Monday, April 21, 2008

Polls show NFL still #1; NBA falling

Firstly, check out Luft Krigare's post regarding the Jared Allen-to-the-Vikings deal and why it may not happen. The source may be a touch questionable, but it makes it look like a deal is now rather unlikely. I really can't get behind the "nuclear option" of giving up two first-round picks, but a first and a second wouldn't trouble me too greatly. With all the free agents the team has signed, and figuring that Allen would at least be as good as any first-rounder we might get, then the team would essentially only be "losing" a second-round pick, for which the additions of Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams, and Thomas Tapeh, I think, serve as fair compensation.

Anyway, on to what I actually planned to write about. I recently referenced an old post that itself referenced a Harris Interactive poll that laid out the most popular NFL teams in a 2007 poll. Harris Interactive now has several 2008 polls available for perusing, and while many are interesting (and not sports-related), I thought I'd bring up the February 5 poll about which sport is the most popular among Americans and its interesting findings.

Not surprisingly, pro football ranks #1 overall, with a wide margin over the #2 sport, pro baseball. Despite taking its lumps from the strike, steroids, and competitive imbalance, baseball still remains high in the public rankings, though other sports have certainly narrowed the gap. For 2008, college football ranks third and just behind that is auto racing, which presumably encompasses both NASCAR and open-wheel sports.

After those four, it's not even close. Auto racing is listed as the favorite sport of 10% of poll respondents; next up is, perhaps suprisingly, hockey at 5%, followed by men's pro basketball, college basketball, and golf, each at 4%. Keep in mind that the poll was conducted online, meaning that Internet access was required. It could be theorized that inner-city blacks, who would be far more likely to vote for basketball over hockey or golf, were underrepresented, and therefore basketball should be higher than its perceived ranking.

Regardless, basketball has definitely taken a precipitous tumble since the mid-'90s, when Michael Jordan ruled. The sport was a solid third, behind the NFL and MLB, until 2004. Jordan retired after the 2003 season, and the new crop of Lebron James and Dwyane Wade haven't done enough to return the sport to its glory days. Considering that basketball wasn't much better in 1985 (6%) and 1989 (7%) might mean that Jordan and other stars of the '90s produced more of an aberration in the rankings than what should be perceived as the norm.

Another supposedly transcendental athlete, Tiger Woods, hasn't appeared to do much to boost men's golf in the rankings. Since he turned pro in 1996, the rankings for golf (starting in 1997) have been 6%, 4%, 4%, 5%, 4%, 4%, 4%, and 4%. And, for all its troubles, hockey seems to be doing surprisingly well, even if the poll data is slightly skewed, as mentioned above. Soccer, at 2%, is as dead as it ever was, while boxing, whom really, really old people like Bert Sugar, seem to think is still relevant, checks in at 1% -- lower than bowling. If I had any one suggestion for future polls, it would be for Harris to include mixed martial arts among its response choices, if it's not already present.

Below the main charts, you can find subcharts detailing how the top four sports rate with individual demographics. Most are fairly easy to understand: Auto racing is popular with conservative Southerners (and unpopular with Hispanics and college grads), while college football rates well with college grads and Southerners. Some of the data are unusual, though, and deserve comment:

* College football rates poorly with African Americans. There's no lack of blacks on college-football teams, so this might be the financial divide that prevents many African Americans from entering college in the first place.

* Conversely, while college grads like college football, they're not so keen on pro football, and neither are post-grad students.

* Baseball, thought to be the most conservative and resistant to change of all the major sports, looks to have its chart flip-flopped. Among its proponents: Easterners, the relatively young (30-39), and Democrats, most of whom could fall under the blanket of "liberals." It's detractors: Southerners, Republicans, and senior citizens (65 and older), which generally fit the bill of "conservative." I guess rock themes in ballparks and endless Yanks-Sox coverage has finally had an effect.

Of course, any survey can be made to say practically anything, but these numbers still paint an interesting picture of American's preferences when it comes to sports. And the next time your buddy tries to tell you that MLS is catching on, tell him that it's on equal footing with horse racing and bowling. Hopefully, that'll shut him up.

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