Randy Smith: NFL Still The Most Popular Sport

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

According to a recent Harris poll, national popularity of the National Football League has grown. Now, better than 35% of people in the United States consider pro football to be their favorite sport. Major League Baseball is a distant second with a mere 14%. This is the thirtieth such poll released by the Harris Company, and while the NFL has been number one in every single previous poll, the first one in 1985 gave the NFL a slim 24-23% advantage.

This increased popularity comes at a time when many members of the football media are predicting the “end of football as we know it,” because of the recent concussion crisis. The hand-wringing, so to speak, has still not taken hold among the fans, even though there is some merit to the head injury situation.

Baseball, once considered our “National Past Time,” continues to lose fans in the poll. It seems MLB has not been able to win back enough supporters following the strike of 1994, which forced the cancellation of the World Series.  College football is third with 11%, while auto racing is fourth with 7%. The NBA is next with 6%, while the NHL follows with 5%. College basketball comes in next with just 3% of the fans, while golf has less than 2% of the country’s fans. Pro golf reached its highest peak in 2009 with 4%, but popularity began to tumble along with Tiger Woods’ marital problems in 2010.  People who voted could only vote for their favorite sport, even though most people follow more than one sport.

Oh yes, the Harris company did break down the results according to demographics. People with an annual income of $100,000 or more tended to like baseball more, while people living in the rural areas near the east coast like the NFL more than the national average. As for people in the south, we like college football more, and surprise, surprise…for people with a high school diploma or less, auto racing is king.

The fact that the poll was released the week of the Super Bowl has no meaning as far as the results go. The actual voting was held several months ago when the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball were all in play.

What do all these numbers really mean? Nothing; the results of the Harris poll basically told us what we already knew. Pro football started its ascent in popularity in 1958, when the Baltimore Colts led by the great Johnny Unitas beat the New York Giants in overtime to win the NFL title. The game was televised to a national audience, and is still considered to be the greatest football game ever played. Since that game, the NFL’s popularity has steadily grown to the amazing amount of fans it has today. The popularity of the game took off so fast, within a few years, the old American Football League was born, with the teams merging to one league in 1966.

It appears the growing number of concussions and head injuries related to playing football is a definite concern. It hasn’t seemed to bother the players however. They still make too much money to be concerned with their own safety and quality of life. As far as what I foresee for the future of the NFL, I think the league’s popularity will continue to show growth. I can’t imagine the NFFL, (National Flag Football League) being nearly as popular.

There was one other poll released this week. It seems that 25% of NFL fans reported a significant weight gain in 2013.   


Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.

His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.

He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.

In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson, TN. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com

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