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.
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.