It might be time to rethink America’s pastime.
As it has regularly since 1937, Gallup polled Americans with the question: What is your favorite sport to watch? Football remained king, but basketball surpassed baseball as America’s second-favorite spectator sport. More surprising, though, might be the fact that soccer is hot on baseball’s heels, too.
Despite the controversies surrounding football, including the NFL’s mishandling of domestic violence and concussion issues, 37 percent of Americans polled named it their favorite sport to watch. That number is a 6 percent drop from the height of football’s popularity a decade ago, but it still more than triples the number of respondents who favored basketball (11 percent) and baseball (9 percent).
Basketball eclipsed baseball for the first time in more than a decade, and the percentage of people who preferred baseball was the lowest in the poll’s 81-year history. Baseball’s popularity has declined steadily since being surpassed by football as America’s favorite spectator sport in the mid-1960s.
Basketball reached its height of popularity during the Michael Jordan era, and the poll numbers have held fairly consistent every since, save for a slight dip last decade, when football reached its peak.
Remarkably, seven percent of America’s dubbed soccer their favorite sport to watch — the highest number for any sport outside of football, basketball and baseball since 1997, when auto racing reached that height, according to Gallup. Soccer now trails baseball by just two percent in the poll.
In June, a SportsBusiness Journal study of Nielsen ratings since 2000 showed that the median age of Major League Baseball and NFL fans had risen sharply to 57 and 50 years old, respectively. Meanwhile, NBA and Major League Soccer fans respectively held more consistent at median ages of 42 and 40.
It’s easy to figure out why the MLB is struggling to reach younger audiences in the age of shorter attention spans, and those Nielsen numbers don’t even reflect digital media. The NBA has an average following of 29.4 million on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, compared to 17.3 million for the NFL, 6.3 for MLB and 2.3 for MLS. All of which suggests the NBA’s rise to second in popularity will hold steady.
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