Poll: Survey shows football is still the national pastime

Despite increasing knowledge of how the game is scrambling the brains of its players and the political fallout from protests for racial equity, football appears to be surviving just fine.

A Gallup survey says football is still the favorite sport of 37 percent of those surveyed, far more popular than any other sport.

Baseball is presenting no threat to football, the survey says.

Gallup says only 9 percent say baseball is their favorite sport to watch. That’s the lowest figure since Gallup started asking the question in 1937.

Still, football has dropped from its peak. Gallup guesses why, although it apparently didn’t ask.

In 2014, a video of National Football League star running back Ray Rice punching his wife and dragging her unconscious body from an elevator shocked the nation. It pushed the already-simmering issue of NFL players’ domestic assaults into national prominence, sparking protests and calls for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign.

Numerous studies dating back to the 1990s had documented the physical and mental toll concussions were taking on football players at all levels. One of the studies inspired the movie Concussion, released nationwide in 2015.

Protests by NFL players during the pregame playing of the U.S. national anthem in 2016 and 2017 drew strong criticism from President Donald Trump and conservative pundits.

Football eclipsed baseball somewhere between 1960 and 1972, according to Gallup, which didn’t conduct the poll within that time period.

Hockey barely registers a blip. Only 2 percent said it was their favorite sport to watch. That’s hardly budged since the ’30s, even though the number of teams and markets has exploded since the ’60s.

Face it, Minnesota: It doesn’t take much to be the state of hockey.

The number of people who don’t care to watch sports, by the way, has nearly doubled.

(h/t: Paul Tosto)

  • Gary F
  • Gary F
  • Joe

    Basketball has overtaken baseball again, I see. It is also the only sport that actually gained fans over the last 10 years.

    It’s no surprise to me why, as a big NBA fan, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

  • Rob

    I’m firmly in the “meh” category regarding watching pro and collegiate sports.
    I try to catch some of the Olympics coverage of biking, slalom skiing, snowboarding, luge, diving and gymnastics events – but that’s as far as it goes.

  • >>Hockey barely registers a blip.<>It doesn’t take much to be the state of hockey.<<

    I'm pretty sure this refers to the number of rinks / players in each state (Minnesota leads in both categories)

    • Gary F

      Jesus saves but Gretsky puts in the rebound.

      • Sorry, but that’s stolen from the 1970 bumper sticker in Boston ” Jesus saves, but Espo scores on the rebound.”


        • Bob Sinclair

          Which was stolen from Detroit where Gordie Howe scores…

        • Gary F

          Next thing you know you are going to tell me goalies didn’t wear masks.

        • Gary F

          Also, I was at the Como Conservatory Monday in the “fern room” and asked my wife if she thought Fern Rivard had ever been to the “fern room”. She gave me a dumb look, but the guy ahead of us turned around and gave me a smile.

    • Jerry

      I don’t know. Jesus was Jewish so I think he would be a fan of the Yankees and the Dodgers, not a hockey team.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        My guess is Yankees OR Dodgers, not both.

        • Jerry

          Normally I would say that’s true, but this is Jesus we are talking about. There is room in his heart, even for the Yankees.

    • Now THAT’S funny.

    • Bob Sinclair

      still one of my all time favorites…

  • RBHolb

    I’ve long had a theory that few people actually enjoy football. What matters is following the rituals: Sundays (or, increasingly, weeknights) spent parked on a couch in front of the TV fressing junk food and drinking beer, making loud, “knowledgeable” critiques of such action as there is, and the all-important talking about it afterwards.

    I’ll bet the NFL could just show recordings of random games, and the fans would still tune in, as if they were seeing something new.

    • Lindsey

      They do that on NFL Network. And people watch.

  • Joseph

    I’m curious about how many people watch Professional Soccer (aka actual football, to the rest of the world) in the US. Especially amongst young people, with who its been growing leaps and bounds in popularity…

    • crystals

      *raises hand*

      I love it. The speed and pace of the game are so radically different from American professional sports (MLS obviously notwithstanding), and to me, a lot more enjoyable.

    • 7%. Ahead of ice hockey. Almost twice what it was in 2013.

      • I admit that I watch Premier League and Bundesliga on occasion.

        /I’m of the mind that the play in Bundesliga is superior than the Premier League. Far fewer floppers in Bundesliga

    • wjc

      Euro football is the best. (No “s” word here.)

      The greatest invention was relegation and promotion. A game between Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion is meaningful, since it might allow one of them to avoid dropping to the second division. The week 16 game between the Bears and the Browns meant nothing.

    • wjc

      Also, league games will always take less that 2 hours.

  • Vamos Atletico

    I just read an article saying that of the top 50 most watched TV programs in 2017, 37 of them were NFL games. I would say football is doing just fine. Football is basically the last remaining thing in the American monoculture. Also, gambling is not going away anytime soon, and football is far and away the best (major) gambling sport.

    • Kassie

      Is that live tv? I wonder if they included in all the watching later that happens on Amazon, Apple TV, illegal sources and DVRs.

      • Vamos Atletico

        I believe it was according to the Nielsen ratings. I am not completely sure about their methodology when it comes to live streaming etc. But I do know that the networks use Nielsen ratings when it comes to negotiating their deals with the league, or at least they have in the past.

  • chlost

    My long-held theory is that all of pro sports is fixed. There is just too much money involved that it’s not. I am not at all interested in watching any of it. Husband, on the other hand, is a huge fan. Luckily for him, there are others in the house who will join him once in a while to watch a game.

  • KTFoley

    Hockey used to be spectacularly difficult to follow on TV. Larger screens, slo-mo replay, different camera placement and the occasional glowing puck have all helped, but I’m not sure the sports-viewing public has caught on.

    Maybe that’s because the league requires an even longer attention span than does the game itself. The regular NHL season goes 6 complete months and the playoffs stretch 3 months more. Three months! How does the season matter except for home ice and wild cards?

    Both “winter” sports last much too far into the warm weather for my taste. The NBA is nearly as bad with the regular season lasting just under 5 months and the playoffs stretching just over 2 months more. Unless it’s the home team, they’ve lost me by St. Patrick’s Day.

    (By contrast, MLB has a full 6-month season but wraps up the playoffs in a month; NFL follows an 18-week season with a 4-weekend playoff series, lengthened a bit by the break for the all-star game. Bless the WNBA, they’re the best example of a finite season leaving people wanting more for next year.)

    • I’ve always thought hockey was the perfect in-person sport but the worst TV sport (the opposite of football). In person it’s a game of tremendous grace, not at all unlike figure skating.

      Baseball is like being in a bar. You can relax and actually talk to people while watching it in person. On TV, it’s just background noise.

      • KTFoley

        What you say about in-person vs. TV does ring very true for hockey.

        Sitting through so many youth league & college games helped me appreciate the skill close-up … as well as see how much work it takes to master grace on blades. That doesn’t come through on television.

        Codger that I am becoming, I’m likely to tune into play-by-play & color commentary on the radio, and mute the TV coverage altogether.

        • Mike Worcester

          //Codger that I am becoming, I’m likely to tune into play-by-play & color commentary on the radio, and mute the TV coverage altogether.

          I used to do that for many years (going back to my non-curmudgeon days), but the seven second delay got annoying, esp in baseball.

      • 212944

        “On TV, it’s just background noise.”

        Unless it was Vin Scully. When I lived out there, I would have the game on just to listen … a great blend of thoughtful, even-toned comments, silence and very well-managed crowd/game noise.

        Also miss Skip Carey and Pete Van Weiren calling Braves’ games. They also understood the power of not needing to fill every moment with talking.

    • Mike Worcester

      //Both “winter” sports last much too far into the warm weather for my taste.

      Both the NHL and NBA could solve this by shortening the first one or two rounds of playoff series from seven to five games, but they won’t because, you know, $$ and all that. :/

  • No love for sports here. At Mankato State I took 16 mm training video for the Vikes, which required being able to follow the ball and the action, which I did. But if we happen upon a football game on TV, I have to ask my wife what’s going on because I really don’t understand the game (or care to.) Like Bob H., we will sometimes watch Olympic events. I sort of wish I knew something about sports like football, baseball, and hockey so that I’d have something to talk about in the barber shop, but dang – they are so boring (especially baseball and its cousin cricket) that I’d have to take a novel to the game to survive.

    • RBHolb

      I have two responses:

      1. I avoid all Sunday social gatherings on weekends between August and February. No matter the occasion, somebody always has to turn on a TV “so we can watch The Game.”

      2. Cricket is boring, but you should know something about the scores for times when you have to call customer service. The reaction of the person on the other end of the call (with their carefully cultivated American accent) will reward your time.

  • Postal Customer

    There are times when sports make for a good distraction. That’s one good thing about watching.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    When it comes to this debate I turn to the words of one of late 20th Century America’s great philosophers: the late George Carlin.

    • Mike Worcester

      Ever seen his take on soccer (aka futball)? 🙂