Pro Football is Still America's Favorite Sport

Pro baseball and college football continue to round out the top three

Jan 26, 2016, 05:05 ET from The Harris Poll


NEW YORK, Jan. 26, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- This is a conflicting time for football fans. On the one hand, with "The Big Game" (#50, no less) fast approaching, it's a time of excitement, especially now that we know which teams (the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, in case you hadn't heard) will face off in Santa Clara on February seventh. On the other hand, discussions continue in regards to the sport's long term impact on players' health. But concussion controversies don't appear to have diminished fan ardor, as pro football continues its long reign as America's Favorite Sport.

In 1985, pro baseball was only marginally behind football, with 23% of sports fans naming baseball as their favorite sport (to pro football's 24%). Today, football leads baseball by 18 percentage points, with 33% choosing pro football as their favorite sport and 15% selecting baseball. Neither sport has seen noteworthy change since last year, with selections of football trending up a single percentage point while baseball selections have decreased a single point.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,252 U.S. adults (of whom 1,510 follow at least one sport) surveyed online between December 9 and 14, 2015. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

Men's college football makes the third strongest showing, with 10% of sports fans selecting it as their favorite (identical to the percentage selecting it last year). Continuing down the list, 6% select auto racing as their favorite (down one point from last year) and 5% each select men's pro basketball and ice hockey (both also down one point).

Who's obsessed and who couldn't care less?

Each of the top sports have groups they resonate with strongly and other demographics who are less likely to show as high a level of fervor.

  • Adults with household incomes of $75,000-<$100,000 (48%) are especially likely to name pro football as their favorite sport, while love of this particular game is especially low among those in $100,000+ households (21%).
  • Pro baseball gets the most love among Easterners (24%) and Post grads (23%) and the least among Millennials, those with kids in the household and those in homes with sub-$35,000 incomes (9% each).
  • Gen Xers (17%) and Post grads (15%) are college football's biggest fans, while it resonates less among Easterners (5%) and those with household incomes in the $35,000-<$50,000 range (6%).
  • Baby Boomers (10%), those in rural areas (also 10%) and those with sub-$35,000 household incomes (9%) are especially likely to select auto racing as their favorite; Post grads and those with household incomes in the $75,000-<$100,000 range (1% each) are especially unlikely to say the same, followed by Millennials (3%).

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This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between December 9 and 14, 2015 among 2,252 adults (aged 18 and over), of whom 1,510 follow at least one sport. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #7, January 26, 2016
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, please visit our new website,

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SOURCE The Harris Poll