Football’s Doing The Touchdown Dance As America’s Favorite Sport

NEW YORK , N.Y. – January 21 , 2015 – With The Big Game just around the corner, football fans may be starting to wonder whether or not their beloved game is still America’s Favorite Sport. Back in 1985, there was only a one-point difference between the percentage of American adults who followed at least one sport and considered pro football (24%) or baseball (23%) to be their favorite. At present, America’s pastime remains in the past, as pro football is still America’s Favorite Sport – now by a 16-point margin over baseball. Pro football is the top pick among 32% of sports fans, while baseball only garners favorite status among half as many Americans (16%). However, baseball enthusiasts can feel good that their sport of choice has managed a two percent point increase from last year’s 14%, while football saw a three-point decrease from 2013’s 35% – meaning the gap between the two narrowed by five points year-over-year.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,255 U.S. adults surveyed online between December 10 and 15, 2014.

As if only to reaffirm the sport’s widespread appeal, men’s college football comes in as America’s third favorite sport, with 10% of adults supporting its claim, though, like its professional counterpart, this sport has also seen a narrow decrease from last year’s 11%. The next two top sports have maintained their same fan percentages, with auto racing at 7% and men’s pro basketball, part of a three-way tie at 6%. Tied with basketball at 6% and up from only 2% last year, the most noteworthy increase across the board, men’s soccer has made the list of America’s top five favorite sports. The final member of the 6% three-way-tie for America’s fifth favorite sport is ice hockey, most beloved by one percent more of the population compared with last year (5%).

Who, what, & where are the real fans?

Though the total percentage of sports fans considering pro football to be their favorite is 32%, some demographics are more attached to the game than others are. Generation X (43%), Easterners (37%), and moderates (35%) are the demographics most likely to consider pro football to be their favorite sport. Meanwhile, the lowest numbers can be found among Millennials (25%), adults who have completed post-graduate degrees (25%), and liberals (26%).

As for those who believe home runs are number one, the largest percentages can also be found among Easterners (23%), Liberals (22%) and Baby-Boomers (20%). Meanwhile, those who consider baseball their favorite sport are less abundant amidst Midwesterners (12%), Millennials (12%), and adults with children in their households (10%).

While Easterners were among the most likely to be top fans of pro football and post-grads were some of the least likely, the roles are reversed when it comes to college football. Post-grads (22%), Southerners (16%), and conservatives (16%) contain the highest percentages of adults who consider college football to be their favorite sport. On the other hand, Easterners (3%), adults living in an urban area (6%), and adults with household incomes under $35,000 (6%) are least likely favor college football in this way.

When it comes to auto racing, the highest percentages of Americans who consider this their favorite sport exist amongst adults who have completed high school or less (12%) and those with household incomes under $35,000 (12%). One in ten Southerners, Conservatives, and rural area residents also consider auto racing to be number one (10% each). Concurrently, college graduates (2%), adults with household incomes of $75k or more (2%), and Millennials (4%) are the least likely to be such strong admirers of auto racing.

Why do we watch?

When the Harris Poll asked Americans who enjoy watching sports what it is they actually enjoy about the experience, the largest percentage (63%) confirmed that they enjoy watching because of the skill involved. Over half also enjoy the rivalry between teams (57%), teamwork (55%), athleticism (54%), and strategy (51%). Around two out of five sports viewers like to use watching sports as an opportunity for showing team pride (41%), as well as enjoying the social aspect of watching with friends (38%). Meanwhile, roughly three in ten sports viewers enjoy watching sports for reasons such as the family tradition of watching (31%), speed of play (31%), and the camaraderie with other fans (28%). Certain aspects of sports viewership also resonate with some demographics more than with others.

  • Millennials viewers are more likely than their counterparts in any other generation to appreciate the social aspect of watching with friends (50% vs. 39% Gen Xers, 32% Baby Boomers, & 20% Matures).
  • Viewers living the in the eastern and western regions of America are more likely than those in the Midwest and South to favor watching sports for the athleticism (60% & 59% vs. 49% each respectively).
  • In addition, the two reasons for watching that appeal more to female viewers than their male counterparts are the social aspects of watching with friends (42% vs. 35%) and the family tradition of watching (37% vs. 26%).

The great Is that a sport? debate

But what about the competitions out there on the fringe, possibly walking the fine line between sport and activity? Of the available choices, only bowling garnered a majority (52%) of voters seeing it as an actual sport. Dodgeball and kickball tied for second place with strong minorities (40%). These are followed by competitive dance (34%), fishing (33%), cheerleading (33%), ultimate frisbee (32%), and billiards (28%). At the bottom of the list, with less than one in five Americans supporting their status as a sport, are chess (14%), poker (11%), quidditch (11%), video gaming (9%), and competitive eating (6%). Unfortunately for fans hoping to see any of these rise in popularity to the point of becoming America’s favorite sport, 25% of the population does not consider any of these to even be a sport.

Interestingly, Millennials showed themselves to be the most open-minded when it comes to what is a sport, as they threw more support behind a number of options than any other generation.

  • Dodgeball (49% Millennials vs. 38% Gen Xers, 35% Baby Boomers, & 36% Matures)
  • Competitive dance (42% vs. 33%, 30%, & 25% respectively)
  • Ultimate frisbee (41% vs. 32%, 26%, & 24% respectively)
  • Quidditch (19% vs. 9%, 6%, & 4% respectively)
  • Video gaming (16% vs. 6%, 6%, & 4% respectively)
  • Competitive eating (11% vs. 4%, 3%, & 1% respectively)

 

Want Harris Polls delivered direct to your inbox? Click here!

 

TABLE 1

FAVORITE SPORT

If you had to choose, which ONE of these sports would you say is your favorite?

Base: All adults who follow one or more sport

 

1985

1989

1992

1993

1994

1997

1998

2002

2003

2004

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Pro football

24

26

28

24

24

28

26

27

29

30

Baseball

23

19

21

18

17

17

18

14

13

15

Men’s college football

10

6

7

8

7

10

9

9

9

11

Auto racing

5

4

5

6

5

5

7

10

9

7

Men’s pro basketball

6

7

8

12

11

13

13

11

10

7

Men’s soccer

3

2

2

1

3

3

4

3

3

3

Ice hockey

2

3

3

3

5

4

3

3

3

4

Men’s college basketball

6

10

8

8

8

6

4

4

6

6

Boxing

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

2

Men’s golf

3

4

4

6

5

6

4

4

5

4

Women’s tennis

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

3

2

2

Track & field

2

2

1

1

2

2

3

1

3

1

Horse racing

4

3

3

2

2

2

2

1

2

1

Men’s tennis

5

4

4

4

3

3

4

1

2

1

Women’s soccer

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

1

Bowling

3

5

2

2

1

1

2

2

1

1

Swimming

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

Women’s college basketball

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

1

1

 

1

Women’s pro basketball

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

 

1

1

 

Women’s golf

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

1

 

Not sure

 

1

4

1

2

2

1

3

1

2

Pro football’s lead over baseball

1

7

7

6

7

11

8

13

16

15

Note 1: NA = Not asked in that year. Men and women’s sports were not always distinguished

Note 2: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Note 3: indicates less than 0.5%

 

TABLE 1 (continued)

FAVORITE SPORT

If you had to choose, which ONE of these sports would you say is your favorite?

Base: All adults who follow one or more sport

 

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

CHANGE

1985-2014

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Pro football

33

29

30

31

35

31

36

34

35

32

11

Baseball

14

14

15

16

16

17

13

16

14

16

-7

Men’s college football

13

13

12

12

12

12

13

11

11

10

0

Auto racing

11

9

10

8

9

7

8

8

7

7

2

Men’s pro basketball

4

7

4

6

5

6

5

7

6

6

0

Men’s soccer

2

2

2

3

2

4

1

2

2

6

3

Ice hockey

5

4

5

5

4

5

5

5

5

6

4

Men’s college basketball

5

5

4

5

3

4

5

3

3

3

-3

Boxing

2

1

1

2

2

1

2

1

2

2

NA

Men’s golf

4

4

4

4

4

2

2

2

2

2

-1

Women’s tennis

1

1

 

1

1

1

1

1

1

2

NA

Track & field

 

2

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

2

0

Horse racing

2

1

2

1

2

1

2

1

1

1

-3

Men’s tennis

1

2

1

1

1

2

2

2

2

1

-4

Women’s soccer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

NA

Bowling

1

1

2

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

-2

Swimming

NA

NA

NA

2

1

1

2

2

2

1

NA

Women’s college basketball

 

1

1

 

 

 

1

1

 

NA

Women’s pro basketball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NA

Women’s golf

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NA

Not sure

2

3

2

1

2

3

1

2

3

2

2

Pro football’s lead over baseball

19

15

15

15

19

14

23

18

21

16

18

Note 1: NA = Not asked in that year. Men and women’s sports were not always distinguished

Note 2: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Note 3: indicates less than 0.5%

 

TABLE 2

DEMOGRAPHIC VARIATIONS IN FAVORITE SPORTS

  If you had to choose, which ONE of these sports would you say is your favorite?

Base: All adults who follow more than one sport

Sport

All Adults

Highest

Lowest

%

%

%

Pro football

32

Generation X

43

Millennials

25

Easterners

37

Post-Grads

25

Moderates

35

Liberals

26

Baseball

16

Easterners

23

Adults with Children in Household

10

Liberals

22

Millennials

12

Baby Boomers

20

Midwesterners

12

College Football

10

Post-Grads

22

Easterners

3

Southerners

16

Adults living in Urban areas

6

Conservatives

16

Adults whose household income is $34.9k or less

6

Auto Racing

7

Adults who completed High School or less

12

College Grads

2

Adults whose household income is $34.9k or less

12

Adults whose household income is $75k or more

2

Southerners, Conservatives, and adults living in Rural areas

10

Millennials

4

 

TABLE 3

WHY AMERICANS ENJOY WATCHING SPORTS

Which of the following, if any, describes what you enjoy about watching sports?  Please select all that apply.”

Base: All adults who enjoy watching sports

Total 

Gender

Generation

Region

Male

Female

Millennials (18-37)

Gen Xers (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

East

Midwest

South

West

Skill involved

%

63

68

58

59

63

65

69

67

62

60

65

Rivalry between teams

%

57

63

51

54

61

57

59

64

60

53

54

Teamwork

%

55

60

48

49

59

58

55

57

53

52

56

Athleticism

%

54

61

46

54

61

53

46

60

49

49

59

Strategy

%

51

61

39

52

53

50

43

53

45

51

52

Competition between individual players

%

42

49

34

42

49

40

37

49

35

41

42

Showing team pride

%

41

40

43

43

47

40

32

46

42

42

35

Social aspect – watching with friends

%

38

35

42

50

39

32

20

39

34

38

41

Family tradition of watching

%

31

26

37

38

31

29

20

30

31

32

30

Speed of play

%

31

35

26

35

26

30

26

34

27

31

30

Camaraderie with others

%

28

27

29

33

29

27

12

32

26

24

29

Other

%

4

5

3

3

4

5

3

3

3

6

4

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 

TABLE 4

WHICH DO YOU CONSIDER A SPORT

Which of the following activities, when participated in competitively, would you consider to be a sport?  Please select all that apply.”

Base: All adults who enjoy watching sports

Total 

Gender

Generation

Region

Male

Female

Millennials (18-37)

Gen Xers (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

East

Midwest

South

West

Bowling

%

52

51

53

47

48

57

60

57

50

48

57

Dodgeball

%

40

38

42

49

38

35

36

41

38

38

46

Kickball

%

40

37

43

44

39

37

39

41

38

38

43

Competitive dance

%

34

26

41

42

33

30

25

29

35

31

44

Fishing

%

33

32

34

33

29

35

36

29

32

35

37

Cheerleading

%

33

29

37

41

35

28

24

30

31

35

36

Ultimate Frisbee

%

32

30

34

41

32

26

24

31

28

27

43

Billiards/Pool

%

28

30

25

23

28

30

34

27

29

25

30

Chess

%

14

14

14

15

13

15

12

12

16

13

15

Poker

%

11

11

12

13

8

12

9

14

10

10

12

Quidditch

%

11

9

13

19

9

6

4

10

10

11

12

Video gaming

%

9

13

6

16

6

6

4

10

8

10

10

Competitive eating

%

6

7

4

11

4

3

1

5

4

7

7

None of these

%

25

23

27

21

30

28

22

26

26

27

21

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding                      


 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between December 10 and 15, 2014 among 2,255 adults (aged 18 and over). 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® #7, January 21, 2015

By Hannah Pollack, Harris Poll Research Analyst