By Barry Janoff
January 21, 2015: With Super Bowl XLIX and its anticipated 100 million-plus viewers on NBC upcoming and the success of the College Football Playoff and championship games still resonating, a new poll confirms that football is America's favorite sport.
Pro football was named No. 1 by 32% of people who follow sports while college football came in third with 10%, sandwiching No. 2 baseball, according to a new Harris Poll survey conducted by Harris Interactive.
The popularity has translated into positive economic situations for marketing and broadcast partners. NBC has charged upward of $4.5 million for a 30-second spot during Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1 and could top $330 million in total ad sales, both Super Bowl broadcast records.
Concurrently, the college football championship on Jan. 12 between Oregon and Ohio State had more than 33 million viewers and the two College Football Playoff semi-final games on Jan. 1 attracted an average of 28.2 million viewers, the three most-watched programs in cable history, according to ESPN, which aired all three games.
However, although pro football has been atop the list of the Harris Poll in every such survey dating back to 1985, a year in which the NFL has been faced with issues including domestic violence and child abuse has impacted the game's status.
Pro football's popularity is at its lowest point since 2010, when 31% of those surveyed named it as their favorite sport; and its 16% lead over baseball, which was named by 16% as America's second favorite sport in the new Harris Poll, is a 2% improvement over the previous poll and a 3% rise since the 2011 Harris Poll.
Despite some fluctuation in the numbers, pro football, baseball and college football have held the top three spots, respectively, over the past 20 years, according to the data shared by Harris Interactive.
The other sports in the Top Ten, according to the Harris Poll, are auto racing (7%); pro basketball, soccer and hockey (tied with 6%); men's college basketball (3%); and boxing, men's golf, women's tennis and track & field (tied with 2%).
Regarding demographics, Generation Xers are pro football's biggest fans (43%) while Baby Boomers name baseball as their No. 1 sport (20%).
Meanwhile, at 50%, Millennials are more likely than their generational counterparts "to appreciate the social aspect of watching with friends," according to the Harris Poll, followed by Gen Xers (39%), Baby Boomers (32%) and Matures (20%).
Women sports fans follow the trend of Millennials, with 42% of those surveyed claiming the enjoy watching with friends (vs. 35% of men) and family (37% vs. 26% for men).
Among other findings:
• Men are more aware of the rivalry between teams than women (63%-51%).
• Men are more aware of competition between individual players than women (49%-34%).
• People who live in the eastern part of the U.S. comprise the largest following among all regions for pro football (37%) and baseball (23%), while those who live in the south make up the largest following for college football (16%).
Horse racing, bowling and swimming were the leaders among so-called non-traditional sports.
The Harris Poll was conducted among 2,255 U.S. adults who were surveyed online between Dec. 10-15, 2014.
See the full Harris Poll results here.
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