Americans love their favorite sports. We love watching games on television and in person, and we go out of the way to spark up conversations and, at times, arguments with strangers on the Internet all because of the “hot takes” that we have about the sports world. With casual fans in the United States embracing European soccer leagues more and more with each year, those who live to watch live sports during their weekends can now do so for just about every minute that they are awake for the majority of the year. Throw in high-definition television, and it is reasonable to say that US sports fans have never had it better.
There are, of course, only so many hours in a day, and only so many of those precious moments can be dedicated to following sports for those of us who are not able to sit in front of television sets for the majority of any given day. Because of that, the likes of women's golf, women's professional basketball and women's college basketball, did not manage to crack the list of the top-14 favorite sports among American adults in 2014. Five different sports all begin the list by having the lowest popularity of those who were asked.
It should come as no surprise to anybody who follows American sports that pro football was once again far and away the king in 2014. Men's soccer is tied for fifth on the list, although that likely won't again be the case until 2018 for an obvious reason. While baseball has fallen in popularity since a study that was conducted back in 1985, the supposed death of the sport in the United States has, to date, been greatly exaggerated. Major League Baseball needs to find a way to speed up games, but the league does have young stars who are entertaining to watch and to follow.
14 Men's Tennis/Swimming/Horse Racing/Bowling/Women's Soccer: All 1%
The one takeaway here is that the lack of American males at the top of the pro tennis game is crushing that sport's popularity in the United States. Where is the next Andre Agassi? The next Pete Sampras? The next Andy Roddick? 2015 is a FIFA Women's World Cup year, meaning that the popularity of women's soccer could realistically rise above men's tennis among American fans this year. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are all great players, but US sports fans have proven time and time again that they want to watch one of their own win a Major tournament.
13 Not sure: Less than 0.5% in 1985 - 2% in 2014
This has to be the best answer of any provided. Of all of the options out there, two percent of those asked could not pinpoint one favorite sport. I suppose I can understand. Had you asked me what my favorite sport was immediately after I had finished watching a memorable Champions League Final, my answer may have been different than what I would say in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. In my imaginary universe, those within this two percent just love sports in general, so much so that sports programming is all that they'll watch 365 days out of the year.
12 Women's tennis: N/A in 1985 - 2% in 2014
Superstar power drives television ratings and increases popularity, and thus women's tennis is far better than men's tennis right now. Serena Williams is, when fully healthy, still the top player in the game, but Maria Sharapova also continued to shine in 2014 despite the fact that the so-called rivalry involving those two has, over the years, been lopsided. It is only fitting that those two advanced to the Australian Open Final in January 2015. They are not, however, alone on the list of women's players that draw attention from American sports fans throughout the season. The future is clearly bright for the women's game
11 Track and field: 2% in 1985 - 2% in 2014
This is impressive when you remember that the next Summer Olympics are still two years away. Track and field is, outside of an Olympic year, no longer must-see television, and events are, more often than not, relegated to second-class TV stations in favor of the “top-four” North American sports leagues. Preparations for the next Summer Games will begin later this year, and that could provide a boost in popularity of track and field before 2016 arrives. Do not hold your breath though, as track and field has not been above two percent on these lists at any point from 2009 through 2014.
10 Men's golf: 3% in 1985 - 2% in 2014
As goes Tiger Woods, so goes the popularity of men's golf in the United States. This is not to suggest that there is not a new generation of golfers ready to take over and put on memorable performances at Major tournaments. None of them, however, have the presence that Woods had during his prime. All indications are that the days of Woods being among the best golfers in the world are only memories these days. It is now on golf to help create another superstar who can convert the casual fan who ignores the sport without even thinking about it to somebody who will tune in on Sunday afternoons.
9 Boxing: N/A in 1985 - 2% in 2014
There are plenty of Americans out there who remember the golden days of boxing when the best of the best would meet up for memorable clashes. Two individuals, and also their camps, must, for at least one night, take us all on a trip back in time. The rumor that is swirling about as of the posting of this piece is that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are finally working together to put on the fight that fans around the world have wanted to see for years. No more excuses. No more trashing each other to the press. Make this fight happen, guys, and you will be sports heroes.
8 Men's college basketball: 6% in 1985 - 3% in 2014
College basketball checked in at three percent for the third consecutive year. It is not difficult to understand the drop in the sport's popularity over the past decades. Changes in conferences either altered or eliminated what had been long-standing rivalries, and it is well known that the best players in college basketball are merely making required pit stops before they are allowed to enter the NBA Draft. While nobody can blame any young man for going pro and getting paid as soon as he can, the NCAA needs to find a way to keep teams together for longer than a hiccup.
7 Men's soccer: 3% in 1985 - 6% in 2014
American sports fans set television ratings records during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, thanks to a solid run from the United States Men's National Team and also the fact that matches kicked off at favorable times. Those who have, in the past, followed only World Cup soccer have not, in massive numbers, stuck around to follow the Premier League, Major League Soccer and other competitions. While the sport is as popular right now as it has ever before been in the United States, we have not yet arrived at the point where a majority of casual fans will go all-in on soccer.
6 Ice Hockey: 2% in 1985 - 6% in 2014
The National Hockey League has largely been about New York since January 2014. Hockey fans in the Big Apple latched onto the New York Rangers after the Blue Shirts embarked on a run that landed the team in the Stanley Cup Final, where the Rangers were downed by the Los Angeles Kings. It is the New York Islanders that are generating headlines during the winter months this time around. The Islanders may enter the postseason as the best overall team to come out of the Eastern Conference, one that will be looking to do what the Rangers could not last spring.
5 Men's pro basketball: 6% in 1985 - 6% in 2014
The National Basketball Association is filled with star power during the winter of 2015. LeBron James, the best player in the world and a two-time NBA champion, made news during the summer months when he emotionally announced that he was making a return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. All eyes will be on James and the Cavs once the upcoming NBA Playoffs roll around, as the club will be looking to win the city's first professional sports championship since 1964. This is Cleveland I'm talking about here, so nobody should be assuming that the Cavaliers are going to get the job done.
4 Auto Racing: 5% in 1985 - 7% in 2014
Auto racing is missing a certain spark among casual American sports fans at the start of 2015. Nine percent of individuals asked back in 2009 said that auto racing was their favorite sport. That number has never again been so high, and it has been at seven percent three times over the past five years. NASCAR put pen to paper on a ten-year agreement with NBC, one that begins this year. NBC did wonders for the National Hockey League all those years ago, and NASCAR will be hoping to draw in new fans and also those who maybe gave up on racing for one reason or another years ago.
3 College Football: 10% in 1985 - 10% in 2014
Expect the popularity of college football to grow over the next several years. The new college football playoff that was completed in early January 2015 was a massive hit, and those games made cable television ratings history. It is widely believed that, over time, the college playoff will expand past four teams, and those additional contests would also be viewed by millions upon millions of fans happy that the Bowl Championship Series has been buried miles beneath the earth. Some, most notably TCU players and fans, would say that this past playoff did not provide the country with an undisputed National Champion. They would be incorrect.
2 Baseball: 23% in 1985 - 16% in 2014
What used to be known as “America's Pastime” was a benefactor of what was an incredible October that brought one of the best Major League Baseball postseason tournaments in recent memory. In this world of 140-character Internet posts and people being able to entertain themselves via smart phones, baseball now has to find a way to catch up and shorten the length of games. Perhaps it is installing a “pitch clock,” or maybe it is outlawing players leaving the batter's box after an at-bat starts. Think of something, Big League baseball, because you were reminded last fall that this country still loves the sport.
1 Pro Football: 24% in 1985 - 32% in 2014
2014 was a rough year for the National Football League in that the league's reputation and its image took multiple deserved blows. The NFL also made a boatload of money, and the league continues to be responsible for the highest ratings draws for live sports programming in the United States. No sporting event in all of North America comes close to rivaling the Super Bowl as it pertains to coverage, ratings and overall spectacle. Fantasy football and the genius that is the NFL RedZone channel only adds to why so many in the United States love pro football more so than any other sport.