The FINANCIAL -- NEW YORK , N.Y. -- 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, according to Harris Interactive Inc.
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, according to Harris Interactive Inc.
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
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%), according to Harris Interactive Inc.
The great "Is that a sport?"
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, according to Harris Interactive Inc.
- 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)