Mark Dolliver’s Takes: The Sports Standings

Baseball might be more popular these days if players raced around the bases in stock cars. A Harris Poll on Americans’ interest (or lack thereof) in sports shows most major team sports weakening in their grip on the public, even as auto racing gains new fans. When people were asked whether they follow various sports, pro football topped the list. But its tally was down to 60 percent from 66 percent in 1998. Also in decline from 1998 were college football (46 percent vs. 57 percent), NBA basketball (40 percent vs. 44 percent) and hockey (18 percent vs. 20 percent). Baseball suffered the steepest drop, to 46 percent this year vs. 57 percent in 1998. Auto racing, meanwhile, was cited by 31 percent of respondents—up from22 percent in 1998. The more Americans sit in traffic, the more they enjoy watching cars zip around a track at 150 mph. Auto racing also gained when people were asked to name their favorite sport (see the chart), rising from 7 percent in 1998. Although baseball ranks second only to pro football on this roster, its vote has declined from 18 percent in 1998 and from 23 percent as recently as 1985. After rising in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the “favorite” tally for men’s pro basketball has slipped back from its high of 13 percent in 1997 and ’98.