People playing racquetball
People playing racquetball

There is a wide variety of organized sports in the continent of North America. The continent is the birthplace of several of these organized sports, such as basketball, gridiron football (including both American and Canadian games), ice hockey, lacrosse, racquetball, rodeo, ultimate, and volleyball. The modern versions of baseball and softball, skateboarding, snowboarding, stock car racing, and surfing also developed in North America.

Sports leagues in Canada and the United States use a closed, franchise model which has the same teams playing every year, with occasional additions of expansion teams or relocations of existing teams. Leagues in other North American countries use promotion and relegation systems, where teams are transferred between two divisions based on their performance at the end of each season.

The major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada dominate organized men's professional team sports in those two countries: Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Soccer (MLS) and the Canadian Football League (CFL). Liga MX, the top-level Association football in Mexico is also widely popular. In the Caribbean, where cricket is popular, that region's major domestic competitions include the Regional Four Day Competition, the Regional Super50, and the Caribbean Premier League.

Women's professional sports in the U.S. and Canada include the Women's National Basketball Association, the National Women's Soccer League, and the National Women's Hockey League. Individual professional sports organizations based in North America include INDYCAR and NASCAR in auto racing, the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour in golf, and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA). College athletics in Canada are organized by U Sports and the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA). In the U.S., they are primarily organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).

Franchise organization in the U.S. and Canada

Main articles: Major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada and Promotion and relegation § United States and Canada

A distinct feature in American and Canadian professional sports leagues, compared to many other countries around the world, is the lack of promotion and relegation systems, where teams are transferred between two levels based on their performance for the completed season. Other North American countries, such as the Mexico's football league system, may have a promotion and relegation process, where, for example, teams may transfer between the Mexican top level Liga MX and the second level Ascenso MX.

Instead, professional sports leagues in the U.S. and Canada use a closed, franchise model which always has the same teams playing, with occasional admission of expansion teams and relocation of existing teams, and with no team movement between the top level, the major leagues, and the lower levels, the minor leagues. The minor league system then can be generally viewed as an informal relegation system based on individual players rather than teams. Many minor league teams are generally affiliated with major league teams. Players remain employees of, or under contract to, the parent organization and are assigned to the minor league level appropriate to their skill and development. Skillful players are often promoted, or 'called up', to the parent major league team while under-performing players or players recovering from a major injury are 'sent down' to an affiliated minor league team.

College athletics act as the primary suppliers of players to the professional leagues. Many college sports in the U.S. are primarily organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which divides schools into three divisions based on the size and organization of each institution: Division I for large schools, Division II for smaller schools, and Division III for schools who do not offer any athletic scholarship to students. In Canada, college sports are organized by U Sports for universities and the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association for colleges. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has members in both the U.S. and Canada.

Team sports


See also: Football § North American football codes

North America is the birthplace of gridiron football, the form of football that originally developed, and is primarily played, in the U.S. and Canada.[1] Both major forms, American football and Canadian football, developed in the late 19th century out of the original games now known as rugby football and association football. Gridiron football is distinguished by the forward pass, the system of downs, a line of scrimmage, measurements in yards, players wearing hard plastic helmets and shoulder pads, more specialist positions and formations, among others. Walter Camp, known as the "Father of American Football", is credited with creating the system of downs and line of scrimmage rules in the 1880s that originally differentiate gridiron football from its older counterparts.[2] Canada would later implement similar rules when the Ontario Rugby Football Union adopted the Burnside rules in 1903.[3]

Association football is the most popular sport in almost all North, Central American and Caribbean Countries.[4][circular reference] Unqualified, football is generally understood to refer to whichever form of football is the most popular in the regional context in which the word appears. For example, "football" unqualified primarily refers to American football in the U.S., Canadian football in Canada, and association football in Mexico. The word soccer is instead used to refer to association football in the U.S. and Canada.

American football

See also: List of American and Canadian football leagues § Leagues in North America

The National Football League (NFL) is the highest professional level of American football in the world,[5] with teams across the United States. College football in the U.S. is primarily organized by the NCAA. The NCAA further divides its Division I football teams into the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Football Championship Subdivision. The Football Bowl Subdivision has the largest and most competitive schools, and is noted for its system of postseason bowl games.

USA Football is the governing body for amateur American football in the U.S., and is a member of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), the international governing body of American football associations. Several other North American counties are a part of IFAF Americas, the federation of IFAF members in the Americas.

In Mexico, the Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional is the professional league, while ONEFA organizes college football.

Canadian football

The Canadian Football League (CFL) is the highest professional level of Canadian football, with teams across Canada. Teams from Canadian universities compete in U Sports football. The Canadian Junior Football League and Quebec Junior Football League field teams with players aged 18–22.

Football Canada is the governing body for amateur Canadian football. Although it primarily focuses on the Canadian form of the game, it is also a member of the International Federation of American Football.

Association football

CONCACAF is the continental governing body for association football in North America, and runs two visible tournaments: the Gold Cup and the Champions League[6] The Gold Cup is competed every two years among the men's national teams to determine the regional champion of North America. The Champions League is an annual continental competition for the top football clubs in North America, with the winner advancing to the FIFA Club World Cup.

Liga MX is North America's most popular association football league with an average attendance of 25,557 during the 2014–15 season.[7] It forms the top level of the Mexican men's, four-level league system, with Ascenso MX, Segunda División de México, and Tercera División de México. This Mexican league system uses promotion and relegation, where teams are transferred between levels based on their final records at the end of the season. For women, the Super Liga Femenil de Fútbol is at the top level.

The men's professional soccer league systems in both the U.S. and Canada instead primarily use the closed, franchise model which primarily always has the same teams playing. Major League Soccer (MLS) represents the highest level, while the second level consists of the USL Championship. Although the MLS has teams in both countries, they are only sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the governing body of soccer in the United States. The Canadian Soccer Association, the governing body in Canada, instead sanctions two third-level semi-pro all-Canadian leagues at the third level: League1 Ontario and Première Ligue de soccer du Québec, as well as a separate level-one league, the Canadian Premier League. The United States has the USL League One and National Independent Soccer Association, which are both professional. For women' professional soccer, the National Women's Soccer League is at the top level, and United Women's Soccer and Women's Premier Soccer League are at the second level. College soccer is played both in the U.S. and Canada, with top players often going on to play professional.

Other countries with multi-level professional league systems include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Panama. Most of these use promotion and regulation.


See also: List of organized baseball leagues § Americas

Baseball evolved from older bat-and-ball games already being played in England by the mid-18th century. This game was brought by immigrants to North America, where the modern version developed. By the late 19th century, baseball was widely recognized as the national sport of the United States. The sport is currently popular in various other North American countries.

In the U.S. and Canada, Major League Baseball (MLB) is the top professional level of baseball, while Minor League Baseball (MiLB) comprises several levels and multiple component leagues below MLB. MiLB also has teams and component leagues in Mexico (such as the Mexican Baseball League) and the Dominican Republic (such as the Dominican Summer League).[8] The relationship between MLB and MilB is also the closed, franchise model, which has the same teams playing, and where the players are transferred between levels. Several more independent leagues operate in the U.S. and Canada. Primarily because of MiLB, college baseball plays a smaller role in developing professional players than what college football does with its players.

Other professional leagues in North America include the Dominican Professional Baseball League, Liga Mexicana del Pacífico in Mexico, the Nicaraguan Professional Baseball League, the Panamanian Professional Baseball League, and the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente in Puerto Rico.

The Cuban National Series is the primary domestic amateur baseball competition in Cuba. It forms part of the Cuban baseball league system, run by the Baseball Federation of Cuba, the governing body of baseball in that country. Amateur baseball in Canada includes Ligue de Baseball Élite du Québec, the New Brunswick Senior Baseball League, and the Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League. Amateur baseball in the United States consists of various organizations.


Canadian Dr. James Naismith is credited with creating the game of basketball in 1891.[9] While working as a physical education professor and instructor at the International Young Men's Christian Association Training School[10] (YMCA) (today, Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S., he primarily created the game as a way to could keep his gym class active indoors on a rainy day.[9] The sport quickly spread throughout the U.S. and Canada, with Naismith becoming instrumental in establishing college basketball.

Today, the National Basketball Association (NBA), with teams in the U.S. and one in Canada, is widely considered to be the highest level of professional basketball in the world, and NBA players are the world's best paid athletes by average annual salary per player.[11][12] The NBA operates a minor league basketball organization, the NBA Development League, to help develop players. However, like the relationship between college football and the NFL, college basketball acts as the primary suppliers of players to the NBA.

The Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional, is the top professional basketball league in Mexico, while Liga Nacional de Baloncesto is the top one in the Dominican Republic. The Baloncesto Superior Nacional (BSN) has teams in Puerto Rico.

The NBA also runs the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), with many teams having direct NBA counterparts and playing in the same arenas. Similarly, the Baloncesto Superior Nacional Femenino (BSNF) is the women's counterpart professional league to the BSN in Puerto Rico.

Ice hockey

Montreal, Canada, is recognized as the birthplace of organized contemporary ice hockey.[13] On March 3, 1875, the first organized indoor game was played at Montreal's Victoria Skating Rink.

With teams in both Canada and the U.S., the National Hockey League (NHL) is considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world,[14] The American Hockey League (AHL) then serves as the primary developmental minor league for the NHL, with the ECHL being at the third level. There are also a professional women's league: the National Women's Hockey League with teams in the Northeastern U.S.. Junior ice hockey is played in both countries by players between 16 and 21 years of age. In Canada, the highest level is known as Major Junior, and is governed by the Canadian Hockey League, which itself has three constituent leagues: the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the Western Hockey League. The second level, Junior A is governed by the Canadian Junior Hockey League. The lower levels, Junior B and Junior C, are run by various other leagues. In the U.S, the top level is represented by the United States Hockey League, the second level is represented by the North American Hockey League, and then there are several leagues at the third level.

Liga Mexicana Élite is the top level league in Mexico, where ice hockey is not popular, but slowly growing.[15]


Cricket in the West Indies is the second most popular sport in the Caribbean after association football.[16] Originally introduced to the West Indies by British colonists, the sport's popularity spread and became a major part of West Indian culture. Domestic competitions organised across the whole of the West Indies include the Regional Four Day Competition (First-class), the Regional Super50 (List A) and the Caribbean Premier League (Twenty20). A single governing body, the West Indies Cricket Board, organizes cricket in over a dozen mainly English-speaking Caribbean countries and dependencies.

Conversely, Cricket in Canada is a minor sport, which is unusual among the former Dominions of the British Empire. Cricket Canada, the governing body of the sport in Canada, has organized several domestic inter-provincial cricket competitions such as the CIBC National Cricket League and the TJT National Cricket League.

Cricket in the United States has not been historically popular in that country. First, it was instead baseball, another summertime bat and ball sport, that became a popular U.S. pastime.[17] And secondly, when the International Cricket Council was formed in 1909 as cricket's international governing body, it was open only to Commonwealth nations and thereby excluded the U.S. from participating in the sport at the highest level.[18] There have also been several attempts to form professional cricket leagues, but some like the American Premier League never got off the ground, and others like Pro Cricket only lasted for one year. However, USA Cricket, the governing body of the sport in the U.S., is currently administering Minor League Cricket, the highest level of T20 cricket played in the country.

Individual sports


Boxing draws many athletes across North America. Boxing in Cuba remains popular, with about 19,000 boxers hailing from that country.[19] It is also a major sport in Mexico, having produced over 179 professional world champions.[20] Boxing in Canada has been practiced in that country since before the Canadian Confederation in 1867. As for the United States, it became the center of professional boxing in the early 20th century.[21]

The major world sanctioning bodies in boxing are based in North America: the International Boxing Federation (Springfield, New Jersey), the World Boxing Association (Panama City), the World Boxing Council (Mexico City), and the World Boxing Organization (San Juan, Puerto Rico).

Horse racing

A few North American countries hold their own Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing series. The Triple Crown in the United States consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. The Canadian Triple Crown has the Queen's Plate, the Prince of Wales Stakes, and the Breeders' Stakes. The Barbados Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing includes the Barbados Guineas, the Midsummer Creole Classic, and the Barbados Derby. All three races in the Mexican Triple Crown series are held at the Hipódromo de las Américas in Mexico City.

The Triple Crowns for both pacers and trotters are both held in the United States.

The Breeders' Cup, the annual series of Grade I Thoroughbred horse races, has been held in both the United States and Canada.


Three of the four men's major golf championships are held in North America: the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship. Three of the five women's major golf championships are also played on the continent: the ANA Inspiration, the Women's PGA Championship, and the United States Women's Open Championship.

The PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour are both headquartered in Florida.


Auto racing is also popular in North America. INDYCAR and NASCAR are both headquartered in the United States, with the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Cup Series being their top competitions, respectively. Grands Prix in Formula One are held in Canada, Mexico and the United States.


Tennis is popular in North America. Among the major events, the US Open, one of the four Grand Slam events, is held annually at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City.

The Women's Tennis Association, the principal organizing body of women's professional tennis, is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida. Tennis Canada, the Central American & Caribbean Tennis Confederation, and the United States Tennis Association are the regional member organizations of the International Tennis Federation, and help organize various events in their respective areas of North America.



  1. ^ "Gridiron football". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
  2. ^ Bishop, LuAnn (November 18, 2013). "11 Historic Tidbits About The Game". Yale News. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
  3. ^ "History – – Official Site of the Canadian Football League". Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  4. ^ "North, Central American and Caribbean nations at the FIFA World Cup".
  5. ^ Jozsa, Frank P. (2004). Sports Capitalism: The Foreign Business of American Professional Leagues. Ashgate Publishing. p. 270. ISBN 978-0-7546-4185-8. Since 1922, [the NFL] has been the top professional sports league in the world with respect to American football
  6. ^ "CONCACAF". 17 November 2020.
  7. ^ "A quick primer on Mexico's Liga MX". Media Life Magazine. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
  8. ^ "Teams by Name – Official Info – The Official Site of Minor League Baseball". Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  9. ^ a b "The Greatest Canadian Invention". CBC News. Archived from the original on December 3, 2010.
  10. ^ "YMCA International - World Alliance of YMCAs: Basketball : a YMCA Invention". Retrieved March 22, 2016.
  11. ^ "The Surge of the NBA's International Viewership and Popularity". June 14, 2012. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  12. ^ "REVEALED: The world's best paid teams, Man City close in on Barca and Real Madrid". May 1, 2012. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  13. ^ "IIHF to recognize Montreal's Victoria Rink as birthplace of hockey". IIHF. July 2, 2002. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007.
  14. ^ Marsh, James (2006). "National Hockey League". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 11, 2006.
  15. ^ "Mexican hockey: Signs of hope south of the border". Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  16. ^ "What Are the Most Popular Sports in the Caribbean?".
  17. ^ Chetwynd, Josh. "Cricket, anyone? Obvious similarities make baseball, cricket sibling sports". Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  18. ^ "International Cricket Council – The ICC – About The Organisation – History". Archived from the original on July 6, 2009. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  19. ^ Pettavino, Paula J. (2003) ”Boxing” in Encyclopedia Of Cuba. Eds. Luis Martinez-Fernandez, D.H. Figueredo, Louis Perez, and luis Gonzalez. Volume 2. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 536.
  20. ^ "World Champions By Nationality: Mexican World Champions". BoxRec.
  21. ^ Cummins, Walter M.; Gordon, George G. (January 1, 2006). Programming Our Lives: Television and American Identity. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780275990206. Retrieved November 20, 2016 – via Google Books.