The cultural pallet of the United States is much like your father, or frankly any old person in your family: they like what they like and they don’t want to try anything else. They have every right to be; they lived a long, hard life and they want to stick with what’s comfortable, not waste time and money on something they might not like.
Sadly, there are sports played the globe over that will never succeed in the United States, destined to be played by a handful of people only for fun, not for fame or fortune. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. Your time is your own and nobody can tell you how to spend it.
But what defines success? There are the numbers for sure, how many watch it on TV, attend the event in person, and how many people actively participate. But popularity and success goes beyond numbers and extends into our culture. Is it talked about on Twitter and Facebook? Are there fantasy leagues that spawn at offices? Does the country seemingly coming to a halt when the championship game is played?
Toe wrestling is all well and good, but little Billy will never put up a poster of Lucha Toebre or The Hang Nail. There are other, more credible sports that lack cultural appeal for whatever reason. America won’t be dominated by baseball, basketball, football, and NASCAR forever, but none of these sports will be the one to take over. Whatever the reasons, here are the top 10 sports that will never be popular in the US.
Volleyball is already an established sport here. Images of beautiful women in bikini’s batting a white ball back and forth across a net dominate any beach scene in a movie. It’s also a sport that many high school kids, girls in particular, play indoors.
While there are competitive leagues, US Premier League Volleyball and FIVB for example, there isn’t much turn out. Statista shows that while volleyball participation is trending up, it’s not going high enough, fast enough. In 2013/2014, there were 409,000 female volleyball players in high school and only 52,000 male players.
There isn’t much appeal in a variation of tennis that involves batting an inflated ball back and forth. Volleyball is relegated more to “a fun activity to play on weekends” than “spectator sport I’m willing to pay to watch.”
9 Table Tennis
A sport most of us experience in high school, table tennis is yet another variation of a more popular sport. The whole sport screams “Tennis for kids” as the paddle, ball, and playing surface are all smaller than that of tennis. It’s on a much smaller scale and we have no interest in doing anything small.
However, that’s not to say it hasn’t influenced us at all. Ping-pong Diplomacy did play a factor in uniting the US and China in the 70s, as the sport is massive there. But as those relations thawed, our interest in the sport remains ice cold.
They play Lacrosse a lot in college, right? You've seen it on ESPN before. They have sticks with nets on them, and hockey masks and… I don’t remember anything else.
Lacrosse in the United States is widely known for one thing: the Duke Lacrosse team sexual assault allegations. It was the first encounter many Americans had with the sport on any level, and to this day remains the only thing the average Joe knows about it.
There are occasionally college games aired on TV, but when the cultural mindset of the nation relating to your sport is “terrible allegations,” you’re never going to find mainstream success.
With cheap rackets and shuttlecocks you can buy at dollar stores for kids, Badminton is yet another Tennis variant that isn’t picking up steam in the country. And no, shuttlecock is not a rude word I just made up.
Also popular in China, badminton hasn’t found its way beyond “fun thing to do once or twice with family” in the US.
A quick search on YouTube reveals that, on a place where Justin Bieber gets millions of views, the 2013 USA Badminton Championship has 14,000 views. As with many other racket sports, it seems we keep coming back to the same question: “why not just watch Tennis instead?”
We’ve all heard of this one. “It’s like American football for men,” many say on the internet. To some degree that’s true, it has all the physical contact of football without any of the stops for play calling and no protective equipment.
But since American football is, you know, American and is already way more popular here, it falls under the previous racket sports question: “why not just watch American football?”
A study conducted in 2010 by the National Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association said rugby is the fastest growing sport in the country. But given the health concerns over American football, it would seem the more violent Rugby has even more to lose.
5 Field Hockey
Skates and ice dominate the landscape of Hockey in America, but there is the field variation that’s popular in countries that aren’t cold enough to support multiple ice lakes during the winter. The United States, at least most of it, isn’t one of those places.
The Wikipedia page for USA Field Hockey features a few lines, and important things like the Hall of Fame and league presidents are empty footnotes. Granted anyone can edit Wikipedia, but surely if anyone could have also updated the page, surely they would have done it by now. Even many colleges don’t play field hockey; in California the sport is only offered by Stanford, Cal, and Pacific.
Popular in some circles of Europe and Asia (especially Italy and South Korea), Archery isn’t even considered a sport to the vast majority of Americans. One could hardly blame us, the idea of an ancient form of warfare being turned into a competitive sport seems ludicrous.
While there are three Americans currently ranked in the top 20 best players, actual competition is scarce. Matches are never played on TV, clubs are scarce, and while some colleges offer it, it’s pushed so far behind football, basketball, and even baseball and swimming there isn’t much funding or opportunity.
Going back to YouTube, the official Team USA Archery channel has less than 2,500 subscribers. In comparison the USA Basketball channel has over 86,000 subscribers. To be fair, that’s a pretty low number for the amount of people that follow USA basketball, but given the sheer difference in the numbers, it’s telling of the low interest we place in Archery.
3 Log Rolling
The sport that’s parodied in so many movies is a real sport with real international competition.
This bizarre sport involves walking on a log floating in a river, the goal being to see who can stay on longer. There are two variations; you and your opponent can roll on the same log or two separate logs and see who can stay on it the longest.
The United States Log Rolling Association has all of 13 subscribers on their YouTube channel and haven’t uploaded a single video in two years. When the sport does find its way on television, it’s always lumped in with several other lumberjack challenges.
Most American’s don’t have the ability or inclination to float a giant log in the river and walk on it, and when a sport isn’t easily able to play, it doesn’t stick around. Log Rolling may forever be relegated to a comedy routine involving bad Canadian accents with spurious use of “eh” in second rate comedy for generations to come.
No, this is not a fictional sport, not entirely. The International Quidditch Association hasn’t quite worked out flying broomsticks yet, but I’m told they are close to figuring out a way to give a small golden ball wings and a mind of its own.
Until then, they’re making due with kick-balls, hula-hoops, and non-flying broomsticks.
For those of you who aren’t brushed up on your teenage literature, Quidditch is a fictional sport in the world of Harry Potter that many would think is impossible to replicate in real life. That hasn’t stopped videogame companies from making their own Quidditch games, nor those brave men and women who don’t mind looking silly in the name of fun.
The International Quidditch Association is real and competitive matches are held around the globe. Naturally the sport is most popular in college, but there international competitions in Mexico, Australia, Canada, and beyond.
At the end of the day, it’s a bunch of people running around with broomsticks and volleyballs. I mean, just read this description from Wikipedia: “The snitch is a tennis ball placed at the bottom of a yellow long sock which is attached to the back of the snitch runner's shorts as if it were a tail.”
How could we put a fictional sport behind a real life international powerhouse sport on this list? Simple. Can you tell us what Cricket is without using the word “baseball” to describe it?
Cricket is the most popular sport in the world other than soccer, dominating social media when big international games are held. But if you’re American, you don’t even know big international games are being held, let alone who’s playing who.
There are so many different terms from wicket, bails, bowling crease, and popping crease, it’s hard to know where to start. The bowler will throw a rib tickler at the batsman, and the bowler will have a silly nanny on his hand, the batsman won’t be able to score a single wicket, and he’ll start sledging the bowler and the umpire alike.
How bad is it in the US? Later this week, the International Cricket Council will vote whether to strip the USA Cricket Association of its right to hold matches in the US, due to a multitude of violations and financial troubles, according to The Guardian.
When we don’t know the basic rules and the organizing body for the sport that represents the whole country is about to collapse, that’s a sure sign the sport will never succeed in the United States.