37% say football is their favorite sport to watch, by far the most for any sport
Baseball is at its lowest point ever, with only 9% saying it is their favorite
Football has slipped in popularity from its peak of 43% in 2006 and 2007
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- American football, under attack from critics in recent
years, has lost some of its popularity but is still the champion of U.S.
spectator sports -- picked by 37% of U.S. adults as their favorite sport
to watch. The next-most-popular sports are basketball, favored by 11%,
and baseball, favored by 9%.
The 9% of Americans who mention baseball as their favorite sport to watch
is the lowest percentage for the sport since Gallup first asked the question
in 1937. Americans named baseball as the most popular sport in 1948 and
football claimed the top spot in 1972 and has been the public's favorite ever since.
Soccer now nearly matches baseball's popularity. Seven percent say
it is their favorite sport to watch, the highest that sport has registered
to date. Only once before have at least 7% of Americans named a sport
other than football, basketball or baseball as their favorite -- and that
was auto racing in 1997. (Auto racing is now down to 2% of mentions.)
Though football retains its top spot, its popularity has slipped since
peaking at 43% in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, it dipped slightly to 41% and
dropped again to 39% in 2013 -- the last time the question was asked before
the December 2017 poll and its 37% reading.
Among the possible reasons for the drop in recent years:
In 2014, a video of National Football League star running back Ray Rice
punching his wife and dragging her unconscious body from an elevator shocked
the nation. It pushed the already-simmering issue of NFL players'
domestic assaults into national prominence, sparking protests and calls
for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign.
Numerous studies dating back to the 1990s had documented the physical and
mental toll concussions were taking on football players at all levels.
One of the studies inspired the movie
Concussion, released nationwide in 2015.
Protests by NFL players during the pregame playing of the U.S. national
anthem in 2016 and 2017 drew strong criticism from President Donald Trump
and conservative pundits.
With the national-anthem controversy in full swing this past October,
a Gallup poll indicated the NFL was taking a hit. Fifty-seven percent of Americans said they were
fans of professional football, down 10 percentage points from the previous
time the question was asked, in December 2012. Support for most other
sports, including college football, had not changed meaningfully during
the same five-year span.
Football Leads Among All Groups, but Some Like It Less Than Others
Women were less likely than men to pick football as their favorite sport
even before the issue of players' assaults on women exploded in 2014,
and that still holds true. Conservatives, in spite of the national-anthem
protests the last two years, are only slightly less likely than moderates
to favor football, and are more likely to do so than liberals. Parents
of children under 18, who might be expected to be most affected by the
publicity surrounding concussion risks football players face, are about
as likely as others to pick football as their favorite.
Meanwhile, those who determine the future of spectator sports -- 18- to
34-year-olds -- are the age group least likely to favor football. But
even among them, football tops all other sports by a comfortable margin.
Soccer and baseball show meaningful differences by age, with soccer appealing
more to adults younger than 55 and baseball more to adults aged 55 and older.
Football Tops All Subgroups, but Age, Ideology Affect Second Choices
What is your favorite sport to watch?
18 to 34 years old
35 to 54 years old
55 years old and older
Children under 18
Children under 18
No children under 18
GALLUP, DEC. 4-11, 2017
For the past half-century, football has been America's game, unrivaled
by any other spectator sport. Even the challenges it currently faces have
had only a small effect on Americans' likelihood to consider it their
favorite spectator sport. Though Gallup's October polling showed a
decline in the percentage of Americans saying they are fans of professional
football, the drop-off did not occur among college football fans, and
it may not have included the hardcore NFL fans who consider it their favorite sport.
But the fact that the sport has weathered the attacks on it so far is no
guarantee that it will do so over the long run. Football's relatively
low popularity among younger Americans, combined with ever-growing evidence
of the physical and mental damage the sport does even at the high school
level, could jeopardize its standing in the decades ahead.
And for all spectator sports in the U.S., there is one other sobering statistic
to consider. The number of Americans who say they do not have a favorite
sport has grown from 8% in 2000 to 15% now -- an increase larger than
for any sport during that time.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted
Dec. 4-11, 2017, with a random sample of 1,049 adults, aged 18 and older,
living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results
based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error
is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported
margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone
respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas
by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are
selected using random-digit-dial methods.