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The most popular sports with expats

Which sports are expats most interested in?

What is the role of sport in expats' lives? Did anything change when they moved abroad? And what does it say about new identity and community for expats?

We surveyed 400 expats living around the world and asked them a series of questions to find the answer to these questions1. As well as the article below, we created this great infographic from the data. Here is what we found:

More than 70% of expats surveyed said they have an interest (low — watch occasionally or check results online, or genuine — regularly attend or watch) in at least one sport — and most have an interest in five or more. Sport clearly plays a big role in the lives of expats.

Soccer: Mr Popular

Soccer is the most popular sport for expats with 79% of respondents expressing an interest. European soccer is the biggest draw with more than one in three expats across our countries saying that they follow Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or Bundesliga. Manchester United are the most followed team across all sports, with 10% saying they follow them. Other popular teams include Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Bayern Munich. Expats coming to the UK are most likely to say they follow one of the big four or five names in British Soccer — which might suggest that an allegiance was present before the move.

Participate vs spectate

Our data showed that many of the most popular sports — motorsport, tennis and athletics — showed proportionately less genuine participation than sports that might be less popular, but have a more active following. For example skiing, swimming and cycling. Motorsport particularly had lots of people with an ‘interest’ but who rarely attended or watched regularly, while football and especially golf showed that many people attended or watched regularly.

Identity and community

While many reports exist, most people don’t need academic studies to know that sport and team-following often defines individuals and social groups. This is why sport often takes on an even more important role when moving abroad, when friend and family networks have been left behind. It’s a link with ‘the old country’ as well as a way of bonding with compatriots and forging new acquaintances in the expat community. There is also the role of the ‘local sports’ — those popular in the host nation — which, by following, can help expats find and join local communities.

Expats living in the USA adopt domestic sports in big numbers. More than 80% of those who have moved there say that they have an interest in American football and basketball… and more than 50% say that they attend games or watch regularly on TV...while 80% have an interest in baseball and 55% saying they attend or watch regularly on TV. Those coming to the U.S. seem to pick up the local team where they live — with a much more diverse spread of teams followed in sports such as American football, baseball and basketball. 

Expats living in the U.S. for more than two years are more likely to follow U.S. sports, compared to those living there for less time. Americans living abroad hold on to their domestic sporting interest too but are more likely to adopt other sports that are less traditionally ‘American’ too. U.S. teams from various sports that have the most notable following among all expat respondents are: Lakers, Patriots and Celtics.

Australian expats are most likely to carry their sporting heritage with them when they move to other countries.  Proportionally they are more likely to favour ‘home sports’ such as Australian rules football, cricket and rugby, to the exclusion of other, less familiar sports in host countries.

Expats in the UK show 20% more of an interest in soccer (86%) than the next four sports: tennis (67%), motor sport (65%), athletics and Golf (62%).

Cricket, the quintessentially English sport, is popular in the UK but still doesn’t have the same power to convert expat interest that U.S. sports do. While nearly half of the expats living in the UK say they have some interest (49%) in cricket, a large proportion of those are from countries where cricket is already a major sport: Australia, India, Pakistan and South Africa. The most popular cricket teams cited are Mumbai, Chennai and Sydney.

Expats in South East Asia still prefer soccer (71%) over other sports, with motor sport following at 66%, athletics at 59% and golf at 50%. Soccer and golf command the most genuine levels of interest.

Expats in Middle East and Africa: soccer commands great interest (low or genuine) at 77%, with the next most popular sport is motor sport (66%). Less popular still in MEA is golf (59%) and athletics (47%) and horse racing (45%). Expats in the region show the most genuine interest in cricket, golf and tennis.

Our business is built on understanding expats.  So, whether it’s their favourite sports teams or what they need to succeed while on assignment, we know what they need to be happy, healthy and productive. We not only provide international health care plans and wellness services to support individuals’ needs, but we help soon-to-be-expats prepare for their relocation and thrive post-move. Get in touch with one of our expert consultants for more information.

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