Football remains America’s #1 favorite sport – and it isn’t even close.

Favorite sportsThe Super Bowl XLVIII game between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos may have been a yawner … but that doesn’t mean pro football is in any danger of being knocked off its perch as America’s #1 favorite sport.

In fact, a December 2013 Harris Interactive Poll of ~2,300 American adults who follow at least one sport finds that the gap between pro football and any other favorite sport is a big as ever.

Today, ~35% of American adults say that professional football is their favorite sport, whereas only ~14% say that professional baseball, the next most popular sport, is their favorite.

That 21 percentage point gap is even larger than the previous year’s polling by Harris, which found ~34% naming pro football as their favorite sport, compared to ~16% for pro baseball – a difference of “only” 18 points.

Harris has been querying American adults on this topic annually for nearly 30 years.  In only one other instance before has the preference gap between football and baseball been as great as it is today.

In fact, since the question was first asked by Harris back in 1985, pro football’s popularity as a favorite sport has risen 11 percentage points … while pro baseball has dropped by 9 points.

That means that whereas the two sports were at near-parity barely a generation ago, the divergence in the two’s fortunes has been dramatic since then.

If you’re wondering what other sports are considered “favorites” by Americans, only one comes even close to professional football and baseball – college football.  Here are Harris’ popularity figures found in its most recent survey:

  • Pro football:  ~35% consider the sport to be their #1 favorite
  • Pro baseball:  ~14%
  • College football:  ~11%
  • Auto racing:  ~7%
  • Men’s pro basketball:  ~6%
  • Men’s hockey:  ~5%
  • Men’s college basketball:  ~3%
  • Men’s golf:  ~2%
  • Men’s soccer:  ~2%
  • Swimming:  ~2%
  • Men’s boxing:  ~2%
  • Men’s tennis:  ~2%

[Eight other sports were cited by 1% or fewer survey respondents each.]

Harris has also published cross-tabs which point to some interesting differences in sports preferences within certain sub-groups.  Some of those include:

  • Americans who live in rural areas are more likely to cite pro football as their favorite sport (~44%), as are ~39% of Easterners and ~42% of people with children under the age of 18.
  • At the other end of the football popularity scale, people with post-graduate degrees are less likely to prefer professional football (~24%).  Perhaps the game isn’t subtle enough for them!
  • As for professional baseball, Hispanic Americans are more likely to cite it as their top favorite sport (~19%), as well as similar popularity percentages of suburbanites and people living in households with incomes over $100,000.
  • Is it a surprise that Southerners are more likely to cite college football (~17%) than any demographic other sub-group as being their #1 favorite sport?  I think not.
  • And how about auto racing?  It’s the #1 favorite for Americans living in rural areas (~12%) … those with household incomes under $35,000 (~12%) … as well as people with high school or less education levels (~11%).

If you’re interested to see how Harris’ survey results reinforce certain demographic stereotypes – or not – you can view more details here.

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