You Don’t Hear Americans Singing ‘Take Me Out to the Soccer Match’

Pro football hasn’t had a serious rival as Americans’ favorite sport since Archie Manning was an NFL quarterback rather than a sire of quarterbacks. A new Harris Poll of adults who follow at least one sport shows the game isn’t about to fumble that status. Thirty percent chose pro football as their favorite, double the number who picked baseball, the runner-up. College football (12 percent) and auto racing (10 percent) were the only other sports to score in double digits.

The poll’s findings suggest baseball has arrested the long decline in its hold on Americans’ affections. Between 1985 and 2003, baseball’s “favorite” vote fell by 10 percentage points. In the past five years, it has inched back up by two points. The numbers for baseball also belie the game’s image as a favorite of geezers. The game fared worst among people 65-plus and scored best in the 30-39 age bracket. (The 65-plus cohort is most keen on pro football.)

Pro basketball’s vote has been most volatile, with its movement sharply downward in the post-Jordan era. In the 1990s, pro basketball had a firm grip on third place, with its “favorite” tally hitting 13 percent late in the decade. Its current score is less than one-third as large, at 4 percent. College football has gained ground and auto racing has doubled its score since the early ’90s. Auto racing’s rise in the voting has stalled in the past few years, though. Its current score matches the 10 percent it got in 2002 and is off a point from its high in 2005.

Neither the excitement of the 2006 World Cup nor the arrival of David Beckham has pushed men’s soccer above a 2 percent “favorite” showing. Nor have goddess-like women in short tunics sufficed to win female tennis a full percentage point in the latest voting. Even bowling (with 2 percent, and sweaty shoes) does better than that.