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What are Rivalry Sports?

By Ken Black
Updated May 23, 2024
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Rivalry sports are sports that lend themselves to good competition between teams or individuals that build up a history of playing competitive games or matches against each other. The best opportunity to create rivalries is in sports where the competitors meet on a frequent, or at least consistent, basis. Some sports, because of the passion they generate, tend to do better at creating rivalries. However, the potential for nearly all sports to become rivalry sports is very high.

Sports that have the best opportunity to become rivalry sports are those that put participants in direct competition with each other. Sports where the goal is to beat the clock, or the course, such as in golf, tend to have a harder time creating rivalries. However, any time there are a few people battling for supremacy in any endeavor, a rivalry can develop. Geography can also help to create rivalry sports, such as when dueling high schools, perhaps crosstown rivalries, meet up.

The most common rivalry sports include: soccer, American football, basketball, baseball and hockey. These all have the quality of being team sports as well. Team sports are often good for creating rivalries, simply because of the interest they generate and the large fan base they generally have. Further, team sports, because they create long histories that far outlast any players, create a perpetual rivalry. A good example of a rivalry between sports teams is the rivalry between the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers in the National Basketball Association.

Individual sports can also be rivalry sports. Often, these sports have trouble creating the same kind of passionate rivalry that team sports generate. This is true for a number of different reasons. First, most individual sports are not as popular as team sports. Further, in some sports, the competitors may only face each other infrequently. Therefore, it is harder to create a passionate interest. Also, in individual sports, it is easier for one side to dominate, which shuts down rivalries in any sport.

However, when rivalries are created in individual sports, they are very memorable. In tennis, for example, many still remember and discuss the 1980s, when Americans Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe went at each other quite frequently on the court. The fact that their matches were always unpredictable added to the rivalry.

In addition to tennis, other individual sports have also had their notable rivalries. In cycling, Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich had some epic battles in the French mountains during the Tour de France, which created a strong rivalry. This was true even despite the fact that Armstrong dominated the race during his prime years. Boxing, golf, and even swimming have all become rivalry sports during certain periods with certain personalities.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Feb 05, 2014

College sports are best for creating rivalry sports. What else do college students have to do with all that free time other than get excited about beating another school's basketball, football or tennis team?

I agree with this article that geographical location can be a big factor in establishing and promoting rivalry sports. When fans of two different teams work and live close to one another, there is usually greater intensity. Even better is when rivalries dissect family. Of course, I'm assuming we can all keep our affection for our teams in proper perspective: family comes before team. I wrote that in case anyone was confused on the ranking.

By Animandel — On Feb 04, 2014
No talk about rivalries in sports is complete without mentioning the greatest rivalry in sports history: the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Aside from the history, the individual games, the players and the ballparks, what lets you know this is a rivalry is the intensity of the fans.

Think about it: teams play 162 games a season and the Red Sox and Yankees play one another almost 20 times a season and still fans get up for these games like they are playoff or World Series games. This is unheard of in baseball. Dallas and Washington is a great football rivalry, but even that doesn't top the Red Sox and Yankees.

By Drentel — On Feb 03, 2014
The rivalry mentioned in the article, the one between the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics saved the NBA. Before Magic Johnson joined the Lakers and Larry Bird joined the Celtics, professional basketball was no longer popular.

What made this team rivalry so much better was that both teams were great teams, arguably the two best teams in basketball for several years. The fact that Bird and Johnson were also individual rivals from their college days made the rivalry even more intense.

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