Football frenzy: Half of Americans are professional football fans

September 10, 2015

With the NFL regular season officially underway, new research from Mintel reveals that half of Americans are professional football fans (50 percent), making the sport a clear fan-favorite among US adults. Joining professional football at the top of sports fans’ must-watch list are college football (35 percent), professional baseball (32 percent) and professional basketball (30 percent).

According to Mintel research, two thirds of US adults are sports fans (67 percent), individuals who watch at least half of their favorite team’s games or events in at least one sport. Per Mintel’s definition, 56 percent of women and 80 percent of men qualify as sports fans. Though men (63 percent) are much more likely than women (38 percent) to watch football, it is the most popular sport among fans regardless of gender. In fact, 38 percent of men report that they almost never miss their favorite football team’s game. A similar trend is seen among college football fans, with 45 percent of men and 26 percent of women reporting that they are fans. In conjunction, baseball and basketball rank third and fourth most popular among men and women, with men (43 percent) being twice as likely as women (22 percent) to be fans of professional baseball and professional basketball (40 percent vs 21 percent of women).

Furthermore, male sports fans are more likely to play fantasy sports (23 percent) than women (13 percent), with men (45 percent) showing greater interest in game and player statistics than women (31 percent).

“Following sports is a widely popular tradition in the US due to a rich history at both the collegiate and professional levels, as well as the notion that athletics embody the American ideals of hard work, perseverance and striving for greatness. Our research shows that sports like college and professional football have strong fan bases among male and female sports fans and are as much of an American pastime as baseball,” said Lauren Bonetto, Lifestyles and Leisure Analyst at Mintel. “Furthermore, the popularity of fantasy sports illustrates the level of dedication Americans have to sports overall and could lead to increased engagement as those in fantasy leagues may watch additional games to gain a competitive edge.”

Importance of the tailgate spread

29% of American sports fans eat chili during games

The majority of sports fans agree that eating and drinking is a big part of watching sports (60 percent). Nearly all sports fans consume beverages while watching sports at home with at least half reaching for water, soda or beer. Among sports fans age 21 and older, 63 percent report consuming alcoholic beverages while watching sports, with 50 percent of these fans drinking beer. In comparison, 54 percent of fans report drinking soda and 64 percent drink water while watching sports.

Though many fans drink alcohol while watching sports, it appears few are “drinking to get drunk;” sports fans tend to opt for beer (50 percent) and wine (31 percent) over mixed drinks with hard alcohol (28 percent). In particular, male sports fans are significantly more likely than female fans to consume beer while watching sports (56 percent vs 42 percent).

Overall, 83 percent of fans snack while watching sports. Mintel research shows that 82 percent of US adults buy salty snacks for themselves, and sports fans are no exception: 68 percent of fans eat salty snacks while watching sports. Outside of snacks, chili, a staple of some football tailgate spreads, is eaten by nearly one third of sports fans (29 percent) during games.

Millennials use game time to socialize

While two thirds of fans prefer to watch games from the comfort of their own home rather than in person (69 percent), nearly half of American sports fans view sports as a tool for socializing. A full 46 percent agree that following sports is more about being social than anything else, including 59 percent of Millennials.

Millennials are also most likely to agree with similar motivations for watching sports. Three quarters (74 percent) of sports fans agree that following sports is a good way to bond with family and friends, increasing to 78 percent of Millennials. Further, 52 percent of sports fans overall and 67 percent of Millennials agree that following sports makes them feel more connected to their community. Millennial sports fans are the most likely generation to watch sports with others, including 45 percent who report watching with friends, compared to 34 percent of fans overall.

Compared to Millennials, children show less interest in watching sports. In 2014, a third of kids age 6-11 watched sports on TV at least occasionally (33 percent). This is down from 39 percent in 2013, and is a sharp decline from 2008, when nearly half of children age 6-11 reported watching sports (45 percent).

“Millennials tend to agree that following sports is about being social. Our data indicates Millennials prefer to watch sporting events as part of a larger group and gravitate towards social media in order to stay connected and engaged both online and offline,” concluded Bonetto.


Press review copies of the Marketing to Sports Fans US 2015 report and interviews with Lauren Bonetto, Lifestyles and Leisure Analyst, are available on request from the press office.

Mintel News

For the latest in consumer and industry news, top trends and market perspectives, stay tuned to Mintel News featuring commentary from Mintel’s team of global category analysts.

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