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American Public Opinion About Sports

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

by Joseph Carroll

There will be plenty for sports fans to deal with this weekend, as the Major League Baseball season officially starts this Sunday, and the Final Four of the men's NCAA college basketball tournament gets underway on Saturday. So, how do Americans feel about sports today? Here is a summary based on recent Gallup polling.

Sports Fans

Sixty-three percent of Americans, according to a February CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, describe themselves as sports fans, while 37% say they are not fans. Since Gallup first started asking this question in 2000, a strong majority of Americans -- ranging from 56% to 66% -- have consistently described themselves as sports fans.

Men and younger Americans are the groups most likely to be sports fans. Three in four men describe themselves as sports fans, while just half of women are fans. Seventy-two percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are sports fans. This compares with 64% of 30- to 49-year-olds, and 58% of those aged 50 and older.

Favorite Sport to Watch

Football is Americans' favorite sport to watch; 37% of Americans mention football when asked without prompting to name their favorite sport to watch. Following football are basketball, at 13%, and baseball, at 10%. Auto racing (5%), figure skating (4%), ice hockey (3%), golf (2%), tennis (2%), and soccer (2%) are also mentioned.

Football has consistently topped this "favorite sport to watch" list since 1972. Before that, baseball was the public's favorite sport to watch. In 1960, 34% of Americans said baseball was their favorite, followed by football, at 21%, and basketball, at 9%.

Since Gallup first asked this question in 1937, the percentage of Americans saying baseball is their favorite sport to watch has declined from a high of 39% (in 1948) to a low of 10% in polls conducted in 2003 and 2004.

Baseball Fans

Slightly fewer than half of Americans (48% in a mid-March CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll) describe themselves as professional baseball fans. Fifty-two percent say they are not fans.

Gallup began asking this question in 1993. The results have fluctuated significantly since that time, ranging from 41% in April 1995 (the month the major leagues resumed play after the eight-month strike that canceled the 1994 World Series) to 63% in September 1998, late in the season in which both Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' long-standing single-season home-run record.

The latest poll on baseball shows that men are much more likely than women, by a 59% to 37% margin, to be fans. Younger Americans are just slightly more likely to be fans than are older Americans; 56% of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are baseball fans, compared with 46% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 46% of those aged 50 and older. The poll finds essentially no racial differences on this question, with 48% of non-Hispanic whites and 47% of nonwhites saying they are fans.

College Basketball Fans

According to a Gallup Poll conducted last December, roughly 4 in 10 Americans, 41%, say they are fans of college basketball, while 59% are not fans of the sport. The percentage of Americans saying they are college basketball fans has fluctuated from 38% last year to 47% in March 2001.

Nearly half of men (49%) say they are college basketball fans, while just a third of women (32%) are fans of the sport. There are only slight variations by age, with 45% of 18- to 29-year-olds, 39% of 30- to 49-year-olds, and 39% of those aged 50 and older saying they are college basketball fans. Thirty-seven percent of non-Hispanic whites are college basketball fans, while an even higher percentage of nonwhites, 53%, are fans.

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