Poll finds NFL more popular than ever


We have another data point indicating that the NFL is more popular than ever.

A Harris Poll of the American public, conducted September 25-27, found that 59 percent of Americans follow pro football, the highest level of interest in the NFL that Harris has ever found in its regular studies of the U.S. population.

“Football remains popular and even shows a rise in interest since last year,” the Harris Poll said in a release. “In 2011, over half of Americans (55 percent) said they followed professional football – a slight increase from 2010, when 53 percent said so. This year, that number rises further, with 59 percent of Americans saying they follow professional football; this is the highest percentage to indicate this since The Harris Poll first started asking the question in 1992.”

It’s been remarkable in recent years that nothing — not an offseason lockout of players, not increasing emphasis in the media on the long-term health risks of concussions suffered while playing football, not the NFL’s at times heavy-handed actions to try to curb concussions, not replacement refs, nothing — can slow the growing popularity of the NFL. It’s not just America’s most popular sport, it may be America’s most popular cultural institution of any kind. And there’s no reason to think the NFL has stopped growing.

39 responses to “Poll finds NFL more popular than ever

  1. So the NFL enduring weeks of criticism to finally get the improvements to the officiating process it wanted in an attempt to improve the game for years to come was… a good business decision?

    Well I’m shocked, from reading the sensationalized media spearheaded by Mr. Florio himself I thought the sky was falling. I believe Schefter had said this season should have an asterisk, it appears what we learned most was that the media can and will blow up anything to make money.

  2. Unsurprising given a new trend – unprecedented parity.

    It’s really “Any Given Sunday” this season, with a handful of upsets every week.

    That makes the sport exciting – even the league’s 0-4 teams, the Browns and Saints, have come *very close* to multiple victories.

    Meanwhile, in other professional sports leagues, specifically leagues that DON’T have a hard salary cap, there are only about 4-5 “legitimate” contenders, and all of the other “smaller market” teams are only there to get beat up on by the “bigger market teams.”

    In the NFL, “small/medium markets” like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Arizona (Phoenix), Denver, and have some of the BEST teams in the NFL.

    Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and New Orleans have all won Super Bowls since 2000.

    Everybody gets the same number of draft picks and same amount of cap space. The best GM and coach combination can win in any market.

  3. Only 16 games to get it done, a playoff system that’s one-and-done, an excellent salary cap system that brings equal opportunity, toughness and physicality, and constant improvement (mostly) of the game.

    This is why the NFL is the world’s greatest league.


  4. It’s true that football is popular. But these small polls are inherently stupid.

    A 4% increase? So the NFL picked up 12 million regular followers this year?

    Last week’s SNF had a Week 4 record 22.8 million viewers. Roughly half of them were brand new followers, apparently.

  5. I’d chalk more than a few of those percentage points up to the power of fantasy football to keep friends and family connected all across the country in a meaningful way.

    Thank you messiuers Winkenbach, Tunnel, and Stirling.

  6. Not Surprised because football awesome. You don’t see great rivalries in other sports that are as storied as nfl. The game alone is great but the history makes it better.

  7. Yes the NFL is awesome. That said I hate the Thursday night games. My whole life football has been Sundays and Monday night. The Thursday game throws me off and I usually don’t watch unless my team is playing. Only exception is Thanksgiving. Love the night game then…..

  8. Chicago Bears fan for life.
    The NFL is the Best sport in America.. Nothing else is close but get rid of Goodell before he does some real damage

  9. NFL is popular, and people like me love watching it. But recent foolishness of owners (on replacement refs) almost had me pull out. We follow NFL because of its “Any Given Sunday” theme. Once the replacement refs started ruining the game, NFL was heading down the hole. Somebody knocked some sense into the ownership in time.

  10. Reason the NFL is awesome, it’s men being men on Sunday !
    Not like baseball where if there is not enough toilet paper on the roll, the players need to go on the 15 day disabled list.

    Football is and always will be the greatest of all sports !

  11. For all those hailing the hard cap for parity, you are looking a little sports illiterate at the moment. In the MLB playoffs currently both Baltimore and Oakland are still playing, and Tampa Bay is a perennial power. Plus, this is the only sport without ANY salary cap! The hard cap is in place to control costs. Without a cap Washington and Dallas would probably suck uncontrollably as they’d be throwing bad money after worse! The one constant in the NFL is absolute owner greed, and this will sadly be the eventual downfall of the league. I love the NFL, but the greed and egos of the owners is unfortunate. I mean they can’t even let baseball keep their ‘baseball’ caps, no Jerry Jones needs everyone to start calling them ‘football’ caps now!

  12. Between fantasy football and gambling it will be a long time til it fades. What a great game.

  13. The biggest problem with pro-football is the league office and the owners trying to “fix” it. Fellas, it wasn’t broke, so why are you fixing it?

    You see the rules change so defense is a joke now. If you breathe on a QB it’s an illegal hit. Anytime a player or coach says something like, “we threw to Calvin because we wanted to get a pass interference call,” then the game is broken. Memo to owners and the league..it’s a contact sport. You give the offense every advantage. What about the defensive side of the ball? If you want to protect QB’s, that’s fine. Pass a rule that says when a defender has a hold of a QB then he is ruled down. Period. If I wanted to watch a game with no contact then I’d watch tennis!

  14. if you were going to stop following football because of the replacement refs, then you’re not really a fan. go back and put your pink tom brady jersey on

  15. Considering the inherent violence of NFL contests combined with the inebriated and rabid mental state of 60 or 70 thousand fans jammed together in a big cereal bowl, Americans should actually be quite proud that week after week NFL games are carried out with nary a hitch.

    Good job, everyone!

  16. Define “following football”. There are different levels of following football. Some are die hard and can name every starter on both sides of the ball, most can’t.

  17. Fantasy Football, is great and makes watching it worthwhile. Nuts to going to the games, crowds and usury pricing.
    Go Red Zone and miss all the getting up, scratching and those moronic announcers that will not shut up.

  18. raidermark says: Oct 6, 2012 9:06 AM

    It’s turning into the NBA. Tons of mediocre players and parity. Each team should be able to put out a competitive product.
    That’s up to ownership and management. Don’t try to blame your team’s failures on the NFL. Just because your team is full of mediocre players doesn’t mean the whole NFL is.

  19. “Wait a sec 41% of people in this country don’t follow football? Is there really that many Europeans living in America now?”

    No, the rest just don’t care for or don’t believe the hype.

  20. The NFL the king of sports. All the other sports especially college football have the power teams playing a bunch of cupcakes. With the NFL there’s so much parity that a small market team such as GB can win a title and all teams have an equal chance of winning except the Browns. And it’ll only get more popular. And to think people thought all those distractions the past few years would cause popularity to decline but proves that the shield is pretty much untouchable here in America.

  21. spellingcops:
    The NFL is ruled by mediocrity. Nearly every AFC team in last season’s playoffs was severely flawed.
    The Super Bowl featured a NINE-and-SEVEN team against the worst defense on the planet.
    That’s not good football.

  22. Despite the often questionable decisions on the part of the commish, it’s still the greatest game ever invented. Life wouldn’t be the same without it.

  23. Pennant race and playoff baseball has 10x the drama at its highest level. We just have a nation of ADHD addled people who need instant gratification and like to somehow project the toughness of the NFL on to themselves.

    The parity and the shaky rules make it hard to invest mentally into football once you see it for what it really is. Don’t get me wrong like the game, but numbers o sheeple watching does not determine the sporting value of a sport.


  24. The NFL can thank the NBA; stars deciding to only play in major markets and terrible officials that favor certain stars and MLB; a culture that doesn’t allow marketable stars (showing emotion is frowned upon) and Selig’s terrible media rules (no videos allowed on any website but mlb.com) in part to their growth.

  25. “Parity” is usually associated as a negative term, I prefer “Competitive Balance”, which is what makes the NFL so compelling.

    I’m betteing the #2 sport on this poll is College Football, which is good for the sport of football in general but that is a completely different game void of overall competitive balance, decided by polls and over-inflated meaningless scores.

    I don’t see the NFL relinquishing its #1 spot for a long time.

  26. Escapism. Peoples lives suck more than usual so interest in sports goes up. Happens every economic downturn in every country.

    Get rid of Roger and it would go even higher.

  27. I love football, played it my whole life through college, but the game is changing and evolving. In my opinion its bringing in more fans, while purists long for the prior days. It’s how most things go. Now you hear people at work who know next to nothing about the actual game itself talking about fantasy stats and acting like they know football. Good for the league and for money, but what does it really mean for the game itself?

  28. Never have so many watched something they know so little about…
    As a single man, I’ve encounter numerous women who claim to be “huge fans of the Steelers.” One such so-called die-hard — and I’m not making this up — didn’t know the difference between a defense and an offense. Such a minor detail among friends.
    Still, she wore her Troy Polamalu replicia jersey faithfully and with pride. She was/is nothing more than a fan of being a fan.
    Like the majority of alleged NFL fans, partying and socializing during a game has much more meaning than actually watching and knowing the game.
    Very sad.

  29. As a Die-Hard Buffalo Bills Fan since 1988, I believe there is nothing in the sports world even remotely close to the feeling of attending or simply watching an NFL game. Not only do i give Roger Goodell two thumbs up for what he has dealt with since becoming Commissioner, I give him a tip of the hat for coming to Buffalo and speaking with people from the community and New York State to make sure the Buffalo Bills stay in Western NY. Thanks Roger! Go Bills!!!! #BillsMafia

  30. stealersfannot says:
    Oct 6, 2012 7:47 AM
    I’d chalk more than a few of those percentage points up to the power of fantasy football to keep friends and family connected all across the country in a meaningful way.

    mattolikesthevikes says:
    Oct 6, 2012 8:39 AM
    Not Surprised because football awesome. You don’t see great rivalries in other sports that are as storied as nfl. The game alone is great but the history makes it better.
    Heard of college football and its rivalries, many going back for over one hundred years?

    The NFL didn’t gain popularity until the 1960s.

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