Sports Fans Speak Out About Recent Controversies

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Football still favorite sport to watch

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll asked fans of various sports about some of the recent controversies in sports:

  • Baseball fans overwhelmingly favor tougher steroid testing in Major League Baseball and nearly 6 in 10 would favor congressional intervention to ensure it happens. Baseball fans estimate that about one in three major-leaguers have used steroids in the past five seasons. 

  • Pro basketball fans tend to blame the players more than the fans for the recent brawl at a National Basketball Association game in Michigan, and a majority agrees with NBA Commissioner David Stern's decision to suspend Indiana Pacer Ron Artest for the entire season. 

  • Most college football fans would prefer a different approach to determining the sport's national champion than the current Bowl Championship Series, with 4 in 10 favoring a playoff tournament. Fans are closely divided in their view of who should win the sport's Heisman Trophy as the best player in the nation -- Oklahoma quarterback Jason White is the slight favorite.

The poll also finds football still the favorite sport by a nearly 3-to-1 margin over any other. There has been a notable decline in the percentage of Americans identifying as hockey fans in the midst of the National Hockey League's player lockout.

Steroids and Baseball

Major League Baseball suffered yet another dose of controversy when leaked testimony showed all-stars Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds admitting to using steroids (although Bonds insists he was not aware the substances he was using were steroids). Most fans say these admissions have diminished their enthusiasm for pro baseball -- 61% say they are now less enthusiastic about baseball, while 37% say the admissions have made no difference in their feelings about the game. However, there doesn't appear to be a noticeable decline in the sport's fan base -- 52% of all Americans identify as baseball fans now, compared with the sport's 1993-2004 average of 50%. 

Widespread steroid use by Major League Baseball players has been suspected for some time. The late National League MVP Ken Caminiti admitted in a book that he used steroids while playing and estimated that half of the players use them. When asked to give an estimate of the prevalence of steroid use in baseball, only about one in four baseball fans believe that more than half of players have used steroids in the past five seasons -- the average estimate is 33%. 

Baseball fans, as they have in the past, strongly endorse tougher steroid testing in the sport. The league instituted a mandatory steroid testing program that went into effect for the 2004 season, but the policy is much more lenient than programs in other sports. The current poll finds 86% of baseball fans saying the league and its players' union should enact tougher steroid testing before the beginning of the 2005 season, while only 10% say they should not. This week, during the poll's field period, the players' union gave its negotiators permission to work out a tougher new testing policy with the league. 

Should these efforts fail, 59% of fans would favor new congressional legislation requiring more extensive steroid testing in baseball, while 37% would be opposed. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona has vowed to pass legislation to force a tougher program if the league does not act on its own. 

Basketbrawl?

The NBA has recently been the focus of negative publicity because of the now-infamous brawl between players and fans near the conclusion of last month's Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons game in Michigan. Local law enforcement officials have charged seven fans and five players with assault and battery for their participation in the incident. The poll provides little evidence that this has turned Americans off to the game -- 38% identify as professional basketball fans, similar to the 39% found in May-June 2003, although still below the 1994-2004 average of 42% and the sport's high points of 46% in 1998 and 2000.

By a 49% to 38% margin, fans polled by Gallup blame the players more than the fans at that game for the incident, while the remaining 13% have no opinion. 

Stern suspended several players following the brawl. The most controversial suspension was given to Artest -- a key member of the Pacers -- who was suspended for the remainder of the season. Most basketball fans support the decision, though not overwhelmingly so -- 55% agree with the season-long suspension, while 37% disagree. 

There are some interesting differences in perceptions of the brawl by race. White pro basketball fans are more likely to blame the players in the brawl and to agree with Stern's decision, while nonwhite fans are more inclined to blame the fans and to disagree with Stern's decision.

Whither the BCS?

Even football is not immune to controversy these days. Division I-A football is the only collegiate sport that does not determine its national champion using a playoff system. Rather, the Bowl Championship Series attempts to match the two highest-rated regular season teams in one of the sport's bowl games. However, the top two teams in the nation are rarely clear-cut, and the arcane procedure for identifying those teams has been criticized and frequently revised over the years. For example, last year the No. 1-ranked team in both media polls, Southern California, was not invited to play in the national championship game. This year, three major-conference teams (in addition to two minor-conference teams) finished the regular season undefeated. No. 1-ranked Southern California and No. 2-ranked Oklahoma were invited to play in the Orange Bowl, this year's national championship game, leaving No. 3-ranked Auburn with little hope of winning a championship despite their perfect record. 

The poll asked college football fans to choose among three different proposals for determining the best college football team. Fewer than one in three (30%) support the current system of crowning a national champion. The plurality, 40%, favors a playoff tournament among the top 4, 8, or 16 teams in place of the bowl system. A compromise solution offered by some -- matching the two top-ranked teams in a one-game playoff after the bowls have been played -- is supported by 26% of college football fans. 

The sport's Heisman Trophy, which goes to the player voted as the best in college football each season, will be awarded on Saturday. The top contenders are Oklahoma's White, seeking to become only the second two-time winner of the trophy, Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart, and Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson, who would be the first freshman to win the award. If the fans' preferences are any indication, the vote will be close. Twenty-nine percent say White should win the award, 24% say Leinart, and 20% say Peterson. One in four have no opinion and 2% volunteered other players' names.

Football Still the King

When asked, without prompting, to name their favorite sport to watch, 37% of Americans say football. Basketball and baseball rank as the next favorite sports, at 13% and 10%, respectively. Other frequently mentioned sports in this year's poll include auto racing, figure skating, and ice hockey. 

Favorite Sport to Watch

Sport

Percentage mentioning

%

Football

37

Basketball

13

Baseball

10

Auto Racing

5

Figure Skating

4

Ice Hockey

3

Golf

2

Tennis

2

Soccer

2

Boxing

1

Gymnastics

1

Rodeo

1

Motocross

1

Wrestling

1

 

Other

4

No opinion

13

Football has been Americans' favorite sport at least since the 1970s, with roughly one in three saying so since the early 1970s. Baseball had been the nation's favorite sport in the 1930s to 1960s before football overtook it.

Sports Fans

In addition to asking them to name their favorite sport, Gallup also asked Americans to say whether they considered themselves fans of 11 different sports. Again, football rates the best, with 64% of Americans saying they are professional football fans and 54% saying they are college football fans. At 52%, baseball is the only other sport that can claim a majority of Americans as fans. Forty-one percent of Americans say they are college basketball fans, 41% figure skating fans, and 38% professional basketball fans. 

Percentage of Fans of Different Sports in the United States

Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)

Total fans

%

%

%

Professional football

58

6

64

College football

47

7

54

Professional baseball

43

9

52

College basketball

35

6

41

Figure skating

34

7

41

Professional basketball

33

5

38

Auto racing

25

5

30

Professional golf

22

8

30

Professional tennis

18

6

24

Professional ice hockey

18

5

23

Professional wrestling

8

2

10

Vol. = volunteered

 

 

 

While ice hockey has never boasted a large percentage of fans in the United States, there is a noticeable decline in the number over the past few years. The current poll finds just 23% of Americans identifying as hockey fans, compared with 34% in February 2002 and 31% in March 2001. The NHL season has yet to begin because the league's owners have locked out the players in a labor dispute, and it is unclear if there will be a 2004-2005 season. Professional baseball experienced a similar dip in popularity during its 1994-1995 players' strike. 

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,003 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 5-8, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For results based on the sample of 533 professional baseball fans, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. 

For results based on the sample of 373 professional basketball fans, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points. 

For results based on the sample of 550 college football fans, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. 

28.       For each of the following, please say whether you are a fan of that sport or not.  First -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

            A. Professional baseball


Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2004 Dec 5-8

43

9

48

*

 

 

 

 

2004 Mar 26-28

36

9

55

*

2003 Nov 14-16

43

8

49

*

2003 Oct 24-26

44

11

45

--

2003 Oct 10-12

42

8

50

*

2003 Jun 27-29

36

10

54

*

2003 Jun 9-10

39

11

50

*

2002 Nov 8-10

38

13

49

*

2002 Aug 19-21

37

8

54

1

2002 Jul 26-28

37

10

53

*

2002 Jun 7-8

36

16

48

--

2002 Mar 22-24

44

10

46

*

2002 Jan 11-14

36

11

53

*

2001 Nov 26-27

38

10

52

*

2001 Nov 2-4

45

11

44

*

2001 Jun 8-10

35

14

51

--

2001 Mar 26-28

46

10

44

*

2000 May 5-7

35

11

54

--

2000 Apr 28-30

40

12

48

--

2000 Mar 30-Apr 2

45

10

45

--

1999 Nov 18-21

45

16

39

--

1999 Oct 21-24

37

10

53

--

1999 Jul 13-14

40

19

41

--

1999 Mar 19-21

34

15

51

--

1998 Oct 9-12

47

14

39

--

1998 Sep 14-15

45

18

37

--

1998 Jun 22-23

34

10

56

--

1996 Mar 15-17

38

10

52

--

1995 Oct 5-7

34

8

58

--

1995 Jul 7-9

35

13

52

--

1995 May 11-14

35

10

55

--

1995 Apr 17-19

32

9

59

--

1995 Feb 24-26

37

12

51

--

1995 Jan 16-18

37

8

55

--

1994 Oct 17-19

39

9

52

--

1994 Sep 6-7

35

11

54

--

1994 Aug 15-16

39

10

51

--

1994 Aug 8-9

35

20

45

--

1993 May 21-23

39

10

51

--

1993 Feb 12-14

44

7

49

--

            B. Professional football


Yes,
a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2004 Dec 5-8

58

6

36

*

 

 

 

 

2003 Jan 23-25

50

9

41

*

2001 Mar 26-28

54

9

37

*

2001 Mar 9-11

48

14

38

*

2001 Jan 15-16

44

14

42

*

2000 Aug 24-27

42

12

46

*

1999 Mar 5-7

47

9

44

--

1999 Jan 22-24

51

10

39

*

1998 Jan 16-18

45

11

43

1

            C. Professional basketball


Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2004 Dec 5-8

33

5

61

1

 

 

 

 

2003 May 30-Jun 1

29

10

61

--

2002 Jun 21-23

33

12

54

1

2002 Mar 18-20

35

7

58

*

2001 Oct 5-6

30

8

62

--

2001 Jun 8-10

29

12

59

*

2001 Mar 26-28

36

8

55

1

2000 Mar 30-Apr 2

38

8

54

--

1999 Jan 15-17

31

11

58

--

1999 Jan 6

29

12

59

--

1998 Oct 9-12

36

10

54

--

1994 Mar 11-13

32

11

57

--

            D. Professional ice hockey


Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2004 Dec 5-8

18

5

77

*

 

 

 

 

2002 Feb 8-10

23

11

66

*

2001 Mar 26-28

24

7

69

*

            E. College football

           


Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2004 Dec 5-8

47

7

46

*

 

 

 

 

2001 Dec 14-16

39

8

53

*

2001 Mar 26-28

44

9

46

1

2000 Nov 13-15

41

6

53

*

2000 Aug 24-27

32

10

58

*

1999 Oct 21-24

36

10

54

*

 

 

 

 


^ Asked Jan 6-8, 1994: "Are you a college football fan, or not?" Yes = 48%; No = 52%
† Asked Dec 4-6, 1993: "Are you a college football fan, or not?" Yes = 43%; No = 57%

            F. College basketball


Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2004 Dec 5-8

35

6

59

*

 

 

 

 

2004 Mar 26-28

32

6

62

*

2002 Mar 18-20

37

5

58

*

2001 Mar 26-28

38

9

52

1

            G. Professional golf

                       


Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2004 Dec 5-8

22

8

70

*

 

 

 

 

2003 May 19-21

27

9

64

--

2002 Mar 22-24

24

8

68

--

2001 Mar 26-28

27

9

64

*

2001 Feb 9-11

26

5

69

*

2000 Mar 30-Apr 2

26

8

66

*

            H. Professional tennis


Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

18%

6

76

*

 

 

 

 

2001 Mar 26-28

19%

9

71

1

            I. Auto racing


Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

25%

5

69

1

 

 

 

 

2001 Mar 26-28

31%

8

61

*

            J. Figure skating

           


Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

34%

7

58

1

 

 

 

 

2001 Mar 26-28

40%

10

50

*

            K. Professional wrestling

                       


Yes, a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)


No,
not a fan


No opinion

%

%

%

%

2004 Dec 5-8

8

2

89

1

 

 

 

 

2001 Mar 26-28

12

3

85

*

1999 Aug 16-18 ^

12

6

82

*

 

 

 

^ WORDING: Now thinking about World Championship Wrestling, the World Wrestling Federation and other professional wrestling that you may see on TV, are you a fan of professional wrestling, or not?

Turning to baseball,

29.       Just your best guess, what percentage of Major League Baseball players do you think have used steroids or other performance enhancing drugs during the past five seasons? 

            BASED ON –533—BASEBALL FANS

           

2004 Dec 5-8

%

Less than 10%

15

10% to 24%

23

25% to 49%

18

50% to 74%

18

75% or more

10

 

No opinion

16

 

Mean (including zero)

33.4

Median

25

30.       Do the admissions of steroid use by Major League Baseball players make you – [ROTATED: more enthusiastic about professional baseball, does it not make any difference, or does it make you less enthusiastic about professional baseball]?

            BASED ON –533—BASEBALL FANS

More
enthusiastic

Not make
any difference

Less
enthusiastic

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

1%

37

61

1

30-1.    Do you think Major League Baseball and the players' union should or should not agree to new, tougher steroid testing standards before the beginning of the 2005 season?

            BASED ON –533—BASEBALL FANS

Yes, should

No,
should not

No
opinion

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

86%

10

4

30-2.    If Major League Baseball and the players' union DO NOT institute tougher steroid testing standards before the start of the 2005 season, would you favor or oppose Congress passing a new law requiring more extensive steroid testing for Major League Baseball players?

             BASED ON –533—BASEBALL FANS

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

59%

37

4

Thinking about the recent brawl involving players and fans at the NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons in Detroit,

31.       Who do you think was more to blame for this incident – [ROTATED: the players (or) the fans]?

            BASED ON –373—PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL FANS

The players

The fans

No opinion

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

49%

38

13

32.       Do you agree or disagree with NBA Commissioner David Stern's decision to suspend Indiana Pacer Ron Artest for the entire season for his involvement in this incident?

            BASED ON –373—PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL FANS

Agree

Disagree

No opinion

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

55%

37

8

33.       Which of the following would you prefer as the way to determine the national champion in college football – [ROTATED: the current system where the top two teams at the end of the regular season meet in one of the bowl games, a one-game playoff between the top two teams after all the bowl games have been played, (or) a playoff tournament involving the top 4, 8 or 16 teams that would replace the bowl games]?

            BASED ON –550—COLLEGE FOOTBALL FANS

Current
system

One-game
 playoff

Playoff
tournament

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

30%

26

40

4

34.       Here are the names of three college football players who have been mentioned as possible Heisman Trophy winners.  Which one of these three do you think should win the Heisman trophy this year – [ROTATED:Matt Leinart of Southern California, Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma, (or) Jason White of Oklahoma]?

            BASED ON –550—COLLEGE FOOTBALL FANS

           

2004 Dec 5-8

%

Jason White of Oklahoma

29

Matt Leinart of Southern California

24

Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma

20

 

Other

2

None

1

No opinion

24

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