More Americans Are Fans of Pro Football Than Any Other Sport

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Figure skating and tennis are only sports with more female than male fans

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Sports fans have a lot to hold their attention this weekend with significant events in most of the major sports. Playoffs begin in the National Basketball Association and continue in the National Hockey League; the National Football League holds its annual draft of college players; and major league baseball, golf, tennis, and auto racing continue their seasons. This is, thus, a good time to consider the relative popularity of the major spectator sports in America. A Gallup poll conducted March 26-28 finds that professional football has more fans than any other sport in America, topping the list of 11 sports tested:

 

2001 Mar 26-28
(sorted by "total fans")

Yes, a fan
%

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN (vol.)
%

Total fans
%

Professional football

54

9

63

Professional baseball

46

10

56

College football

44

9

53

Figure skating

40

10

50

College basketball

38

9

47

Professional basketball

36

8

44

Auto racing

31

8

39

Professional golf

27

9

36

Professional ice hockey

24

7

31

Professional tennis

19

9

28

Professional wrestling

12

3

15

(vol.)=Volunteered response



The data from this survey afford an opportunity to assess not only which sports are the most popular in the public, but also what distinguishes fans of one sport from another. Certainly, some general characteristics apply, with the most obvious being that men are more likely than women to be fans of just about every sport. But a number of differences are also apparent for various sports by age, region, education, income and race. The analysis is built around the following tables, which displays the proportion of each group that is a fan of the sport. The numbers have been indexed to a base of 100. The base is equal to the overall proportion of Americans who say they are fans of each sport. Scores above 100 indicate that members of that group are more likely to be fans of the sport than the population in general, and scores below 100 indicate that members of that group are less likely to be fans of the sport than the population in general. The numbers, thus, show the relative strength of each sport across the subgroups. It should be noted that the numbers cannot be compared across sports.

Gender

Age

Race

 

Sport

Percent fans

 

Male

 

Female

 

18-29

 

30-49

 

50-64

 

65 +

 

White

 

Black

 

Non-white

Pro football

63

117

84

114

108

95

75

100

103

100

Pro baseball

56

107

95

96

100

102

104

104

82

89

College football

53

123

79

113

94

104

98

102

98

92

Figure skating

50

64

136

70

92

120

128

104

82

84

College basketball

47

119

85

106

106

96

91

98

115

115

Pro basketball

44

109

93

134

100

95

75

91

175

152

Auto racing

39

123

77

118

103

113

67

105

59

74

Pro golf

36

122

78

81

89

106

133

100

97

100

Pro ice hockey

31

113

87

129

113

77

61

106

52

68

Pro tennis

28

96

104

89

104

107

104

96

121

129

Pro wrestling

15

113

80

200

93

67

47

93

127

133

Education

Region

Place of Residence



Sport

% fans

Col.
Deg.

 

Some
Col.

 

No
Col.

 

 

E

 

 

MW

 

 

S

 

 

W

 

 

Urban

 

 

Sub-
urban

 

 

Rural

Pro football

63

106

102

95

97

97

105

98

102

108

83

Pro baseball

56

100

102

102

105

105

95

98

98

107

91

College football

53

109

100

94

81

109

106

102

100

108

89

Figure skating

50

104

104

98

102

100

94

112

104

100

100

College basketball

47

121

98

91

94

111

104

94

109

98

100

Pro basketball

44

105

98

100

95

93

102

111

120

98

84

Auto racing

39

56

105

123

95

118

95

115

90

103

108

Pro golf

36

111

97

92

100

106

92

103

103

97

97

Pro ice hockey

31

103

116

84

123

106

65

106

94

116

71

Pro tennis

28

129

100

86

107

71

96

71

121

107

68

Pro wrestling

15

33

80

147

120

87

100

180

113

93

93

Col. Deg.: College degree
Some Col.: Some college
No Col.: No college

E: East
MW: Midwest
S: South
W: West

Professional and College Football
More than six in 10 Americans (63%) consider themselves to be fans of professional football, higher than any of the 11 sports tested. Football also traditionally places first by a wide margin when Americans are asked to name their favorite sport, and thus has a broad appeal in America. Pro football is one of only three of the 11 sports tested where a majority of women consider themselves fans. However, pro football still exhibits one of the larger gender gaps of the sports: 74% of men and 53% of women consider themselves fans, for a gender gap of 21 percentage points. Only college football and figure skating show larger gender gaps. Pro football also draws proportionately more of its fans from younger Americans. About seven in 10 Americans below the age of 50 are football fans, but only 60% of those between the ages of 50 and 64 and just 47% of those over the age of 65 consider themselves pro football fans. Pro football fans are fairly evenly spread throughout the four regions of the country, but they are more likely to come from suburban (68%) or urban (64%) areas than rural areas (52%).

Given that football in a general sense is Americans' favorite sport, it is not surprising that the pro and college versions of the game have the highest and third-highest percentage of fans, respectively. Like pro football, college football shows a decided gender gap of 23 points. Sixty-five percent of men and 42% of women are fans of college football, which is an even larger gap than that which exists for pro football. There are considerable differences by region, too, as those in the Eastern United States are much less likely to be fans of college football (43%) than in the other regions, all of which have at least 54% identifying as college football fans. This may be a result of the fact that the East lacks a prominent college football conference or program, which are mainly found in the South, Midwest and West. Lastly, there is a tendency for married people to identify as college football fans, as 58% of married Americans and 47% of non-married people are fans of the sport.

College football fans are not only likely to be fans of pro football, but perhaps more interestingly, college basketball as well. The relationship between being a college football fan and also a college basketball fan is as strong as that of being a fan of both the college and pro versions of football or basketball, suggesting that collegiate sports have a unique appeal all their own.

Professional Baseball
The poll shows that 55% of Americans considered themselves to be fans of professional baseball, placing it second among the sports tested. Baseball has an older fan base than do most sports. This is not due, however, to the fact that older and younger Americans differ in their affinity for baseball. Indeed, the differences are small, as 54% of Americans under the age of 50 and 57% of Americans over 50 are baseball fans. Rather, the difference is primarily due to the fact that most sports have many more fans of younger ages than they do fans of older ages. White Americans are also more likely to be baseball fans than are non-whites, a tendency that exists in a few sports but not in most. Baseball has more fans in the East and Midwest than it does in the South, and also has more fans in suburban areas than in rural areas.

Figure Skating
Half the public says they are fans of figure skating, and it is the only sport of the 11 tested that has more female than male fans. Sixty-eight percent of women consider themselves fans of figure skating, while only 32% of men do, resulting in a gap of 36 percentage points, the largest of all sports. Figure skating also has an older fan base; in fact it has the greatest proportion of fans among Americans 50 years and older, even eclipsing pro football in this regard. Sixty-two percent of Americans over the age of 50 are fans of figure skating, compared to only 43% of Americans below the age of 50. There are slight regional differences among figure skating fans, with these residing in the West more likely and those in the South least likely to be fans.

Professional and College Basketball
When Americans are asked to name their favorite sport, basketball generally places second to football. However, college and professional basketball trail four other sports in the percentage of Americans who consider themselves fans of the sport. Professional basketball has a strong appeal among non-whites, especially blacks. In the poll, 77% of blacks indicated they were fans of pro basketball compared to 40% of whites. Pro basketball also shows considerable differences by age, with younger Americans far more likely to be fans of the sport than are older Americans. Nearly six in 10 of those between the ages of 18 and 29 identify as fans of college basketball, and each succeeding age group shows a smaller proportion of fans -- 44% of 30-49 year olds, 42% of 50-64 year olds, and just 33% of those 65 and older. Professional wrestling is the only other sport to exhibit such a marked "generation" gap. Pro basketball also shows considerable differences according to place of residence. More than half of Americans (53%) residing in urban areas are fans of pro basketball, compared to 43% of those in suburban areas and just 37% of those in rural areas.

College basketball also has a high proportion of non-white fans, but the differences are not nearly as pronounced as they are for pro basketball. More whites (46%) and fewer blacks (54%) are fans of college basketball when compared to pro basketball. College basketball also does not show nearly the age differences that pro basketball does, as the difference in fan support among the youngest Americans (50% of 18-29 years old) and the oldest Americans (43% of those 65 and over) is only seven percentage points. College basketball does exhibit regional differences, as 52% of those in the Midwest compared to 44% of those in the East and 44% of those in the West consider themselves fans of the sport. Educational differences also exist, with those holding a college degree more likely than those who do not to be fans of college basketball. Similar to college football, a slightly greater proportion of married people (51%) as compared to non-married people (43%) are fans of college basketball. As pointed out earlier, fans of pro basketball and college football are especially likely to be fans of college basketball.

Auto Racing
About four in 10 Americans say they are fans of auto racing. Auto racing fans are especially likely to be male (48% of males are auto racing fans compared to 30% of females) and also white (41% of whites compared to 29% of non-whites). Fans of the sport also tend to be younger, as 46% of Americans below the age of 30 are fans compared to just 26% of Americans age 65 and over. Auto racing is the only sport for which more Americans living in rural areas (42%) are fans than are Americans living in suburban (40%) or urban areas (35%). About half of Americans living in the Midwest say they are racing fans, while in each of the other regions less than four in 10 say they are fans. Racing fans are less likely to hold college degrees -- nearly half of those with a high school diploma or less are fans of auto racing, but only 32% of those with any college education are.

Professional Golf
Thirty-six percent of Americans say they are fans of professional golf. Golf fans tend to be older (48% of Americans 65 and older are golf fans, compared to just 29% of 18-29 year olds) and to come from higher income households. There is a rather large gender gap among golf fans, as 44% of men are fans of the sport compared to just 28% of women. Golf fans exhibit very little differences according to race, region, and place of residence.

Professional Ice Hockey
Of the major team sports, professional ice hockey has the smallest fan base in the United States, with 31% of Americans saying they are fans of the sport. Hockey fans tend to be very young -- 40% of 18-29 year olds say they are hockey fans compared to just 19% of those 65 and older. In fact, of the 11 sports tested, only professional wrestling has a lower proportion of fans among the oldest Americans. Whites are nearly twice as likely to be fans of hockey as are blacks. Hockey exhibits fairly strong regional differences as well, with much greater fan support in the East (38%) and West (36%) than in the South (20%). Only about one in five Americans (22%) living in rural areas are fans of ice hockey, while 36% of those living in suburban areas are.

Professional Tennis
Twenty-eight percent of Americans are fans of professional tennis. Men and women are about equally likely to be fans of tennis, making tennis the sport with the greatest appeal to women outside of figure skating. Tennis also shows very small differences by age. Tennis fans are likely to come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, as those with more education and higher incomes are much more likely to be fans of the sport than are those with less education and lower incomes. Those residing in the west are most likely to be tennis fans (37%), much higher than those in the Midwest (20%), South (27%) and East (30%). Those living in rural areas are not very likely to be fans of tennis -- only 19% are compared to 34% of Americans living in urban areas and 30% of those living in suburban areas.

Professional Wrestling
Of the 11 sports tested, professional wrestling has the fewest fans, with only 15% of Americans claiming to be fans. Wrestling fans are heavily skewed toward the youngest Americans -- 30% of 18-29 year olds are fans of the sport, with the numbers falling sharply to just 14% among 30-49 year olds, 10% of 50-64 year olds, and only 7% of those 65 years and older. Wrestling fans tend to have less formal education, as 22% of Americans with a high school diploma or less are fans, compared to just 6% of Americans with a college degree. Similar patterns are also evident by income. Men are slightly more likely to be fans of professional wrestling than are women.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,024 adults, 18 years and older, conducted March 26-28, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 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. The analyses here are based on logistic regression, and predict the likelihood of being a fan of each sport based on the demographic characteristics, while taking into account and controlling the effect each characteristic has on being a fan.

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