Badminton is the fastest racket sport on the planet, and it’s also an Olympic sport enjoyed by more than 220 million badminton players across many continents. However, believe it or not, badminton isn’t an extremely popular sport. While it’s tough to fathom what has held badminton back from popularity, I can think of a few causes.
Badminton is not popular, firstly, because of the lack of media presence. Compared to football and basketball, badminton coverage and audience turnout aren’t as big. Aside from that, there’s a lack of players prominent enough to be known to audiences who aren’t fans of the sport. It is also commonly considered more of a hobby than a sport, and when it is seen as a sport, it’s considered relatively “weak”.
These are some of the reasons badminton hasn’t reached the status it deserves. Join me as I unravel the factors behind badminton’s lack of popularity domestically and internationally.
Lack of Media Presence
There’s no denying the power of media presence in driving visibility towards a sport. The more media presence that a sport has, after all, the more likely it is that people will be curious enough to watch it.
Therein lies the problem with badminton as a sport — badminton has a lower media presence than most others. In the United States, badminton is featured in only some sports channels, and this is typically only during the Olympics or during major Badminton World Federation (BWF)-organized events. Badminton is hardly the focus of sports news in the country, resulting in the public’s overall lack of attention for the sport.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that badminton just isn’t the most marketable sport for a sport’s network’s listing. Here’s what I mean; according to Players Bio, only 12 sports share all of the sports airtime in the United States and North America. At the top of this list are football, baseball, and basketball. With a total viewership of roughly 200 million in the US alone, these sports are surefire audience generators for any sports network. Without going deep into the rabbit hole, larger audiences mean more ratings, which in turn results in more revenue for the network down the road.
However, badminton only has 1.3 million viewers in the country. When we compare this figure to those of the top three sports, it’s clear why sports networks won’t prioritize badminton. It’s simply not as lucrative to broadcast badminton events for their much-smaller audiences.
Now, I’m not saying that badminton won’t ever be popular in the United States or North America. In fact, with enough networks paying attention to the popularity of badminton overseas, it can and should be increasing in popularity, especially with how the BWF is doing on social media. According to Inside the Games, the BWF ranked first as the most active and followed sports international federation as of April 2022.
So why does this matter? Well, social media is a major vehicle for the promotion of a sport. With many people following an international federation like the BWF, badminton gains more visibility, albeit online. And let’s face it. When something starts on social media, how long does it take before it goes mainstream? With the BWF’s worldwide following and its activity on social media, it’s only a matter of time before badminton gets the North American fanfare it deserves!
Fewer Idols to Look Up to
Conduct a simple survey. Bringing a picture of Lin Dan and LeBron James, ask 10 average Americans to identify the two athletes. I can tell you with certainty that more than half would successfully identify LeBron James, but hardly any would know Kento Momota. This speaks volumes about how unlikely badminton athletes are to be idolized.
Because there aren’t as many famous athletes in Badminton, the sport gets less visibility than other sports. The badminton world abounds with some of the fastest athletes on the planet, but due to the lack of visibility for the sport, badminton athletes haven’t enjoyed the same level of exposure that athletes from other sports have.
This is a shame, especially given how athletic badminton players need to be, even recreationally. But once again, it comes right down to the lack of exposure badminton players have.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that badminton is in short supply of athletes to idolize or look up to. People who look will find many such athletes — like the ones who won the 2021 Summer Olympics!
Viewed More as a Hobby Than a Sport
Indeed, badminton is growing in popularity in many parts of North America, like the United States. However, badminton isn’t seen as the Olympic and high-profile sport that it is in regions like the Asia-Pacific.
Badminton is seen more as a hobby than a highly competitive sport. Most people, particularly in North America, see badminton as a way to stay fit, connect with friends, and pass the time. While many benefit from badminton in varying ways, it isn’t a sport that people play to pursue a professional career.
Even with the importance of badminton, there’s a lack of interest in pursuing the sport at a competitive and professional level in certain parts of the world. I can think of a few reasons for this, including the lack of collegiate exposure to the game. Think about it. How many D1 schools have badminton as a collegiate sport? If you guess “little to none,” then you’re spot on.
And once again, the lack of mainstream exposure contributes to badminton’s image as a hobby rather than a professional sport. With a lack of media exposure comes little to no incentive for networks to broadcast events. As a result, badminton isn’t very lucrative for a player, especially when compared to the earnings of a pro basketball or football player. Hence, people who wish to go down the athletic rabbit hole would take sports like football, basketball, and mixed martial arts seriously. As for badminton, this won’t be the case — at least in the United States and other parts of North America.
Nevertheless, badminton’s presence in the Olympics is a sign that there’s hope for the popularity of the sport. Also, when you consider that nearly every country has a BWF member association, badminton is a small media push away from being taken more seriously as a competitive sport.
Seen as a “Weak” Sport
This one puzzles me quite a bit, but such a perception exists among many onlookers.
Many people who watch badminton for the first time tend to deem it as a weak sport. More specifically, it’s seen as a weak person’s alternative to contact sports or ball sports. Badminton also has the image of being an “easier” alternative to “more physically demanding” sports like tennis and racquetball. Such a public image isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker in many parts of the world, but in some countries, this perception has hurt the image of badminton.
There are two possible reasons why badminton has such an image. First, there’s the fact that it isn’t a contact sport. Many people tend to equate contact sports with strength. Since badminton lacks physical contact, many see it as a sport where strength isn’t necessary.
The other reason for badminton’s image involves the perceived weight of the equipment. People are quick to draw comparisons between the weight of badminton equipment and that of other racket sports, like tennis. Tennis rackets and tennis balls are, without a doubt, heavier, so in the minds of spectators, hitting a tennis ball with a tennis racket is harder than hitting a shuttlecock with a badminton racket.
While there’s an element of truth to both perceptions, it’s a classic case of appearances being deceiving. While badminton doesn’t require brute strength, it requires a different display of strength — one with added precision. Brute strength has little to no carryover in badminton due to the absence of precision. Badminton athletes can transfer much of their upper body strength towards a singular point in their wrist, allowing them to flick the shuttlecock at amazing speeds.
In sports science, this is known as kinetic linking. It’s the practice of taking force from a larger part of the body and directing it towards a single point for maximum impact. Besides badminton, another sport that uses kinetic linking is boxing — a sport hardly anyone would deem “weak.”
In short, badminton might seem like a less physically demanding sport, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Badminton isn’t a Very Popular Sport… Yet!
Badminton may not have the same level of popularity other sports have, but there is hope for it to become more well-known yet. Badminton simply lacks media presence. However, since the sport has a presence in the Olympics and has an international federation bent on promoting the sport virally on social media, the road forward is being paved as we speak.
It’s a sport that’s as competitive as it is precise; once the rest of the world recognizes this (and it will), it’ll just be a matter of time before everyone else catches the badminton bug.
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