Saturday , Jan , 28 , 2012 Paul Eide

The NBA: Now America’s Fifth Favorite Sport

This week, the Harris Poll released the results of a survey they did of over 2,200+ “adults” (age 30 and up) to determine what was the most popular sport amongst American people. Since Harris stated doing this poll back in 1985, the NFL has been the most popular sport every year while Major League Baseball has been the second most popular sport in each of those years.

This year, the gap between the NFL (36%) and MLB (13%) widened to an all-time high of 23% and the “American Pastime” seems to be past its prime and the NBA just can’t gain any ground.

For the majority of the 90’s and up until 2004, the NBA was the third most popular sport by a comfortable margin. But not anymore- not even close. Only 5% of American adults said the NBA was their favorite sport, which tied the NBA with Men’s college basketball and Hockey. By comparison, even Nascar gets more fans (8%) and College football has roughly three times as many (13%) who claim it as their favorite.

After you put the numbers in perspective it really isn’t much for the NBA to feel that great about. And there hasn’t been for some time.

The highest the NBA has ever been since Harris started conducting the poll was third, most recently in 2003 which was the year before the NBA strike of 2004. By 2005, the NBA was suddenly looking up at the NFL, MLB, CFB, Nascar, Men’s college bball and Hockey while the NBA, ranking a dismal seventh (tied with golf,) pulled its lowest percent ever with 4%. Since that year, the percentage has fluctuated up and then down each proceeding year with a high of 7% in 2006 and a low of 4% in 2007.

It’s pretty amazing how far the league’s popularity has slipped since its peak during the early part and end of the 90’s in particular. But, it isn’t unprecedented, either.

In 1985 when the league really began to push the Bird vs. Magic/Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry that flourished, the NBA ranked fourth with 6% behind CFB, MLB and the NFL. By 1993 though, the league rose to the third most popular sport in the country, with 12% of the vote. 1997 and 1998 brought the highest single season rating (13%) in back to back years thanks to the success and transcended appeal of a Bulls team that won back to back championships. The NBA also ranked third in each of those years.

Historically speaking, it seems the NBA will never be able to challenge the NFL. But, it may be able to nip fans from MLB. The 13% it received this season was an all-time low. But the bad news for the NBA (particularly with the timing of the labor stoppages) is that even though MLB has lost 10% since 1985, the overwhelming majority of sports fans migrated to the NFL or CFB.

American’s love their football and that is understandable. But losing to golf should never happen again.

Image Credit: Keith Allison