Beyond the Ratings a New Poll Shows Professional Sports Are in Real Trouble With Americans

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(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)


Gallup shows an alarming decline in support of sports in general, and it is across the spectrum.

It has been with sharp interest that we have followed the return of professional sports over the past month. Within a week, MLB, NBA, and the NHL all came back with scheduled games, leading to unexpected results. League officials and media experts all anticipated pent-up fan interest and the lack of live attendance at games would lead to higher-than-average ratings — except the opposite has proven out.


The NFL, which opens its season tonight, should be paying close attention.

It is becoming a concern, as the NBA alone has had sharply lower ratings, including a -20% drop for the start of their playoffs. Expectantly, the insistence of the leagues has been that this is all a result of the pandemic — despite their early promise of rabid fan interest. The truth is the overt anti-American activism from the athletes, coaches, and even the broadcasters has been the main deterrent. The NBA was experiencing this decline already in February, before the COVID shutdowns. As I covered yesterday, force-feeding Colin Kaepernick into video games is the opposite of a solution.

Ethan Strauss at The Atlantic has been upfront about the issue of activism driving the fans off. In an interview, he noted that the insulated environment within the league prevents them from seeing the results. ‘’I think that when you talk to a lot of people who aren’t within media, people maybe where their politics don’t line up 100 percent with what’s being evinced, yeah, a lot of people are turned off by it.’’ Now it can be shown that Strauss was more than correct. A recent Gallup poll has shown that in the past year, Americans have taken a largely negative view of professional sports.

Each year Gallup surveys Americans on their favorability in regards to 25 major industries in the country. In its latest, released this week, we see some precipitous declines that should shake the constitutions of the fist-shaking pro athletes. Of all the sectors measured in the survey, professional sports suffered the biggest drop in support, falling all the way to 23rd on the list and settling barely above The Federal Government. The negative impressions by Americans now see sports underwater by double digits, with a 30%-40% favorable/unfavorable ratio.


Things are only more bleak in the metrics. This decline was not a number moved by one sector rebelling against the actions in athletics. In all categories measured — gender, race, age, and politics — pro sports saw sharp declines of support. Among all adults, favorability plunged -30%, and of particular alarm should be that wage earners in the 35-45 age group dropped -44%. Non-white Americans fell a sharp -35%. Even the most supportive sector — Democrats — fell, a lower -5%, but among those declaring to be Independent there was a -36% drop in approval; where that category harbored a positive impression last year at +26% they now sit with a -10% approval.

What needs to be highlighted is that this was not a poll driven by leading questions. People were not asked specifically if the activism was driving them off, nor given ”Have the protests changed your impression of sports’’ queries. This was a general impression poll asked of numerous industries. These are sobering returns, and they show there is a real visceral feeling that fans are being repelled by the antics in stadiums and arenas. This cannot be dismissed as one particular group of cranks moving the needle. 

Until the leagues are willing to admit this is having a direct and recognizable negative impact it will only continue. Lebron James is in the news far more often over social politics than for the game he plays. Coaches like Steve Kerr and Stan Van Gundy are vocal about their distaste for segments of this country, all while they have praised and defended the human rights violations in China. 


These offenses resonate with fans, and at a time when they should be desperate for all the attention they can draw, the leagues and the players feel it is more important to deliver lectures than to deliver a diversion. And it is becoming more obvious that more fans are not interested in accepting that delivery.


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