Professional sports are an important part of the entertainment landscape in most countries around the world, especially among men, and the Middle East is no exception. When asked about their favorite genres to watch on TV, 22% of nationals mention sports as a top-three genre, behind only comedy, drama, and news (56% comedy, 44% drama, 37% news). Sports on TV is more popular in Egypt and the UAE compared to Lebanon and Qatar (28% Egypt and 27% UAE vs. 15% Lebanon and 18% Qatar).
More nationals who name sports as one of their three favorite TV genres are willing to pay to watch sports than other nationals. One in five of these “sports fans” are willing to pay for online sports content (21%), compared to only 5% of non-fans. In addition, sports fans are nearly four times as likely as non-fans to send, share, or post about sports online (42% vs. 11%). Respondents who play sports/exercise are also otherwise engaged in sports: six in 10 enjoy watching sports on TV and attending sporting events; one in four say sports is one of their favorite TV genres, and one in five share about sports online (61% watch/attend, 28% favorite TV genre, 22% share online).
Three-fourths of male nationals enjoy watching sports on TV/digitally, and an equal number enjoy attending professional sporting events. One-quarter of female nationals enjoy watching and attending professional sports.
Sports are an important source of entertainment among men, especially in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but less so for men in Tunisia and Qatar. Most Saudi and Emirati men enjoy watching sports on TV (86% and 82%), while fewer Tunisian and Qatari men say the same (60% and 64%).
Age is a factor in interest in sports. Younger nationals are not only more likely to play sports and to exercise, they are also more likely to enjoy both watching sports on TV and attending sporting events. As an example, three-fourths of 18 to 24 year-olds play sports and exercise, compared to only one-third of those 45 years and older (73% vs. 35%). Additionally, six in 10 18 to 24 year-olds enjoy watching and attending sporting events, compared to about one-third of those 45 years and older. Given the choice, younger nationals prefer a live sports experience, while older nationals prefer to watch on TV/digitally (18 to 24 year olds: 48% live vs. 32% TV/digitally, 45 years and older: 23% live vs. 43% TV/digitally).
When asked whether they prefer attending a sporting event held in their vicinity or watching the same event on a screen, men prefer the in-person event over watching on a screen (51% vs. 39%). This pattern holds across all countries, except Egypt, where men are evenly split between the two (43% in-person vs. 45% screen). More women prefer watching sports on a screen than in person (38% vs. 20%). However, women also generally express less interest in sports, as evidenced by the 42% of women who either refused to answer the question or indicated they did not know their preference.
Men are much more likely than women to name sports as a favorite TV genre. Nearly four in 10 male nationals name sports as a favorite TV genre, compared to 5% of women, making sports the least preferred TV genre among women.
Interest in sports varies by education, with the most highly educated nationals expressing the greatest interest in sports. The percentage of people who play sports/exercise increases dramatically with education (24% primary or less, 45% intermediate, 59% secondary, 70% university or more). The pattern is the same for enjoying watching sports on TV (29% primary or less, 44% intermediate, 54% secondary, 56% university or more). The percentage of nationals citing sports as one of their three favorite TV genres also rises with education (14% primary or less, 18% intermediate, 24% secondary, 25% university or more).
Given the choice, those with a secondary education or less prefer to watch sports on TV, while those with at least a university education prefer attending a live sporting event.
University graduates are far more likely than those with less education to share about sports online—sending or posting content and comments. In fact, university graduates are 10 times more likely to share about sports online than those with a primary education or less (22% vs. 2% primary or less, 13% intermediate, 16% secondary).
Nationals who self-identify as more culturally progressive than culturally conservative tend to be sports fans. Far more progressives than conservatives enjoy attending sporting events or watching sports on TV/digitally (attend: 62% progressive vs. 43% conservative, watch: 64% progressive vs. 44% conservative).
While nationals enjoy watching sports, they are not inclined to pay for online sports access, or any other online content. Three-fourths of national internet users have not paid for any online content in the past year, and nearly as many are unwilling to pay (73% have not paid and 68% unwilling to pay). On average, fewer than one in 10 nationals are willing to pay for any single type of online content. That said, more men pay for sports online than any other online content (10% sports, 7% video games, 6% films, 4% news, 4% music, 1% TV series).
Emiratis and Saudis are more likely than other nationals to have paid for sports content online in the past year (16% and 10%), while very few Egyptians, Lebanese, or Qataris have done so (1% Egyptians, 3% Lebanese, 4% Qataris).
Nearly one in five internet users share about sports online - that is, send or post comments and content (18%). Sharing online about sports is less common among nationals than sharing online about videos, news, or music (43% video, 30% news, 25% music), but similar to the proportion of nationals sharing online about advertising and TV programs (17% and 16%).