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Football Retains Dominant Position as Favorite U.S. Sport

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Story Highlights

  • 41% of U.S. adults say football is their favorite sport
  • Football has been top sport since 1972
  • Young adults least likely to name football, most likely to favor basketball

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the nation prepared to watch the 58th Super Bowl this weekend, Americans continue to name football as their favorite sport by a wide margin. Forty-one percent of U.S. adults say football is their favorite sport to watch. Baseball and basketball essentially tie for second at 10% and 9%, respectively. Football has been the top sport in Gallup polling since 1972, when it eclipsed baseball.

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The latest results are based on a Dec. 1-20 Gallup poll. When Gallup first asked Americans to name their favorite spectator sport in 1937, 34% named baseball and 23% football. Baseball continued to rank first in subsequent surveys conducted in 1948 and 1960, before football gained the top spot in 1972.

Since then, no less than 28% of U.S. adults have ranked football as their favorite sport, with the percentages closer to 40% in polls taken over the past two decades.

Baseball and basketball have generally vied for second place since 1995. No other sport is currently named by more than 5% of U.S. adults, with soccer at 5%, ice hockey at 4%, auto racing at 3% and figure skating at 2%. Twelve percent of U.S. adults do not name any sport.

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Soccer had been named by no more than 2% of Americans between 1937 and 2004, but it has consistently registered above that level since 2008, including a high of 7% in 2017.

Football Reigns in All Key Subgroups

Given the large margin by which U.S. adults favor football, it is no surprise that it ranks as the top sport among all key subgroups. Men (46%) and older Americans (46% of those aged 50 and older) are the major subgroups most likely to name football. Young adults, at 28%, are least likely to do so. Young adults were also least likely to say football was their favorite sport in 2017, but that was not the case in prior surveys.

Young adults’ choice of favorite sport is more varied, with 13% naming basketball, 8% soccer, 5% baseball and 5% ice hockey, with 26% naming some other specific sport. Fifteen percent of young adults do not list any sport as their favorite.

In addition to the age differences in naming football as their favorite sport, younger and older adults also differ with respect to where they rank baseball and basketball.

  • Younger adults are roughly twice as likely as older adults to name basketball as their favorite sport, with the divide evident among those older versus younger than 50.
  • Older adults — in this case, those aged 65 and older — are three times as likely as the youngest adults to say baseball is their favorite sport, 16% to 5%.

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Likely reflecting the more racially diverse makeup of younger versus older U.S. adults, racial subgroups differ in their preferences for baseball and basketball. Twelve percent of White adults and 6% of people of color name baseball as their top sport, while 15% of people of color and 6% of White adults say basketball.

White adults and people of color are equally likely to choose football (42% and 41%, respectively) and soccer (4% and 6%, respectively).

Age and racial differences may also explain Republicans’ greater likelihood to name baseball as their favorite sport (18%) compared with Democrats (9%) or independents (5%). In contrast, Democrats (15%) are more likely than Republicans (5%) or independents (8%) to list basketball as their favorite sport. The three party groups are about equally likely to name football as their favorite sport, including 42% of Republicans, 43% of independents and 37% of Democrats.

Bottom Line

It is understandable why the Super Bowl is usually the most-watched television event each year, and why tickets to the game sell for such high prices. Football is far and away Americans’ favorite sport and has been for over five decades. Its place at the top of the favorites list seems secure for the foreseeable future, as all age groups rank it first.

That said, in the distant future, football may become somewhat less dominant, as young adults today are less likely to choose it as their favorite. However, young adults’ favorites are spread over a wide number of sports, and no other single sport seems likely to threaten football for the top spot among Americans in the future if current trends continue.

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View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

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