SportOnSearch assesses the online search interest of the world’s most significant sports properties.

One of the key takeaways from the SportOnSearch 2024 report is a remarkable increase in search volume for the sport of basketball: +48% in 2023 compared to its previous 4-year average places the sport 2nd in search rankings.

Contributing to this increase were leagues such as EuroLeague Women, EuroLeague, and Women’s National Basketball Association. They have seen an astronomical rise in search (+76%, +56% and +54% respectively) in the last year, with the EuroLeague Women experiencing its most successful season to date in terms of digital engagement. The National Basketball Association also recorded a 16% increase in search on last year.

What’s behind basketball’s search success?

Basketball has a huge economic, cultural and social effect worldwide: an interesting mix of factors on and off the court makes it so. Below, I explore the factors contributing to the sport’s growing popularity and expanding digital footprint.


On the court

  • Accessibility

Basketball’s universal accessibility and simplicity are major contributors to its widespread appeal: it requires minimal equipment and can be played anywhere, by anyone.  An estimated 300 million people worldwide (and counting) enjoy the game in diverse environments.

Ease of access promotes not only active participation but helps build a varied and dedicated fan base who engage online.

  • Captivating athletes

The allure of basketball is significantly amplified by its athletes who captivate audiences with on-court performances and who play their part as influential role models.

LeBron James’ historic achievement in February last year – breaking the National Basketball Association (NBA) all-time points record – secured his place in sports history and skyrocketed his presence in search trends. Rising NBA stars like France’s Victor Wembanyama similarly elevated the game in Europe.

Emerging talents from the US such as Angel Reese, Alexis Morris and Caitlin Clark (whose performances make them some of the most searched-for names in the sport) – have contributed to a surge in demand for the women’s game. Standout players, like Belgium’s Emma Meesseman, have drawn global attention to, amongst others, the EuroLeague Women.

Moreover, iconic figures such as Americans Diana Taurasi and Breanna Stewart and former player Sue Bird enthral and inspire a new generation of young girls to engage with basketball.

All these star-power athletes help foster growing interest in the sport, indicating its bright and expansive future.


  • Quality of play and competition

Beyond the NBA, a multitude of international leagues and competitions offer year-round basketball action. Events like the EuroLeague (men and women) and FIBA World Cup have further cemented the sport’s international stature. Stellar performances by European teams in the 2023 FIBA World Cup also helped heighten the sport’s impact.

Women’s basketball in particular has seen substantial improvement in player quality due to enhanced training and resources, making it more engaging to watch.


Off the court

  • A deep connection to culture

Basketball is deeply rooted in culture; it serves as a reflection of and influence on societal trends and identities. It breaks barriers, uniting a mix of individuals around the enthusiasm for the game and becoming a focal point of community life and local pride.

This can be seen in fashion, where basketball has sparked a distinctive style that merges sportswear with high fashion, and in its symbiotic relationship with hip-hop that underscores creativity and resilience. The sport’s influence extends to media and entertainment where narratives often address universal themes of perseverance and aspiration.

Basketball’s cultural significance and crossover appeal is reinforced by its players, who might be style icons, influencers and musicians as well as athletes. Many have transcended the sport to become household names/celebrities. Take Michael Jordon and the phenomenon of his Air Jordan shoe collection as just one example.

  • Access to live action

Basketball’s enhanced visibility and media coverage also contributes to its rising global popularity. Through live streams, fans can enjoy an unprecedented connection to the game.

Major leagues such as NBA have amplified their reach by broadcasting games worldwide and facilitating community events for group viewings.

Media coverage of women’s basketball has seen considerable growth by attracting a broader audience and fostering engagement. Collaborative efforts between women’s and men’s basketball, as well as cross-promotion with other sports and industries, help raise the profile of the game and create new avenues for exposure.

  • A strong digital presence

A proliferation of basketball content, from documentaries to podcasts to social media, further enhances fan connection to the sport and expands its reach and impact.

The digital era has been instrumental in the growth of women’s basketball as it fosters a closer connection between fans and players. Social media’s transformative power in sport is exemplified by the EuroLeague Women’s record-breaking season – in 2023 they surpassed all previous recorded by amassing over 120 million impressions and 48 million video views.

Key takeaways for rightsholders

What can rightsholders and International Federations learn from basketball’s success?

  1. Embrace cultural integration: basketball’s integration into wider cultural spheres demonstrates the value of aligning with various sectors like music/fashion.
  2. Invest in diversity: basketball’s inclusive ethos serves as a model for attracting diverse audiences.
  3. Cultivate accessibility: enhance the sport’s accessibility, both in terms of viewership and participation, to broaden and deepen fan engagement.
  4. Expand digital footprint: a robust digital presence is essential for increasing any sport’s popularity and reach.
  5. Foster community engagement: engage with local communities to build a dedicated, personally invested fan base.
  6. Leverage star power: the influence of star athletes can be pivotal in promoting a sport and connecting with younger audiences.

In summary, basketball’s digital ascendancy reflects its universal allure and cultural significance. For others looking to replicate its success, it provides the blueprint for growth in today’s digital-centric world: synthesise cultural integration, diversity and digital engagement (together with on-court/field excellence and innovation).

Redtorch is a bespoke and fully independent Research, Content & Creative Agency working to make sport more relevant. Click here to find out more about our work.