Every year, billions of fans around the world patronize their favorite teams. Top tier athletes command multi-million dollar salaries and endorsement deals, while franchises are routinely valued in the billions of dollars.

The following statistics will help give you a sense of the scale of the global sports industry.

A collage of a basketball court, a baseball field, and a track.

Image source: Getty Images.

The stats 

1.There are approximately 3.5 billion soccer fans worldwide, as reported by CNN. For comparison, the NFL estimates that the number of football fans is roughly 300 million on a global basis.

2. Perhaps unsurprisingly considering the sport's massive fan base, soccer icon Cristiano Ronaldo was the world's highest-paid athlete in 2016, with earnings of $88 million from salary, bonuses, and endorsements, according to Forbes.

3. Ronaldo's massive social media presence encompasses 215 million followers across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. His posts during the 12-month period from June 1, 2015 to June 1, 2016 generated $176 million in media value for his sponsors, according to digital media tracking company Hookit.

4. In all, the 100 top-earning athletes banked a cumulative $3.15 billion during that same period, 29% of which came from endorsements and appearances, according to Forbes.

5. In a testament to its massive reach, sports apparel giant Nike (NYSE:NKE) is partnered with 50 of those top 100-earning athletes. These sponsorship deals likely account for a significant portion of the $9.4 billion Nike is obligated to pay in future endorsement contracts, as stated in its 2016 annual report.

6. By comparison, Under Armour (NYSE:UA)(NYSE:UAA) -- the most likely challenger to Nike's thrown -- has deals with 13 of the top-earning athletes. But what Under Armour lacks in quantity, it makes up in quality. The company's endorsers include Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, NBA MVP Stephen Curry, and 2015 PGA Tour Player of the Year Jordan Spieth.

7. Still, Nike's massive endorsement investments have helped it become the most valuable business brand in sports, with a 2015 brand value of $26 billion -- up from $19 billion in 2014 -- as estimated by Forbes. ESPN, the dominant cable sports network in which Disney (NYSE:DIS) owns an 80% stake, is No. 2 at $17 billion, while Under Amour comes in fourth at $5 billion.

8. As for sports leagues, the NFL is the most profitable with annual revenue of more than $13 billion, according to Forbes. Moreover, the average NFL team is worth $2.3 billion with an operating profit approaching $100 million.

9. Buying a future Super Bowl winning franchise can be a particularly good investment. The Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots are valued at $3.4 billion. That's second only to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL and fourth most among sports franchises around the world. Incredibly, owner Robert Craft paid just $172 million for the Patriots in 1994.

10. Being a champion quarterback isn't exactly bad business either. New England Patriots quarterback -- and five-time Super Bowl winner -- Tom Brady ranks second in career NFL earnings among active players with $196.2 million, behind only New York Giants quarterback -- and two-time Super Bowl winner -- Eli Manning's $205.8 million, according to Spotrac.

11. The Super Bowl also remains a mecca for TV advertisers. This year's game was watched by 170 million total viewers and generated $500 million in ad revenue, according to 21st Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX) (NASDAQ:FOXA) CEO James Murdoch.


The sheer magnitude of the global sports industry is awe-inspiring, with some estimates placing its size as high as $1.5 trillion. In this massive market -- and with billions of sports fans worldwide -- even industry titans like Nike and Under Armour have long runways for growth. And while cord-cutting remains a threat for TV networks such as ESPN and Fox, live sports programming is likely to remain a tremendously profitable business for these companies for the foreseeable future. As such, the sports industry remains fertile ground for long-term investors.

Joe Tenebruso has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook, Nike, Twitter, Under Armour (A Shares), Under Armour (C Shares), and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.