Harris Poll: NFL still most popular; MLB 2nd

Updated: January 26, 2014, 9:27 AM ET


By
Darren Rovell | ESPN.com


Pro football is the most popular sport in America for at least the 30th straight year.

That’s according to a survey taken this month by the Harris Poll, which has been asking adult fans, ages 18 and over, about their favorite sport since 1985.

In 2014, 35 percent of fans call the NFL their favorite sport, followed by Major League Baseball (14 percent), college football (11 percent), auto racing (7 percent), the NBA (6 percent), the NHL (5 percent) and college basketball (3 percent).

In 1985, the first year the poll was taken, the NFL bested MLB by just one percentage point (24 to 23 percent), but since then interest in baseball has fallen while the NFL has experienced a huge rise in popularity.

Nine percent fewer fans call baseball their favorite sport over the 30-year span, the biggest drop of any sport. The polling numbers suggest that the sport hasn’t been able to recover from a popularity standpoint from 1994, when a strike forced the cancellation of the World Series.

One other significant drop was in professional golf. Throughout Tiger Woods‘ pro career, which began in 1996, no less four percent of the U.S. adult population called golf their favorite sport. But since 2010, the first year after Woods’ extramarital affair scandal, only two percent of Americans have called it their favorite sport.

A sport’s popularity varies greatly based on demographics. More people who live in rural areas on the East coast say they’re fans of the NFL than the general U.S. population. Those with an annual household income of more than $100,000 are more likely to be baseball fans, while African Americans are less likely to enjoy the sport, the poll reveals. More southerners call college football their favorite sport, while those with a high school education or less tend to gravitate to auto racing.

  • ESPN.com’s sports business reporter since 2012; previously at ESPN from 2000-06
  • Appears on SportsCenter, ESPN Radio, ESPN.com and with ABC News
  • Formerly worked as analyst at CNBC

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