Sports Fandom is up in 2023 versus 2022. Overall, the percentage of Americans claiming to be sports fans is up about 1.5%, from 38.8% in 2022 to 40.3% in 2023. But this is the response to a generic question about being a sports fan. What is happening at the level of specific sports?
The Figure below shows the percentage of Americans claiming to be fans of Football, Basketball, Baseball, Hockey, Soccer, and Esports in 2022 and 2023. Fandom is up, but the increases vary across sports.
Football remains the most popular sport in the US, with 42.2% of the population expressing fandom.
Basketball finishes 2nd at 29.7%, with Baseball 3rd at 24.6%. Basketball’s lead over Baseball increased from 3.5% in 2022 to 5.1% in 2023.
Soccer has passed Hockey to move into the number 4 spot with a 16.7% fandom rate versus Hockey at 15.6%.
Esports fandom comes in at 11.8%.
The data suggests several essential insights about the American sports and cultural landscape. American sports fandom and American culture are evolving. Sports has been theorized to be a consistent and unifying force in society, but sports fandom is undergoing significant structural changes.
The growth in sports fandom is likely a rebound effect from the disruptions of the COVID era. Long-term technology, media, and demographic trends have stressed sports fandom. We may be reaching a new (perhaps temporary equilibrium).
American sports is no longer about a Big 3 (or 4) sports. The market structure includes a dominant sport in Football and two large but second-level competitors in Basketball and Baseball. Football is currently the sole mass-market sport. This is a critical cultural story as the NFL and College Football are among the few remaining societally unifying cultural products.
Basketball’s lead over Baseball has grown and may be permanent as demographics and technology trends seem more likely to bolster basketball fandom in the future.
The competition between Soccer and Hockey for the 4th slot is driven by many of the same factors as the battle between Basketball and Baseball. Soccer fandom skews younger and International soccer leagues and competitions create a glamour around soccer that the NHL will struggle to overcome.
Esports fandom continues to rise. While Esports trails the other sports, an 11.8% fandom rate for a sport that may have limited appeal to older generations is impressive.