females report watching football on-screen. Data from our Sports and Athletics Report also shows that half of European Gen Z and Millennials play football, making it the top sport these gens participate in, +28points more than hiking, their second-top sport.

With football being so hugely popular among European Gen Z and Millennials, many brands in Western Europe are keen to partner with football stars, or with football teams, to best reach these gens. It’s no coincidence that TikTok became the official global sponsor of last year’s Women Euro football tournament. Or earlier this year, Adidas launched a new Gen Z-focused clothing line Adidas Sportswear alongside American actress Jenna Ortega and Korean football star Son Heung-Min. Meanwhile, Gucci brought a virtual avatar of Jack Grealish, the famous British footballer, to Roblox’s Gucci Town in the brand’s latest move in the metaverse. All these brands’ projects highlight the importance of marketing using football and footballers in Western Europe.

The picture is looking quite different on the other side of the Atlantic, though: only 27% of young consumers in North America have watched football on-screen, a lot less than their European peers. But the popularity of football is increasing in North America: YPulse’s data shows that in 2022, 15% of young North Americans said they watched football on-screen, but this year more than a quarter do (27%), a 12pt increase. Football is gaining popularity in part due to the success of the U.S. Women’s football team, the top football team globally according to the FIFA ranking. And more young North Americans are likely to turn to football for their entertainment in the next years since the next Men’s World Cup in 2026 will be hosted in North America. There’s also the possibility that the U.S. and Mexico will be home to the 2027 Women’s World Cup.

Young North Americans have varied tastes for the sports they watch on-screen

While one sport dominates young European’s viewing habits, young North Americans spread their sports love around. Almost the same number watch basketball (44%) as American football (43%), with many also watching baseball (30%), and soccer (27%).

In other words, there is fierce competition among the top sports leagues to gain these young consumers’ attention. These leagues have been amping up their presence on social media in the past years to better reach young fans: the Major League Baseball (MLB) is helping players engage fans online, while the NFL is working with influencers across all social media platforms—as well as bringing the Super Bowl to the metaverse. But with young North Americans watching a variety of sports, brands have more opportunities to catch their attention with smart partnerships and diverse campaigns. Whether working with NBA or NFL starts, brands can reach young fans.

Some sports watched on-screen by young consumers are unique to each region, highlighting cultural differences between WE and NA

Comparing the list of the top ten most-watched sports in Western Europe and North America reveals many differences between the two regions. There are six sports in particular that are very cultural, meaning they are only enjoyed by one region. Young Europeans are more likely to watch rugby, volleyball, and skiing on-screen, whereas young North American consumers are keener on watching baseball, ice hockey, and golf. The two sports that perhaps best exemplify the cultural differences between the two regions are rugby and baseball. Rugby is watched on-screen by 12% of young Europeans, making it the 6th most-watched sport in the region, while in North America, only 7% of young consumers watch rugby. It should be noted that rugby is also a very regional sport within Western Europe itself: more than 20% of Gen Z and Millennials in England and France report watching rugby, but it’s only 4% in Germany and Spain. Meanwhile, baseball is one of the most-watched sports in North America, with nearly a third of young consumers in the region watching it on-screen. The MLB is a household name in North America, but very few young Europeans would know what the acronym stands for. In fact, YPulse data shows that young North Americans are three times more likely to be following the MLB than their peers in Western Europe.

Knowing these cultural differences, it can be hard to find common ground when it comes to the type of sport Gen Z and Millennials in both regions. But one sport seems to be the common denominator in both regions: basketball. While young Americans are twice more likely to watch the sport on-screen than their young European peers (44% in NA vs 22% in WE), it’s still the second most-watched sport in Western Europe. And there are signs in European culture that basketball-related products are cool: remember that when the fast-fashion retailer Primark launched a limited-edition clothing line with British bakery chain Greggs last year—the type of weird collab young consumers love to see—they included basketball jerseys and shorts in the collection. And a quick look at TikTok reveals that the hashtag #basketball has 18B views in the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, and Italy combined. While we’re far from the 83B views in North America, it is still a significant number, underscoring that brands should keep in mind that a significant portion of Gen Z and Millennials consumers in Western Europe watch basketball content, and are attracted to marketing around the sport.