Horse Racing vs. Cricket – Which is More Popular?

by Taylor Smith
on February 16, 2018

In the United States, the 5 “major” sports are basketball, football, baseball, soccer and hockey. After that, sports like golf, tennis and auto racing each have their own massive fanbases in certain pockets of the country. Horse racing is extremely popular in certain areas, and big events like the Kentucky Derby still draws massive television interest.

Cricket hardly registers on the Richter scale in America. If you turned a cricket match on TV and asked an American to describe what’s happening, he/she would probably say it looks a little bit like baseball, but with certain bowling and field hockey attributes thrown in.

While cricket certainly isn’t a popular sport in the U.S., it has far more relevance in other parts of the world. We know horse racing is more popular than cricket in this country, but which sport is more popular on a global scale?

Cricket Has Its Pockets

India, which is home to the world’s second-largest population (about 1.2 billion), is a hotbed for cricket. To suggest that many in India treat cricket as a religion would not be straying too far from the truth. Back in 2014, India awarded its highest individual honor, the Bharat Ratna, to recently-retired cricket star Sachin Tendulkar. This is akin to the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the United States.

India’s fascination with cricket is interesting considering most Indians have never played the game in their lives. For one, doing so requires a ton of space and expensive padding and equipment. Unfortunately, most people can’t afford those kinds of things.

The Indian national team hasn’t even been particularly successful in the sport. India is home to the majority of the world’s cricketers, but they did not become a real factor in global competitions until fairly recently. Nowadays, a cricket match in India will typically attract a staggering 400 million viewers. For the sake of scale, the Super Bowl, which is the most-watched TV event in the U.S. on a yearly basis, typically draws a little over 110 million sets of eyeballs.

Cricket was brought to India by the British, who were colonizing the region. It began as a game that primarily interested the country’s elites, but advancements in technology have led to the sport’s explosion in popularity. As recently as 1990, there were only about 30 million households in India with a working television. Today, that number is up to nearly 180 million.

Cricket is to India what American football is to the USA. The stats are a bit skewed given the country’s immense population, but cricket is clearly king in the world’s second-biggest nation.

Cricket is also hugely popular in places like Australia, New Zealand, England, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ireland.

What About Horse Racing?

Horse racing is often associated with gambling, and for good reason. You could argue that betting is essentially the main reason for horse racing remaining relevant in America at all these days. You can go to race tracks all over the country and place a bet on your favorite racehorse to finish first, second or third. That’s a huge part of the appeal, and it always has been.

The prevalence of betting on horse races has dwindled over the years. Back when horse racing was king, bettors didn’t have a whole lot of options. You could either bet on the race or bet on nothing. Nowadays, with the variety of casino games and other sports available to bettors, horse racing can get lost in the shuffle more easily.

That said, there was a rather hefty uptick in American interest in 2017. About $140 million was bet on the Kentucky Derby in 2017, which was up from about $125 million in 2016.

Given the sport’s ancient history, horse racing has existed in some form or another in just about every country on the planet. Countries in Asia, Oceania, Europe and Africa have extensive histories in the sport. Of course, that doesn’t mean it remains relevant in all of them.

Today, horse racing is most popular in North America, Australia and the United Kingdom, though certain Middle East nations aren’t far behind. In fact, the Kentucky Derby, which is thought to be the sport’s most prestigious event, has been surpassed by the Dubai World Cup as the richest event in the world. The Melbourne Cup in Australia is also treated like Super Bowl Sunday in the U.S.

Globally, Cricket Takes the Cake

Soccer is the most popular sport on earth, without question. Because it has taken a while to find a footing in the U.S., it’s been easy for Americans to scoff at the notion for years. However, now that soccer has finally risen to prominence in the USA, its place at the top of the global rankings is arguably more secure than ever.

So, the rest of sports are essentially battling for second place. Horse racing isn’t even in the conversation, while cricket is duking it out with basketball and tennis for the silver medal. Basketball has likely surpassed cricket as of now, but cricket remains very much in the conversation.

Cricket is the third-most watched sport in the world behind soccer’s World Cup and rugby’s World Cup. The relatively new Twenty20 format, which has shortened the length of cricket matches, has helped the sport explode in popularity. While the test format would drag on over the course of several days, the T20 format has compressed the matches considerably. That has certainly helped drive fan interest.

The Indian Premier League is the biggest cricket league in the world, and it’s still growing at a rapid rate. Australia’s Big Bash League and the England NatWest T20 Blast League aren’t far behind.

Horse racing, unfortunately, appears headed in the other direction. While it is certainly still more familiar to Americans than the unknown that is cricket, American interest in horse racing isn’t exactly booming. Back in 2015, about 16 million Americans tuned in to see American Pharoah win the Kentucky Derby. That number pales in comparison to events like the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and baseball’s World Series.

Indian betting laws are vague, as there is no written law in the country that outlaws online gambling. A number of well-known sportsbooks – Bet365, Betfair, etc – operate in India without specifically targeting Indian players. Billions and billions of dollars are wagered on cricket matches worldwide on an annual basis.

Considering soccer is the only sport on the planet that sees more wagering action, it’s safe to say that cricket is vastly more relevant and popular today than horse racing.
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