Harris Poll: NFL Fans Sack MLB For Favorite Sport . . .  Again

January 20, 2011: Not only did the NFL draw record numbers to its TV broadcasts during the 2010 season, which it  continues to do during the playoff drive to Super Bowl XLV, but it continues to remain by far the most popular of all sports among U.S. fans.

More than three in ten Americans (31%) who follow at least one sport say pro football is their favorite sport while fewer than two in ten (17%) say baseball, according to a new survey from The Harris Poll. Although this is a narrowing of the gap from last year, when 35% of sports fans said pro football was their favorite sport and 16% said it was baseball, it marks the ninth consecutive Harris Poll (going back to 2002) in which pro football has had a double-digit lead over baseball. (See 2003-2010 chart below.)

According to the NFL, the 2010 season was the most-watched ever, attracting a record 207.7 million unique viewers. The trend has continued thus far during the playoffs, with the New York Jets-New England Patriots game on Jan. 16 attracting 43.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched divisional playoff game ever.

Soccer was aided only slightly by the playing of the FIFA World Cup in 2010. In the previous Harris Poll, 2% named men's soccer as their favorite sport. In the new survey, the total was 4%, still leaving soccer behind pro football and baseball, college football (12%), auto racing (7%) men's pro basketball (6%) and hockey (5%).

Regarding specific demographics, pro football was named as the favorite sport by African Americans (45%), Baby Boomers aged 46-64 (37%) and Easterners (34%), while those fewer people more likely to say pro football is their favorite sport among Echo Boomers ages 18-33 (23%), Hispanics (26%), and Midwesterners (26%).

For baseball, Matures ages 65 and older (21%), Hispanics (20%) and those with an education of high school or less (20%) cited it as their favorite sport.  African Americans (6%), those with some college education (12%) and Echo Boomers (13%) are least likely to say baseball is their favorite.

Overall, the Harris Poll has pinpointed some fluctuations in favorites over the past 25 years. Since the first such survey in 1985, pro football has gone up 7 points from 24% of sports fans saying it was their favorite sport then to 31% saying so now. Meanwhile, baseball has gone down 6 points from 23% in 1985 to 17% in the new survey.

Looking ahead, Harris anticipates that, based on past numbers, the popularity of pro football might not take much of a hit if there is a lockout due to problems with the owner-player CBA negotiations. As an example, the NHL shut down in 2004-05 but did not suffer in popularity among sports fans who participated in the survey.

The Harris Poll  was conducted among 2,331 adults surveyed online between Dec 6-13, 2010 by Harris Interactive.

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