Beer and Sports Go Hand-in-Hand, Almost Always

A man stands with his 7th brew overlooking a crowded stadium.

NEW YORK, N.Y. – October 21, 2016 – For many Americans, watching certain sports and enjoying an adult beverage seem to go hand-in-hand. A recent Harris Poll asked legal drinking age Americans what alcohol beverage types they’re most likely to associate with various sports, and what they’re most likely to drink while watching and cheering on their favorite sports teams. 

Some sports have a much higher association with alcoholic beverages than others. A majority of those who consume alcohol at least several times a year (“regular drinkers”) associate football (84%), baseball (78%), hockey (62%), car racing (66%), horse racing (62%), basketball (60%), and boxing (56%) with one or more alcoholic beverage types. About half associate golf (50%), soccer (48%), and beach volleyball (46%) with adult beverages, while just 4 in 10 do the same with tennis (42%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 1,986 U.S. adults aged 21+ (1,394 of whom drink alcohol at least several times a year, i.e., “regular drinkers”) surveyed online between August 26 and 30, 2016.

Alcohol and sports pairing

When asked what type of adult beverage first comes to mind when thinking of 11 different sports, it’s no surprise that beer is the clear leader for sports like football (75%), baseball (70%), car racing (55%), and hockey (51%). Beer also tops the list, though to a lesser extent, for basketball (48%), boxing (39%), soccer (34%), beach volleyball (25%), and golf (17%). Following closely in second place for golf is spirits/liquor (14%). One quarter of regular drinkers associate horse racing first with spirits/liquor (25%), while wine tops the list for tennis (19%).

“There is no denying the concurrence of watching sports and enjoying an adult beverage.  Given the surrounding business environment connected with professional sports, there is intense competition among those beverages to become that fan’s beverage of choice – whether that occasion be at a sporting event or watching that sport at home or elsewhere.  Suppliers would be wise to know which sport(s) offers the best opportunities for their products, and which sports might require greater emphasis in order to elevate their products into the fan’s consideration set when they choose an alcoholic beverage,” says Danny Brager, Senior Vice President of Nielsen’s Beverage and Alcohol Practice.

Watching in person vs. on television

While not all sports evoke an image of a pint glass, it doesn’t stop Americans from picking up a glass while watching. Beer is the beverage most likely consumed while watching any sport, whether in person or on television, among regular drinkers who watch the respective sports.

No matter the beverage, a majority of regular drinkers are tipping something back while watching their favorite sports, regardless of the setting:

  • Football: 84% drink any alcohol while watching on television and 83% while watching live
  • Boxing: 80% and 81%
  • Hockey: 78% and 79%
  • Basketball: 78% and 80%
  • Baseball: 77% and 81%
  • Car racing: 76% and 81%
  • Horse Racing: 75% and 80%
  • Soccer: 74% and 76%
  • Beach volleyball: 73% and 76%
  • Golf: 71% and 76%
  • Tennis: 67% and 75%

But who’s watching?

Nearly two thirds of regular drinkers describe themselves as football fans (63%), while around 4 in 10 say they’re a fan of baseball (43%) and/or basketball (37%). Around 1 in 5 regular drinkers each are fans of hockey (22%), car racing/motor sports (20%), boxing (19%), golf (18%), or soccer (18%).

Sports fans do differ across age groups, with Millennial drinkers more likely than those 65+ to be fans of boxing (22% vs. 12%) and soccer (21% vs. 11%), while those 65+ are more likely be a fan of golf (30% vs. 11% 21-34). Perhaps not surprisingly, males are significantly more likely than women – across all age groups – to be fans of each sport.  

Regular drinkers in the Northeast were much more likely to describe themselves as fans of baseball (54%) than all other regions, whereas those in the South (24%) and Midwest (22%) describe themselves as car racing fans more so than the Northeast (14%).



This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between August 26 and 30, 2016 among 1,986 U.S. adults aged 21+ (1,394 of whom drink alcohol at least several times a year, i.e., “regular drinkers”). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.  Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls. 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #59, October 21, 2016

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll