Six in 10 Americans Are Pro Football Fans

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Rates as sport with greatest number of fans

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- This Sunday, the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles will meet in Super Bowl XXXIX to determine the champion of the National Football League.

More Americans say they are fans of professional football than of any other sport, according to recent Gallup polling. Additionally, pro football rates as the sport with the greatest number of fans among most major demographic groups. One notable exception is women -- while a majority of women claim to be professional football fans, more women are fans of figure skating than are fans of any other sport.

Gallup's annual Lifestyle Poll, conducted Dec. 5-8, 2004, asked Americans if they considered themselves fans of 11 different sports. Sixty-four percent say they are fans of professional football (including those who say they are "somewhat of a fan"), giving it a comfortable margin over all other sports in the list. A majority of Americans also identify themselves as fans of college football (54%) and professional baseball (52%). Roughly 4 in 10 Americans are fans of figure skating, college basketball, and professional basketball. Of the 11 sports tested, professional wrestling claims the fewest fans, just 1 in 10 Americans.

Fans of Major Sports, All Americans

Sport

Percentage of Americans
Who Are Fans

%

Professional football

64

College football

54

Professional baseball

52

Figure skating

41

College basketball

41

Professional basketball

38

Auto racing

30

Professional golf

30

Professional tennis

24

Professional ice hockey

23

Professional wrestling

10

Interestingly, most sports have shown a decline in fan base since the entire list of sports was last asked in 2001. The two exceptions are professional and college football, which have seen their fan bases hold steady. Auto racing and figure skating have each had a nine-point drop in the percentage of Americans calling themselves fans, while hockey has seen an eight-point drop.

Change in Sports Fans, 2004 to 2001

Sport

2001

2004

Change,
pct. pts.

%

%

Professional football

63

64

+1

College football

53

54

+1

Professional baseball

56

52

-4

Figure skating

50

41

-9

College basketball

47

41

-6

Professional basketball

44

38

-6

Auto racing

39

30

-9

Professional golf

36

30

-6

Professional tennis

28

24

-4

Professional ice hockey

31

23

-8

Professional wrestling

15

10

-5

Demographic Differences

Gender

Not surprisingly, men are much more likely to say they are fans of individual sports than are women. In fact, there are only two sports for which men are not significantly more likely than women to say they are fans -- figure skating and tennis.

Sports Fans, by Gender

Men

Fans

Women

Fans

%

%

Professional football

77

Figure skating

60

College football

70

Professional football

51

Professional baseball

58

Professional baseball

46

College basketball

49

College football

39

Professional basketball

42

Professional basketball

36

Professional golf

40

College basketball

32

Auto racing

39

Professional tennis

25

Professional ice hockey

28

Auto racing

22

Professional tennis

24

Professional golf

20

Figure skating

21

Professional ice hockey

18

Professional wrestling

14

Professional wrestling

7

The myth of the "football widow" -- the wife who is deserted by her husband on Sunday afternoons as he heeds the siren call of NFL games -- may have some merit. Nearly 8 in 10 men identify themselves as pro football fans and 7 in 10 men are college football fans -- clearly showing the appeal of football to men. A majority of men also identify themselves as baseball fans. 

However, professional football also appeals to women, as a slim majority of women are fans of that sport. But figure skating ranks as the top sport for women, with 60% claiming they are fans. That is in stark contrast to just 21% of men who are figure skating fans, ranking it behind all sports for men except professional wrestling. That gender gap of 39 points for figure skating fans is the largest for any sport Gallup measured.

Age

Sunday's Super Bowl game should be widely viewed by Americans of all ages. Pro football is no worse than tied for the top sport among all age groups, and at least 6 in 10 Americans in each age group say they are pro football fans. A majority of people in all age groups are college football fans as well. 

Sports Fans, by Age Group

18- to 29-year-olds

30- to 49-year-olds

50- to 64-year-olds

65 years and older

Sport

%

Sport

%

Sport

%

Sport

%

Pro football    

65

Pro football     

65

Pro football    

63

Pro football   

60

Coll. football    

56

Coll. football    

55

Pro baseball    

58

Figure skating   

59

Pro basketball   

53

Pro baseball     

51

Coll. football   

52

Pro baseball    

56

Coll. basketball  

45

Coll. basketball

39

Figure skating    

43

Coll. football    

54

Pro baseball     

41

Auto racing    

37

Coll. basketball    

39

Coll. basketball  

40

Figure skating   

29

Figure skating   

37

Pro basketball    

36

Pro golf    

40

Pro ice hockey   

27

Pro basketball  

34

Auto racing    

29

Pro basketball   

38

Auto racing    

24

Pro golf       

28

Pro golf       

29

Pro tennis    

28

Pro golf       

23

Pro ice hockey  

27

Pro tennis    

24

Auto racing   

22

Pro wrestling    

23

Pro tennis      

26

Pro ice hockey   

21

Pro ice hockey  

13

Pro tennis    

16

Pro wrestling    

10

Pro wrestling 

7

Pro wrestling     

5

Several interesting age differences are apparent in the data that show rather distinct sport preferences between the youngest age group (18 to 29) and the oldest age group (65 and older).

  • A majority of 18- to 29-year-olds, 53%, identify themselves as pro basketball fans, compared with no more than 38% of those in any other age group.
  • Younger Americans are much less likely to be baseball fans, as at least a majority of those in the 30 to 49, 50 to 64, and 65 and older age groups are baseball fans. This is compared to just 41% of those 18 to 29 years old. 
  • While relatively few Americans are professional wrestling fans, the sport has its greatest appeal among younger Americans. Those in the 18- to 29-year-old age demographic are more than twice as likely as those in any other age category to say they are professional wrestling fans.
  • Figure skating is much more popular among older Americans. Fifty-nine percent of those 65 and older are fans of that sport -- that is twice the percentage of figure skating fans in the 18- to 29-year-old age group. Only about 4 in 10 Americans between the ages of 30 and 64 are figure skating fans.
  • Older Americans are much more likely to say they are professional golf fans -- 40% do so, compared with no more than 29% in any other age group. 
  • Just 13% of Americans aged 65 and older are hockey fans, less than half the proportion of 18- to 29- year-olds and 30- to 49-year-olds (27%) who are fans of that sport.

Race

Professional football rates as the top sport among both whites (62%) and nonwhites (71%). Nonwhites are almost twice as likely to say they are professional basketball fans (63%) as are whites (32%). There is a smaller racial gap of 16 percentage points on college basketball. More than twice as many nonwhites as whites identify themselves as professional wrestling fans. Whites are nearly twice as likely to say they are hockey fans.

Sports Fans, by Race

Whites

 

Nonwhites

%

%

Professional football

62

Professional football

71

College football

53

Professional basketball

63

Professional baseball

52

College football

60

Figure skating

41

College basketball

53

College basketball

37

Professional baseball

52

Professional basketball

32

Figure skating

42

Auto racing

32

Professional tennis

35

Professional golf

30

Professional golf

27

Professional ice hockey

25

Auto racing

23

Professional tennis

21

Professional wrestling

20

Professional wrestling

8

Professional ice hockey

13

Region

Pro football is either the top sport or essentially tied for the top sport in each region of the country. In the South, college football is as popular as pro football, and in the West, pro baseball is about as popular as pro football.

Sports Fans, by Region

East

Midwest

South

West

Sport

%

Sport

%

Sport

%

Sport

%

Pro football  

68

Pro football 

68

Coll. football

62

Pro football

60

Pro baseball  

58

Coll. football  

55

Pro football   

60

Pro baseball

57

Coll. football   

47

Figure skating

44

Pro baseball    

52

Pro basketball

50

Figure skating 

40

Pro baseball  

43

Coll. basketball

45

Coll. football

49

Coll. basketball

34

Coll. basketball

40

Pro basketball

38

Figure skating  

46

Pro basketball

32

Pro basketball

35

Figure skating  

37

Coll. basketball   

40

Auto racing

32

Auto racing

31

Auto racing  

32

Pro golf   

31

Pro golf 

30

Pro ice hockey

29

Pro golf  

30

Pro tennis    

26

Pro ice hockey

25

Pro golf   

27

Pro tennis     

25

Auto racing 

25

Pro tennis  

24

Pro tennis  

22

Pro ice hockey

17

Pro ice hockey  

22

Pro wrestling 

10

Pro wrestling  

11

Pro wrestling  

11

Pro wrestling   

9

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 5-8, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. Margins of error will be slightly higher for demographic subgroups. 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.

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