College Football Catches Baseball as Nation's Second Most Popular Sport

The Harris Interactive Poll does a yearly poll of sports fans to determine what America's favorite sport is. On a year-to-year basis the results can vary -- as all polls can -- but there's some pretty fascinating data when you take a look at the numbers running all the way back to 1985. In particular, the inexorable rise of football becomes readily apparent. Indeed, in 1985 the NFL and major league baseball were at a virtual dead heat as the nation's favorite sport. But since that time the NFL has crushed baseball, from an even favorability rating to a nearly three to one advantage.

But more interestingly, college football has now caught baseball as well.

When you look at the data, baseball fans, as an aggregate, are much older than football fans. (The most popular demographic for baseball is men 50-64.) So the slow decline of baseball will continue. Meanwhile college football is a comparatively young man's interest.

Check out the Harris Poll data for yourself.

It's really fascinating because if I'd been asked in the late 1980's to rank my favorite sport I would have said baseball. Lots of y'all reading this right now would have probably said that as well.

In fact, a couple of months ago I wrote about baseball's decline and the rise of the NFL using Nashville's television ratings as a window into this national story. You can read that story here.

Around 70% of the World Series viewing audience has been lost in Nashville since 1997. Meanwhile, the NFL has exploded. Partly that's because the Titans are in town now, but that's not the entire story. Baseball, for a variety of reasons, is simply bleeding viewers.

The graph is also interesting because you can track the rise and decline of, for instance, the NBA based upon the Michael Jordan era of dominance. No other sport is so impacted by a single player. You can also track the growing impact of Tiger Woods in golf and then the drop in attention as Tiger's dominance has receded.

You can also see the decline in men's college basketball. As the NFL has grown in popularity, more and more college basketball has become a one-month sport, wedged into the six weeks or so after the Super Bowl ends. 

I don't know about y'all, but I definitely feel that diminished interest in college basketball. It's why I've been arguing for college basketball to start its season after January 1 and run until May so that the first two months of the college basketball season aren't lost to football, the holidays, and exam breaks.  

But the biggest story of the data is the rise of football at baseball's expense.

And the fact that college football has now caught baseball. 

Soon, baseball will slip beneath college football as the nation's third most popular sport. Indeed, increasingly, it appears that baseball is destined for a marginalized role in our society. In fact, if you aren't an older man on the east coast, it's already there. 

Anyway, check out the Harris Poll data for yourself. It's fascinating.  

Written by
Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021. One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines. Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide. Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports. Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.