Just How Popular is Team Handball?I am frequently amused, and also sympathetic, to various rants I have seen or heard related to lack of Team Handball broadcasts on TV. Usually, these rants are along the lines of “If I see one more showing of (insert obscure sport here)
Well, while I concur that Curling is not a sport and the World’s Strongest Man is a silly, albeit strangely compelling competition, the sad fact is, is that those sports have a greater following in the United States. In fact, depending on how you want to define a sport’s popularity, Team Handball is down in the pecking order in the rest of the world as well. An oft-quoted comment is that Team Handball is the world’s second most popular sport after, of course, soccer. I’m not the first person to see that quote and think, “Oh really.” The folks at this website
even tried to quantify sport popularity. Of course, as they discovered, this is not a simple task and it depends on what metrics you use.
The IOC even spent more time and energy to produce the following report:
Based on the metrics used in the report, which while not perfect, are quantifiable, it’s hard to make a case for a very high number for handball on simply the Olympics Sports Program. Team Handball did survive the axe, so at least we know 150 IOC delegates think it’s better than Baseball and Softball.
My own perspective is that there are a few countries in the world, mostly in Europe, where Team Handball has a significant level of popularity. But even this popularity in Europe has to be viewed in the context of a comparatively speaking, more diverse sports scene. I will not try to measure the sport's popularity on an entire continent, but I do feel that I can speak with some authority on France, now that I’ve lived here 3 years.
Handball in France certainly has a significant level of popularity here and the National Teams have enjoyed success in the past few years including both men’s and women’s World Championships. That being said, it’s clear to me that Handball is behind Soccer, Rugby, and Basketball in terms of popularity. And just a notch above volleyball. This is based on newspaper coverage, television coverage, match attendance, and participation. And I’m not even considering sports such as Tennis, Formula 1, motorcycle racing, rally racing, bicycling and petanque. When you put into context that France has the 3rd most developed Professional League, after Germany and Spain, and consistently top notch National Teams what does that say about a sports overall popularity?
Well, I think it can be safely said that it’s not the world’s 2nd most popular sport. What would be more accurate is to say that Team Handball is a dynamic sport with a significant hard core dedicated fan base in many European and North African countries. Which, when you think about it, that really isn’t too bad of a thing to say. Now if we could just expand that to include North America we could get a little more TV coverage. Or does the TV coverage have to come first?