According to recent Nielsen numbers, NFL ratings were down again this year, but football still tops almost everything on American television.
That’s a theme corroborated by Gallup, who recently released the latest version of a sports poll that’s done every few years.
First here’s how the data is gathered:
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.
Got it? Good.
37% of respondents identified football as their favorite sport to watch, a decline of 6% since 2007. Ranking second in popularity was basketball at 11%, while baseball was third at 9%.
The basketball number didn’t change much at all over the last ten years, but baseball took a 5% dive in that same time frame.
According to pollsters:
“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 1960, but football claimed the top spot in 1972 and has been the public’s favorite ever since.”
That’s not surprising, is it? We’ve known, for some time now, that baseball’s fan base trends older, while the NBA, NFL, and soccer do better among millennials. Soccer finished with 7% of the vote, which is the highest number the sport has pulled in the poll’s history. In the write-up, it’s mentioned that NASCAR is the only other sport to reach that 7% number, which happened in 1997. Auto racing is now down to 2% popularity in this most recent poll.
Regarding baseball and soccer, Gallup writes that the sports “show meaningful differences by age, with soccer appealing more to adults younger than 55 and baseball more to adults aged 55 and older.”
Look at the huge gap there, where there’s a 10% difference between soccer and baseball between the youngest and oldest demo:
That 18 to 34 age group was also a bit down on the NFL, though it was still their favorite sport by a large margin. The lack of variance in the basketball numbers kind of surprises me, since I feel like the NBA is trending a bit younger these guys. Guess not.
It’s worth mentioning the poll doesn’t restrict “soccer” to the domestic game. This would include the English Premier League, Champion’s League, U.S. National Team, and Liga MX, which highlights the fractured nature of soccer fandom in America. There are thousands and thousands of people out there who will watch Barcelona on a Saturday morning but feel as though Major League Soccer is dog shit. The Juventus fan in Utah might not care about Real Salt Lake, yea? Keep that in mind when looking at the poll numbers.
Another interesting takeaway is the political breakdown, where 38% of conservatives picked football as their favorite sport and only 28% of liberals did the same. Moderates actually picked football at a 41% clip, which maybe reflects how both the far left and far right are growing weary with the NFL over the Colin Kaepernick anthem saga. With more partisan political types walking away from the NFL, moderates probably make up a larger chunk of the fan base in 2018. I have no proof of that; it’s just a theory to explain that 41% number.
And liberals also enjoy basketball more than anybody else, at 16% on the poll. Baseball did better with conservatives, obviously, while soccer sucked in that demo.
Maybe the most interesting takeaway is this, which was buried at the bottom of the write-up:
“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.”
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean respondents dislike sports. It could mean that they like a lot of different sports equally, but the fact that the author uses the word “sobering” seems to suggest he’s talking about disinterest, rather than indifference.
Either way, the takeaway is the same: NFL remains king, despite the drops in polling and Nielsen data.