Which Nation Has The Most Baseball Fans?
For the past two weeks, the passion of the World Baseball Classic has been on full display. There was the indefatigable cheer squad for Chinese Taipei; Joey Meneses’s epic bat toss after homering for Mexico; Italy pitcher Joe LaSorsa’s ear-splitting paroxysm after getting a clutch out; and dueling Nicaraguan and Puerto Rican street bands in the stands of Miami’s LoanDepot Park.
Unfortunately, only one nation will still be partying after Tuesday night, the final game of the roughly quadrennial tournament. But with finalists Japan and the U.S. both incredibly formidable teams, predicting who that will be is a real challenge. A couple weeks ago, we proposed three different ways to handicap the WBC field; Japan looks like the favorite by Elo, but the U.S. has more MLB wins above replacement and is slightly favored in the betting markets.
But predicting the outcome of a single baseball game is a fool’s errand anyway. So today, let’s instead try to answer the more philosophical question of who should win. Whose fan base wants this the most? Whose passion most deserves to be rewarded? In other words, what is the most baseball-crazed nation in the world?
There’s no one right answer, of course, so let’s look at this question in a few different ways too. We compared three different measures of baseball fandom in Japan, the U.S. and as many other nations as we could get data on. And the picture was clear as mud.
Perhaps the most obvious way to measure baseball’s popularity is to look at how many people actually go to baseball games. So we collected attendance data for the most recent season of the preeminent baseball league in seven nations: the Australian Baseball League, Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, the Liga Mexicana de Béisbol, the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente in Puerto Rico, the Korea Baseball Organization, Major League Baseball in the U.S.1 and the Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional.
Which nation attracts the most baseball fans?
Attendance statistics for the most recent season of the top baseball league in seven nations
|League▲▼||Nation▲▼||Total Attendance▲▼||Attendance/ Game▲▼||AGOMP▲▼|
|Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente||Puerto Rico||481,290||2,831||926|
|Nippon Professional Baseball||Japan||21,071,180||24,558||199|
|Korea Baseball Organization||South Korea||6,076,074||8,439||162|
|Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional||Venezuela||1,317,775||4,899||161|
|Major League Baseball||U.S.||61,902,828||26,353||79|
|Australian Baseball League||Australia||189,202||1,168||44|
MLB had by far the highest attendance, at 61.9 million, but it also played the most games (2,349). On a per-game basis, then, baseball attendance in the U.S. (26,353) is just a bit higher than in Japan (24,558), with the other five nations well behind.
But if you think about it, of course the U.S. has the most baseball fans; the U.S. also has the most people of these seven nations.2 What we’re really interested in is which nation has the highest share of baseball fans. So we normalized those per-game attendance figures for population with the statistic AGOMP, or Attendance per Game per One Million People.3 And by this measure, Puerto Rico demolishes the other six nations: Its AGOMP is 926, while second-place Japan’s is 199. Meanwhile, the U.S. is second to last, with an AGOMP of just 79.
Is attendance really the best way to measure fandom, though? Some baseball fans may not be able to afford to go to games — especially in the U.S., where one study found that the average cost for a family of four to attend an MLB game in 2022 was $204.76. Others may not be able to physically get there if they live far away from an MLB home city. (By contrast, this may not be a problem at all in Puerto Rico because of its small size; it’s just a three-hour drive from one end of the island to the other.)
Plus, of course, attendance probably double-counts thousands of fans who attend multiple games per year. If we’re literally interested in what share of a nation’s population is baseball fans, there’s a better way to measure that.
You may be more familiar with them from politics, but polls are also used to measure opinion in the sports world. The company Nielsen (of TV ratings fame) conducts a regular survey of more than 30 nations about sports called Nielsen Fan Insights. According to that data, here are the percentages of people ages 16-69 in each nation who indicated that they were “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in MLB and the WBC in 2022:
Which nation is most interested in baseball?
Share of people ages 16-69 in 36 nations who said in 2022 that they were “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in MLB and the World Baseball Classic
|Nation||Interested in WBC||Interested in MLB|
|United Arab Emirates||—||28|
By this measure, we have a surprising new leader: Mexico, where almost half of people said they were interested in both MLB and the WBC. Interestingly, Nigeria — which didn’t even field a team in the WBC — is second in MLB fandom. Then you get some less-surprising nations, including the U.S., which is fifth in MLB fandom at 30 percent interest. However, only 21 percent of Americans said they were at least somewhat interested in the WBC — reflecting the challenge the tournament has had getting domestic fans engaged. (Although the U.S. team has played all of its games on American soil, some of its games have felt more like home games for the other team.)
For what it’s worth, the opposite is true of Japan: Only 26 percent of Japanese respondents said they were interested in MLB, but 30 percent said they were interested in the WBC. Of course, that may reflect a key shortcoming of the Nielsen poll: It’s possible to be a fan of baseball without being a fan of MLB, especially in nations like Japan with popular domestic leagues.
However, other polls we found suggested that Nielsen’s numbers for MLB are in line with these nations’ love of their own baseball leagues, too. For example, a September 2022 survey conducted jointly by Macromill Inc. and Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting found that 26 percent of Japanese people support one of Japan’s professional baseball teams, identical to its share of MLB fans in the Nielsen Fan Insights data. And a March 2022 poll by Gallup Korea found that 31 percent of South Koreans had at least some interest in the Korea Baseball Organization, similar to the 33 percent who told Nielsen they were interested in MLB.
But as rich as the Nielsen data is, it still has some big gaps: Several nations famous for their love of baseball, like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, weren’t surveyed at all — and older polls we found suggest that they could be home to even more baseball fans than Mexico. (For example, in 2015, a Pulso Dominicano poll found that baseball is the favorite sport of 52 percent of Dominicans.) So for our final metric, we chose a data set where almost every nation is represented.
Google provides comprehensive data on how often various topics get searched in various geographies, allowing us to directly compare the relative frequency of searches for baseball around the world (as a share of all queries made in the country). Here are the top 20 nations by Google search interest in baseball in the 2022 calendar year:
Which nation Googles baseball most?
The 20 nations with the highest relative Google search volume for baseball in calendar year 2022
|Nation||Baseball Search Interest||Nation||Baseball Search Interest|
Right away, one of the nations for which we’re missing not only polling data, but also attendance data, pops up. Cuba leads the world in Google searches for baseball, followed closely by Japan. (In this table, “100” represents the highest baseball-search frequency as a proportion of all queries, and every other number is expressed as a share of that. For example, Japan’s “93” rating means that it Googled baseball 93 percent as often as Cuba did, relative to all searches.)
Then there’s a big gap. The Dominican Republic is in third place, but it Googled baseball just 38 percent as often as Cuba did. The U.S. was fourth, while AGOMP leader Puerto Rico was seventh. Polling leader Mexico was just 11th.
Of course, Google search data isn’t perfect either. Many people around the world don’t have internet access; for example, in Cuba, internet penetration is estimated at 74 percent, and in Venezuela, it is estimated at just 72 percent. Internet censorship is common in these countries as well, and it’s unclear how that might affect these numbers. In Cuba’s case, at least, it doesn’t seem to be holding them back from searching about baseball, but it’s important to remember that Google trends data is relative. Searches for baseball are divided by the total searches in the geography, so if Cubans are searching for other things (like politics) less often, that will make baseball seem more popular by comparison.
Put these three metrics side by side, and it’s still not clear which nation is most obsessed with baseball. Puerto Rico is tops in attendance (per AGOMP) but in the middle of the pack in search interest. Mexico is tops in the Nielsen poll but below average in attendance and Google searches. One poll suggests the Dominican Republic is actually first in public opinion, but it’s a distant third by Google. Cuba is No. 1 according to Google, but it’s a total black box otherwise. As for the two WBC finalists, Japan ranks second in both attendance and search interest, but it’s a mediocre eighth in the polling. Meanwhile, the U.S. is above average in the polls and Google but near the bottom in attendance.
It’s disappointing to not reach a clean conclusion here, but it’s also fitting. As the WBC has taught us, passion — for baseball, for a nation — takes several forms, and none is objectively superior to another. Who deserves to win the WBC is an unanswerable question, because what’s worth more? Breadth of support? Depth of it? For that matter, whose passion matters the most, the fans’ or the players’?
But there’s one thing we can say with confidence. After the last out on Tuesday, one country’s baseball fans will explode in jubilation, another’s will endure bitter disappointment, and neither will care what the data says.