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From today's loosely organized games of pickup football in town parks or backyards to highly organized high school- and college-level sporting competitions and events such as professional football and baseball games or the Olympics, sports have played a role in civilizations and cultures since the ancient Greeks participated in the first Olympic games.

In the United States, the general population participates in sports of all kinds, including tennis, golfing, biking, swimming, hiking, skiing, boating, and many other recreational sports that have become increasingly popular. The five major team sports are baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer. The sports franchises industry generates $39 billion in revenue, according to the market research group IBISWorld. The franchises that contribute most of the revenue are the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL). There are also a wide number of individual sports, including tennis, golf, boxing, wrestling, horse racing, running, cycling, skiing and snowboarding, and race car driving, among others.

Professional team sports are divided into leagues and divisions that employ administrators and other staff members who are involved in scheduling games and tournament play, reviewing and changing policies and procedures, and hiring league personnel such as umpires, among other duties. Others employees work directly with athletes or are involved in officiating, sales, concessions, and many other game-day activities.

Leagues and competitions developed specifically for women not only offer women athletes new and much-needed venues for participation in professional sports, but also provide many jobs in the industry: coaches, administrators, broadcasters, trainers, referees, umpires, and uniform designers, to name a few.

Newspapers, magazines, television, and the Internet employ writers, announcers, and others who publicize the athletes and events; live radio and television broadcasts bring the games to large audiences.

Sports medicine is another area of growth in the industry. In 2020, the sports medicine practitioners industry generated about $26 billion in revenue through 108,931 businesses, according to IBISWorld. Sports doctors and surgeons specialize in the injuries particular to athletes, and more teams and athletes are employing massage and physical therapists, chiropractors and kinesiologists, sports nutritionists, and skilled trainers.

A wide variety of other industries are also involved in sports. Companies design, manufacture, and sell sporting goods and equipment; sports technology specialists develop advanced athletic equipment and sports facilities; publishers produce books and magazines with sports-related topics and themes; advertising and marketing professionals drive interest in sports; and clothing and fabric designers design athletic wear.

Most recently, the coronavirus pandemic has affected the sports industry around the world. To protect the health of athletes and other sports-related professionals, as well as sports fans, many sporting events have been cancelled or postponed, including the Olympics and Paralympics. As a result, sports industry revenue and sports-related employment have been affected, with declines expected until it is safe to reopen sporting events and activities.