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Japan’s Data + Sports

Most Popular Media-Viewed Sports Among Japanese Youths

NPB Baseball Tops List, J.League Falls Behind HS Baseball
Nov. 14, 2022

The results of the 2021 SSF National Sports-Life Survey suggest that ease of access to media coverage largely determined which sports were viewed by young people in Japan, which most likely accounts for high school baseball ranking higher than soccer for J.League and overseas professional matches.

The most popular sports to watch among young people in Japan aged 12 to 21 appeared closely linked to the availability of media coverage, according to the findings of the 2021 SSF National Sports-Life Survey of Children and Young People. The top-ranked spectator sport—viewed on television, smartphones, and other media—was Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), followed by Japan’s national soccer team (including the Olympic team), high school baseball, US Major League Baseball (MLB), and long-distance running races like marathons and ekiden relays (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Types of Sports Viewed on TV, Smartphones, and Other Media, 12–21-Year-Olds (overall and by gender, multiple response)


Rank Type of sport Overall
1 National Professional Baseball 32.4 40.1 24.5
2 National team soccer
(incl. Olympics)
21.4 28.8 13.9
3 High school baseball 20.6 25.1 16.0
4 Major League Baseball 20.5 30.0 10.8
5 Marathon,ekiden 14.9 15.5 14.3
6 Overseas pro soccer
(Europe, South America, etc.)
14.4 22.9 5.7
7 J.League
(J1, J2, J3)
13.3 19.9 6.6
8 Combat sports
(boxing, mixed martial arts, etc.)
12.3 16.9 7.5
9 Pro tennis 12.0 12.8 11.2
10 Overseas pro basketball
(NBA, etc.)
11.8 16.2 7.3
  Don’t watch sports on TV, smartphone, etc. 35.0 25.9 44.3

Note: Includes sports viewing on such media as TV, smartphones, tablets, and PCs.

Source: Sasakawa Sports Foundation, “National Sports-Life Survey of Ages 12 to 21,” 2021.

“The popularity of high school baseball is a phenomenon unique to Japan,” says SSF Policy Officer Takahiro Suzuki. “High school baseball is particularly popular and attracts a lot of attention compared with other high school sports. The spring and summer national tournaments pitting the top teams from each prefecture are broadcast live and widely covered by the media; one can conclude that this is one of the factors behind the genre’s appeal. In addition, high school baseball offers people an opportunity to root for one’s hometown and is full of drama, which makes it highly popular among all age groups, ranking second as a TV-viewed sport only to NPB in SSF’s 2020 sports-life survey of adults.”

Over 60% Say They Watched NPB Live

What were the main means by which these youths followed sporting events? For NPB baseball games, more than 60% said they watched live broadcasts, with over 50% also saying they viewed game highlights on the news. Similar shares reported seeing live broadcasts of matches involving the national soccer team or high school baseball tournaments, with over 40% saying they watched news highlights of these sports. A much higher share (65.2%) followed MLB through sports news than other formats, while live broadcasts accounted for the highest percentage (76.2%) of those watching marathons and other long-distance races (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Main Means by Which Sporting Events Were Viewed, 12–21-Year-Olds (multiple response)


Rank Type of sport n Live broadcasts Video recordings
(incl. DVDs)
News highlights Web videos
(excl. live streams)
1 National Professional Baseball 529 62.2 15.1 55.2 28.4
2 National team soccer
(incl. Olympics)
348 63.8 13.2 40.8 25.6
3 High school baseball 334 60.8 15.3 44.6 30.8
4 Major League Baseball 336 24.7 17.6 65.2 38.7
5 Marathon, ekiden 244 76.2 4.9 34.8 10.7

Notes: (1) Rankings are of the top-five viewed sports in the 2021 survey. (2) Includes sports viewing on such media as TV, smartphones, tablets, and PCs.

Source: Sasakawa Sports Foundation, “National Sports-Life Survey of Ages 12 to 21,” 2021.

“Japan Professional Football League [J.League] matches are less frequently broadcast live on TV and are now more often distributed as paid web content,” Suzuki adds. “On the other hand, Japanese national soccer team matches are more regularly televised, which likely accounts for their strong showing. Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani was the runaway favorite athlete among young people in our 2021 survey, and the success of Ohtani and other Japanese players has raised the profile of Major League Baseball in Japan. But since the games are rarely aired live on terrestrial broadcasts and usually take place in the morning Japan time, a majority of people watch highlights on the news.

“Ranking below MLB is long-distance running events, the most widely viewed ekiden being the two-day race from Tokyo to Hakone and back among university teams. Ten runners per team cover a course stretching for over 217 kilometers. The event is held on January 2 and 3 during the New Year holidays and is widely viewed live by people of all ages.”

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