Sports Participation and Attendance

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For when the One Great Scorer comes 
to write against your name,
He marksnot that you won or lost
But how you played the game.
Grantland Rice (18801954)

People have been playing games in one form or another ever since the first time a pair of humans decided to start grappling for fun rather than over food. The number and variety of sports in which people have participated through the ages is impossible to calculate. In North America, Native Americans were playing lacrosse and many other organized sports before Europeans settled permanently on the continent. In addition, one need only think of gladiators doing battle at the Colosseum in ancient Rome to realize that people have been gathering to watch other people play sports for centuries as well. The following is a summary of sports participation and sports attendance in the United States, drawing information from government and industry publications.


There is no shortage of data available on sports participation in the United States. Participation is measured by market research firms, coordinating bodies of individual sports, and government agencies, among others. Sports participation is nevertheless a difficult thing to measure, and nobody has yet figured out how to measure it perfectly. People who go for a casual walk or swim at the beach may not think of themselves as engaging in a sport, but those interested in selling walking shoes or studying the health benefits of physical activity might disagree. Then there is the matter of defining the word participation does it mean a person plays the sport once per year, once per month, or only those who play almost every day? Besides determining who qualifies as a sports participant, the reliability of self-reported data presents additional problems. For example, can an individual accurately report that he played touch football with his friends twelve months ago rather than fifteen months ago? Distortion is inevitable, especially with regard to recreational activities that participants tend to engage in less frequently, such as scuba diving. There is also a tendency when responding to this kind of survey to want to receive credit for having participated in a sport, especially a glamorous one such as rock climbing, even if the respondent has not undertaken the activity in several years. Another way to assess participation is through sales of sports equipment. However, this approach also has its perils. As Harvey Lauer, the president of American Sports Data (ASD), observes in "Sports Participation Research: Not Yet a Science" (2006,, "80% of all athletic/sports shoes are never sweated in."

Participation Superstudy

Each year ASD, a leader in sports participation and fitness research, conducts a massive nationwide survey called the Superstudy of Sports Participation ( The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) analyzes data from the Superstudy and publishes reports on various aspects of sports participation in the United States. The SGMA's annual Sports Participation Topline Report (2006, outlines major trends in every category of sports participation. Table 2.1 shows trends in sports participation over the last two decades.


Table 2.2 shows the total number of people participating by sport in 2006. Basketball was the most popular team sport in which to engage. About 24.7 million Americans aged six and over reported that they played basketball at least once in 2006. Even though

1987 benchmark1990199319982000200420051 year % change (20042005)7 year % change (19982005)18 year % change (19872005)
Team sports
Ice hockey2,3932,7623,2042,9152,7611,9982,58529.411.38.0
Field hockeynanana1,3751,349nanananana
Football (touch)20,29220,89421,24117,38215,45612,99314,0838.419.030.6
Football (tackle)nananana5,6735,4405,7946.5nana
Football (net)nananana18,28516,43618,17910.6nana
Soccer (indoor)nanananana4,3495,02415.5nana
Soccer (outdoor)nanananana14,60815,7868.1nana
Soccer (net)15,38815,94516,36518,17617,73415,90017,0097.06.410.5
Softball (regular)nanana19,40717,58514,26712,8599.933.7na
Softball (fast-pitch)nanana3,7023,7954,0423,51912.94.9na
Softball (net)nanana21,35219,66816,94115,14410.629.1na
Volleyball (hard surface)nanananana11,76212,3715.2nana
Volleyball (grass)nanananana9,1637,31420.2nana
Volleyball (beach)na11,56013,50910,5728,7637,7416,88411.134.940.4a
Volleyball (net)35,98439,63337,75726,63722,87622,21620,9185.821.541.9
Racquet sports
Personal contact sports
Martial artsnanana5,3685,7226,8986,02812.612.328.2
Indoor sports
Table tennisna20,08917,68914,99913,79714,28614,1191.25.929.7a
Wheel sports
Roller hockeynana2,3233,8763,2871,7882,09417.146.09.9b
Roller skating (2×2 wheels)na27,10124,22314,75210,83411,10310,5544.928.561.1a
Roller skating (inline wheels)na4,69513,68932,01029,02417,34816,4904.948.5251.2a
Scooter riding (non-motorized)nananana13,88110,1969,6065.8nana
Other sports/activities
Bicycling (BMX)nananana3,9772,6422,4806.1nana
Bicycling (recreational)nanana54,57553,00652,02151,4311.15.8na
Swimming (recreational)nanana94,37193,97695,26891,3144.23.2na
Walking (recreational)nanana80,86482,56192,67787,6285.48.4na
Outdoors activities
Camping (tent)35,23236,91534,77242,67742,24141,56138,6027.19.59.6
Camping (recreational vehicle)22,65520,76422,18718,18819,03517,42418,2144.50.019.6
Camping (net)50,38650,53749,85850,65051,60649,41247,6233.66.05.5
Hiking (day)nanana38,62939,01539,33436,6236.95.2na
Hiking (overnight)nanana6,8216,7506,3966,2682.08.1na
Hiking (net)nanana40,11740,13340,71338,0066.65.3na
Horseback ridingnanana16,52216,98814,695nananana
Mountain biking1,5124,1467,4088,6117,8545,3346,46621.224.9327.6
Mountain/rock climbingnanana2,0041,9472,1612,2996.414.7na
Artificial wall climbingnanana4,6966,1177,6598,86915.888.9na
Trail runningnanana5,2495,2326,4866,1674.917.5na

basketball still enjoyed a comfortable lead over all other team sports, this figure represented a 9.7% drop since 2000. Football (almost 21 million, including both tackle and touch), baseball (16.1 million), and outdoor soccer (14.7 million) were the other team sports with the most participants in 2006. Like basketball, participation in

1987 benchmark1990199319982000200420051 year % change (20042005)7 year % change (19982005)18 year % change (19872005)
na=not applicable
aFifteen-year change.
bTwelve-year change.
c2003 figure is elevated due to change in category definition from "pistol" to "handgun."
*2005 measurement elevated due to addition of "hunting-handgun" category.
Shooting sports
Hunting (shotgun/rifle)25,24123,22023,18916,68416,48115,196*17,972*na*na*na
Hunting (bow)nanana4,7194,1203,6613,8023.919.4na
Shooting (sport clays)na2,9323,1002,7342,8433,2222,9648.08.41.1a
Shooting (trap/skeet)5,073nana3,8003,8274,0594,0460.36.520.2
Target shooting (rifle)nanana14,04212,98414,05713,7951.91.8na
Target shooting (hand gun)cnanananana11,93210,65010.7nana
Target shooting (net)c18,94721,84023,49818,33016,29318,03716,9006.37.810.8
Fishing (fly)11,3598,0396,5987,2696,5814,6236,54641.69.942.4
Fishing (freshwater-other)50,50053,20750,19845,80744,05039,43342,1236.88.016.6
Fishing (saltwater)19,64619,08718,49015,67114,71013,45313,0553.016.733.5
Fishing (net)58,40258,81655,44255,48853,84647,90650,9436.38.212.8
Winter sports
Ice skatingnanana18,71017,49614,69214,5810.822.1na
Skiing (cross-country)8,3447,2926,4894,7284,6134,0072,70132.642.967.6
Skiing (downhill)17,67618,20917,56714,83614,74911,97112,0470.618.831.8
Water sports
Jet skiingnanana11,20310,8357,9729,12914.518.5na
Scuba diving2,4332,6152,3063,4482,9013,4302,90015.415.919.2
Water skiing19,90219,31416,62610,16110,3356,8357,2826.528.363.4

each of these sports has been trending downward in recent years. The Superstudy defines core participants as those who engage in the sport over a given number of times per year, varying from sport to sport. In terms of percentage of core participants, the leading team sports are basketball, baseball, and slow-pitch softball. (See Table 2.3.)

Even though Topline Report data suggest that soccer participation has leveled off, there is ample evidence that soccer's emergence as a major sport in the United States continues. For example, the SGMA notes in Manufacturers Sales by Category Report2007 Edition (August 6, 2007, that sales of soccer balls and equipment rose from $280 million in 2005 to $300 million in 2006, an increase of 7%. Soccer is clearly a youth movement, which bodes well for the future of the sport. The SGMA reports in State of the Industry Report (2005) that as of 2004, 70% of all soccer players were between the ages of six and seventeen, and another 25% were aged eighteen to forty-four; the remaining 5% included both those under six years old and those aged forty-five and older.


Bowling, golf, and tennis remain quite popular pastimes among the American public. In the 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report (2007,, the SGMA indicates that 54.3 million Americans bowled in 2006, making it the most popular

Total participants
200620001 year change (2005 to 2006)6 year change (2000 to 2006)
Individual sports
Adventure racing809
Golf on a 9/18 hole course28,74328,0832.0%2.4%
Horseback riding11,57612.8%
Ice skating10,57812,9692.1%18.4%
Martial arts6,2706,4407.6%2.6%
Roller skating (2 × 2 wheels)8,1478,3550.1%2.5%
Roller skating (inline wheels)13,06923,2561.1%43.8%
Scooter riding (non-motorized)8,49511,06410.9%23.2%
Trail running4,436
Triathlon (non-traditional/off road)390
Triathlon (traditional/road)692
Racquet sports
Table tennis15,10712,72616.0%18.7%
Team sports
Field hockey943
Football (tackle)9,0168,8290.0%2.1%
Football (touch)11,97411,68612.5%2.5%
Ice hockey1,8492,61929.4%
Roller hockey1,2893,62464.4%
Soccer (indoor)4,811
Soccer (outdoor)14,6650.9%
Softball (fast pitch)1,8972,90434.7%
Softball (slow-pitch)8,64012,3244.1%29.9%
Track and field4,6382.9%
Ultimate frisbee4,0734.1%
Volleyball (beach)3,0724,86319.6%36.8%
Volleyball (court)6,0055.2%
Volleyball (grass)4,3288.6%

of all competitive sports in the United States. This figure represented an increase of nearly three million after several stable years. Bowling has been undergoing a transformation in the form that participation takes. In the past a large percentage of bowlers played on a team affiliated with a bowling league. The SGMA estimates that in the 1980s about two-thirds of all bowling was done by league bowlers; in the 2000s about one-third of all bowling takes place under the auspices of a league. The decline in the number of league bowlers has been compensated for by the addition of a great number of young, individual

Total participants
200620001 year change (2005 to 2006)6 year change (2000 to 2006)
Outdoor sports
Backpacking overnight - more than 1/4 mile from vehicle/home7,084
Bicycling (mountain/non-paved surface)6,9784.1%
Bicycling (road/paved surface)39,3989.1%
Birdwatching more than 1/4 mile from home/vehicle11,183
Camping (recreational vehicle)17,32818,2961.0%5.3%
Camping within 1/4 mile of vehicle/home36,1072.1%
Climbing (sport/indoor/boulder)5,215
Climbing (Traditional/ice/mountaineering)1,897
Fishing (fly)6,1216,7729.1%9.6%
Fishing (freshwater-other)44,59745,2143.1%1.4%
Fishing (saltwater)12,68414,9974.7%15.4%
Hiking (day)29,406
Hunting (bow)4,0534,8469.4%16.4%
Hunting (handgun)2,61114.8%
Hunting (rifle)11,2710.3%
Hunting (shotgun)9,0911.3%
Shooting (sport clays)3,6704,00912.2%8.5%
Shooting (trap/skeet)2,9343,32616.6%11.8%
Target shooting (handgun)9,7730.5%
Target shooting (rifle)11,91110,11410.8%17.8%
Wildlife viewing more than 1/4 mile from home/vehicle20,451
Water sports
Jet skiing6,7499,24413.3%27.0%
Kayaking (recreational)4,371
Kayaking (sea/touring)1,236
Kayaking (white water)1,007
Scuba diving2,912
Water skiing5,1108,49414.6%39.8%

bowlers. However, these bowlers are less serious about the sport than league players. Only 26% of bowlers in 2006 were core bowlers, meaning they bowled at least thirteen times. As a result of this shift, sales of bowling equipment have stagnated in spite of strong numbers of people who can be counted as participants.

The U.S. Bowling Congress notes that another challenge facing bowling is that the number of places to bowl has been decreasing for the last several years. This trend is partly the result of consolidation, as older, smaller bowling centers are replaced by larger, state-of-the-art facilities, many of which feature upscale decor and good food service, in contrast to the stereotypical grimy, beer-splashed

Rank/sportCore participantsTotal participation% of core participants
Basketball18,761,000 (13days)24,665,00076.1%
Baseball12,175,000 (13days)16,114,00075.6%
Slow-pitch softball5,665,000 (13days)8,640,00065.6%

dens of the mid-twentieth century. Newer bowling centers usually offer modern, automated scoring, as well as better in-house balls and shoes. Some are mega-centers offering other activities as well, including golf driving ranges, skating, or even basketball. Efforts to lure a younger crowd back to bowling alleys also include special events such as "Rock 'n' Bowl," or "Cosmic Bowling," which features glow-in-the-dark pins and discotheque or ultraviolet lighting.

As in the bowling industry, proprietors of billiards halls are attempting to shed the game's rough image in an effort to attract to the sport new players who may have previously been put off by pool's unsavory reputation. According to the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA; 2007,, 31.8 million people shot pool or billiards in 2006, which was a decline of 9.8% from the previous year. The SGMA states that the profile of the typical billiards player has changed over the past few decades. Pool halls were once frequented primarily by older men, but in the twenty-first century pool is becoming a sport played increasingly by women and young people. Since the 1980s many facilities have upgraded their traditional low-budget style, and most no longer resemble the no-nonsense rooms immortalized in movies such as The Hustler (1961). New and refurbished billiards rooms, similar to contemporary bowling centers, are well lit, clean, and frequently part of multi-activity facilities offering many recreation options.

The 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report shows that golf's popularity has remained fairly constant since 2000, when 28 million people hit the links. In 2006 the sport had 28.7 million participants. Tennis has been enjoying an upswing in popularity in recent years. In 2000 just over 13 million tennis enthusiasts hoisted a racket. By 2006 the total had grown by 12.2%, to 14.6 million. One factor in the resurgence of tennis is a conscious effort to democratize the sport. Once played primarily by the wealthy at country clubs, tennis is now available to people at all socioeconomic levels. The U.S. Tennis Association (USTA; 2007, has helped this trend along by investing heavily in programs aimed at growing the sport, including a $50-million initiative launched in 1997 called the USA Tennis Plan for Growth, which offered free lessons around the country; the USTA also has a Diversity Plan aimed at encouraging multicultural participation in a sport that has long been dominated by white players, coaches, and officials. Gains in minority participation have received a boost from the success and popularity of such African-American stars as Serena Williams (1981), Venus Williams (1980), and James Blake (1979). The 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report indicates that in 2006 other widely played racquet sports included table tennis (15.1 million participants), badminton (6.3 million), and racquetball (3.4 million).

National Sporting Goods Association Survey

The NSGA also conducts a broad nationwide survey on sports participation. The following are a few highlights from the 2006 NSGA survey.

Table 1.2 in Chapter 1 ranks sports and other physical activities by total participation and provides a useful snapshot of what Americans choose to do when they want to move their bodies.

Table 2.4 provides a sport-by-sport glance at trends in participation since 1996. According to NSGA data, basketball participation has declined over the past ten years, whereas football has enjoyed recent growth. Baseball and soccer have remained fairly stable. It is interesting to note that as participation in cycling has dropped off, skateboarding has attracted more participants. Similarly, the decrease in alpine skiing over the past ten years has been offset by growth in snowboarding.


The National Alliance for Youth Sports cites in "Sports Participation Key to Character Building, Study Finds" (2003, a 2004 survey sponsored by Velocity Sports Performance, an independent training program for athletes of all ages and skill levels. According to the survey, American adults believe it is important for children to participate in sports. For example, 36% of respondents believed that sports participation has the greatest impact on a youth's character, ranking ahead of such activities as after-school programs, travel, and summer camp. This sentiment was even more prevalent among the affluent, those with full-time jobs, and those under the age of fifty-five.

However, according to the NSGA, youth participation in team sports is on the decline. The population of seven- to seventeen-year-olds grew 9.5% between 1997 and 2006. (See Table 2.5.) Therefore, a sport that grows in participation any less than that among youths is not keeping up with population growth. According to NSGA data, youth baseball participation grew by just 3.5%. Basketball participation shrank by 12.8% during this

Aerobic exercising33.729.52928.625.824.1
Backpack/wilderness camp13.315.314.815.414.611.5
Bicycle riding35.640.339.743.143.553.3
Boating, motor/power29.322.826.624.225.728.8
Camping (vacation/overnite)48.655.355.449.946.544.7
Exercise walking87.584.782.286.377.673.3
Exercising with equipment52.452.246.844.846.147.8
Football (tackle)
Hockey (ice)
Hunting with bow & arrow5.
Hunting with firearms17.817.719.519.117.318.3
In-line roller skating10.511.718.821.82725.5
Mountain biking (off road)8.587.
Paintball games89.46.95.3nana
Scooter riding9.512.913.411.6nana
Skiing (alpine)
Skiing (cross country)
Target shooting17.119.218.914.812.814.7
Water skiing6.
Weight lifting32.926.225.124.8nana
Workout at club36.931.828.924.126.522.5

period. Even soccer, which is generally perceived as an emerging sport, saw participation growth among youth of only 2.7%. Hockey, football, skateboarding, and snow-boarding all saw strong increases in youth participation between 1997 and 2006.


According to NSGA survey data, the sports that drew the greatest number of female participants in 2006 (excluding exercise and recreational activities such as walking, aerobics, and camping) were swimming (31.1 million), bowling (22.1 million), and bicycling (16.1 million). (See Table 2.6.) Basketball, at 8.8 million participants, topped the list among team sports, with softball (6.8 million participants) and volleyball (6.6 million participants) not far behind. Golf, soccer, and tennis were also high on the list. Women represent a greater share of participants in some sports than in others. For example, 59.6% of the nation's volleyball players and 48.9% of tennis players in 2006 were female. Table 2.7 shows changes in participation among women between 2001 and 2006. Few sports experienced significant shifts in participation among women between these two years.

Emerging Sports


As participation in traditional team sports such as baseball and basketball stagnates, especially among youth and young adults, a generation of sports participants is turning instead to a class of activities collectively known as extreme sports. Even though there is no consensus on exactly which sports qualify as extreme, their binding characteristic can be loosely identified as pointing to sports that result in a so-called adrenaline rush, or a degree of risk-taking not associated with old-school sports. Most lists include

YearTotalvs. 1997 ChangeTotal 711vs. 1997 ChangeTotal 1217vs. 1997 Change
Total U.S.1997240,32519,46623,071
Total U.S.2006263,1389.50%19,4720.00%25,2619.50%
Bicycle riding
       Bicycle riding199745,11911,1908,482
       Bicycle riding200635,62121.10%7,87229.60%6,34125.30%
Fishing (fresh water)
       Fishing (fresh water)199738,9564,8315,025
       Fishing (fresh water)200636,6376.00%4,4707.50%4,06719.10%
Football (tackle)
       Football (tackle)19978,2191,8412,983
       Football (tackle)200611,88844.60%2,19919.50%4,14939.10%
Ice hockey
       Ice hockey19971,925304406
       Ice hockey20062,55932.90%43041.30%33517.50%
In-line skating
       In-line skating199726,5509,1527,163
       In-line skating200610,49760.50%3,10366.10%3,05457.40%
Mountain biking (off road)
       Mountain biking (off road)19978,1099971,192
       Mountain biking (off road)20068,5435.40%86313.50%1,00016.10%
Skiing (alpine)
       Skiing (alpine)19978,8669131,321
       Skiing (alpine)20066,39427.90%42253.80%88233.20%

skateboarding, rock climbing, snowboarding, mountain biking, BMX bicycling, and windsurfing. The boldest of extreme sportspeople will engage in such daredevilry as riding a motorcycle off of a ski jump. Many of these sports, according to Superstudy data, are among the fastest growing in the country.

Inline skating is by far the most popular extreme sport. (See Table 2.8.) In 2006, 16.5 million people aged six and over donned inline skates. Skateboarding was second, with 11.4 million participants. The SGMA notes in Extreme Sports: Forever Popular (July 6, 2006, that in 2006 most of these skateboarders

SportTotalPercent female
Exercise walking52.459.90%
Exercising with equipment26.951.30%
Aerobic exercising23.971.10%
Camping (vacation/overnite)23.849.00%
Workout at club20.556.30%
Bicycle riding16.145.30%
Boating, motor/power12.743.30%
Weight lifting11.635.20%
Backpack/wilderness camp5.642.30%
In-line roller skating5.552.50%
Scooter riding4.143.20%
Target shooting3.520.50%
Mountain biking (off road)335.70%
Water skiing2.742.50%
Hunting with firearms2.413.30%
Skiing (alpine)2.336.20%
Paintball games1.721.30%
Football (tackle)1.613.70%
Skiing (cross country)1.349.30%
Hunting with bow & arrow0.712.70%
Hockey (ice)0.621.40%

were a young group: 81% of them were between the ages of six and seventeen. However, the sheer number of people participating indicates that skateboarding and other extreme sports are not just the domain of the young. The numbers suggest that as this youthful core group ages, these sports may outgrow their "alternative" status and become mainstream.

The mark of extreme sports can be found across the entire sports spectrum. For example, as noted earlier, participation in snowboarding has soared, whereas skiing has not. It is no coincidence that nearly three-quarters of all snowboarders are under the age of twenty-four, according to the SGMA. Artificial wall-climbing, another popular extreme sport, with 8.9 million participants in 2006 (see Table 2.8), likewise illustrates the new demographics of sports: 54% of participants are female, according to the SGMA, and the average age of all climbers is 16.9. Climbing on real mountains and rocks is growing fast as well; participation grew by 21% between 2000 and 2006.


Among the fastest-growing team sports in the United States is lacrosse. Lacrosse is similar in form to hockey or soccer. It is played on a field by two teams of ten players. Players use netted sticks to throw and catch a small rubber ball and, ultimately, to propel the ball into the opponents' goal, which resembles a hockey goal. Lacrosse may be the oldest sport in North America. It originated among Native Americans and has been played in one form or another for at least five hundred years.

U.S. Lacrosse, the organization that coordinates lacrosse activity nationwide, estimates that there were 426,022 active lacrosse players in the United States in 2006, up from 253,931 in 2001. (See Table 2.9.) According to U.S. Lacrosse's most recent nationwide survey, about half of current players are in the youth category (220,797 in 2006). (See Table 2.10.) Another 169,625 played high school lacrosse, and 26,651 played at the collegiate level. Lacrosse has long been popular in the Northeast and in the mid-Atlantic states, but in the 2000s it has been surging in popularity in many parts of the country, including the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain states.


Soccer is the only well-established team sport that does not appear to be losing players, largely because of its growing popularity among young people. The organization U.S. Youth Soccer (2007, reports the registration of 3.2 million players between the ages of five and nineteenan impressive number when compared with the 100,000 registered members the organization had in 1974, the year it was founded. Moreover, two other smaller nationwide youth soccer agenciesthe American Youth Soccer Organization (2007, and the Soccer Association for Youth (2007, a combined 1.5 million members. The presence of these young soccer players on U.S. soccer fields, as well as the growing populations of people from places such as Latin America, where soccer has long reigned supreme among sports, is likely to lift soccer into prominence among adults in the coming years.


Besides asking individuals about their sports participation, the NSGA also tracks nationwide retail sales of sporting goods. Americans spent $90.5 billion on sports-related items in 2006 and were projected to spend slightly more in 2007. (See Table 2.11.) Of this total, $38.4 billion was spent on what the NSGA calls "recreational transport," a category that includes bicycles, pleasure boats, recreational vehicles, and snowmobiles. The other $52 billion was spent on what most people consider

SportTotal2006 total female2006 percent female2001 total female2001 percent femalePercent difference
Aerobic exercising33.723.971.10%17.873.20%2.10%
Backpack/wilderness camp13.35.642.30%5.739.50%2.80%
Bicycle riding35.616.145.30%17.244.00%1.30%
Boating, motor/power29.312.743.30%9.542.00%1.30%
Camping (vacation/overnite)48.623.849.00%21.447.00%2.00%
Exercise walking87.552.459.90%44.862.90%3.00%
Exercising with equipment52.426.951.30%22.552.30%1.00%
Football (tackle)11.91.613.70%0.89.00%4.70%
Hockey (ice)2.60.621.40%0.419.10%2.30%
Hunting with bow & arrow5.90.712.70%0.48.40%4.40%
Hunting with firearms17.82.413.30%2.412.70%0.50%
In-line roller skating10.55.552.50%10.152.50%0.00%
Mountain biking (off road)8.5335.70%231.50%4.20%
Paintball games81.721.30%0.814.70%6.60%
Scooter riding9.54.143.20%5.643.80%0.60%
Skiing (alpine)6.42.336.20%339.80%3.50%
Skiing (cross country)2.61.349.30%1.250.00%0.70%
Target shooting17.13.520.50%3.321.00%0.50%
Water skiing6.32.742.50%2.342.30%0.20%
Weight lifting32.911.635.20%7.233.70%1.50%
Workout at club36.420.556.30%13.94552.70%3.60%
  1. Inline skating: 16,490,000
  2. Skateboarding: 11,382,000
  3. Paintball: 10,357,000
  4. Artificial wall climbing: 8,869,000
  5. Snowboarding: 7,304,000
  6. Mountain biking: 6,466,000
  7. Trail running: 6,167,000
  8. Wakeboarding: 2,697,000
  9. BMX bicycling: 2,480,000
10. Mountain/rock climbing: 2,299,000
11. Roller hockey: 2,094,000
12. Boardsailing/windsurfing: 535,000

"sporting goods," including specialized equipment, footwear, and clothing. Footwear accounted for $16.9 billion of this spending and clothing for $10.7 billion.

Excluding apparel, footwear, and exercise equipment, hunting and firearms and golf equipment accounted for the largest shares of sports equipment purchased by Americans in 2006. (See Table 1.3 in Chapter 1.) Consumer purchases of golf gear tallied nearly $3.7 billion. According to the National Golf Foundation (2007,, avid golfers (those who play at least twenty-five rounds per year) account for nearly two-thirds of the spending, even though they make up less than a quarter of the nation's golfers. Hunting and firearms, one of the fastest-growing categories of consumer purchases, has now eclipsed golf, registering $3.7 billion in equipment sales in 2006.

Youth (non-high school, age 15 and under)220,797
High School169,625
Post-Collegiate Club8,649


Since 2000 the Gallup Organization has been asking Americans whether or not they are sports fans. A majority has said yes each year, though the 54% answering positively in June 2007 was the lowest yet recorded, well below the high of 66% in March 2003. (See Table 2.12.) Table 1.1 in Chapter 1 ranks each sport according to the percentage of people who say they are fans. Gallup data show that there are gender and generational differences in sports preference. Even though football was the top choice of both men (50%) and women (36%) in 2006, men were much more likely to name football as their favorite sport to watch. (See Table 2.13.) Women were four times as likely to name figure skating as their favorite. In 2006 adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four were more likely than older adults to call football their favorite sport, whereas more older adults made baseball their top choice. (See Table 2.14.)

Even though baseball has long been called the national pastime, as of December 2006 only 35% of the population considered themselves fans of the professional version of the sport. (See Table 2.15.) A much greater percentage of the population, 50%, considered themselves football fans as of December 2005. (See Table 2.16.) Even though basketball has surpassed baseball as a favorite sport for Americans to watch, college basketball has declined in popularity somewhat in recent years. In April 2006, 29% of respondents called themselves college basketball fans, compared with 38% five years earlier. (See Table 2.17.)


Gallup polls have shown over the years a general shift among American sports fans away from baseball and toward basketball and football, but the pace of this shift has been even more pronounced among African-Americans. In "The Disappearing Black Baseball Fan" (July 15, 2003,, Jeffrey M. Jones of the Gallup Organization states that 43% of African-Americans named baseball as their favorite sport in 1960, compared with 33% of the overall American public. This strong preference among African-Americans may have been the result of the integration of professional baseball over the previous decade, beginning with Jackie Robinson (19191972) crossing baseball's "color line" in 1947, followed by the emergence of African-American stars such as Willie Mays (1931), Hank Aaron (1934), Ernie Banks (1931), and Frank Robinson (1935).

Jones notes that a Gallup analysis found that by 1985 the percentage of African-Americans calling baseball

20002001200220032004200520062007aChange 06 vs 05
bBicycles, pleasure boats, RVs and snowmobiles; projections provided by other associations.
Recreational transportb28,77928,71232,10632,39636,53138,08238,38937,0351%
Yes, sports fanNo, not a fan
2007 Jun 135445
2006 May 575644
2005 Feb 25276337
2005 Feb 465842
2005 Jan 795644
2004 Dec 17195743
2004 Jan 9116238
2003 Aug 465644
2003 Jul 25276337
2003 Jun 27295742
2003 Apr 22236139
2003 Mar 14156634
2003 Feb 24266139
2003 Jan 356238
2002 Dec 9106238
2001 Aug 24265742
2001 Jan 15165842
2000 Apr 28306237
*Less than 0.5%.
Auto racing53
Ice/figure skating14
Ice hockey23

their favorite support had fallen to just 17%, a drop that far outpaced the decline among white fans, from 32% to 19%. Combined polls from 2000 to 2002 demonstrate a continuation of the decline of baseball's popularity among African-Americans. By this time, only 5% said baseball was their favorite sport. Meanwhile, both basketball and football had gained substantial popularity among

18 to 3435 to 4950+
*Less than 0.5%.
Auto racing273
Ice/figure skating233
Ice hockey142

African-American sports fans: Football was the favorite of 31%, and basketball was the favorite of 37%.

The contrast between the sports preferences of white and African-American fans is striking. Jones combines the Gallup data from 2002 and 2003 and shows that when asked simply whether they are baseball fans and whether they are basketball fans, white respondents gave baseball an edge over basketball, 39% to 28%. Nearly twice as many African-American respondents said they were basketball fans (60%) as said they were baseball fans (33%). Jones's analysis of these results suggests two possible reasons for the differences:

  • The dominance of professional basketball by African-American players
  • The relative lack of baseball facilities and programs in urban areas with predominantly African-American populations


In December 2006 football was the favorite sport to watch in every region of the country, ranging from 48% in the South to 38% in the West. Many of those westerners who did not choose football as their favorite opted to watch basketball; nearly twice as many in the West (19%) called basketball their favorite sport than in any other region. Interestingly, auto racing, a sport with deep roots in the South, was the favorite sport to watch by people in the East (5%) than in the South (4%). (See Table 2.18.)

Figure 2.1 shows that 68.4% of American adults were professional football fans in 2006, by far the biggest fan

Yes, a fanSomewhat of a fan (vol.)No, not a fan
2006 Dec 81035659
2006 Sep 151737954
2006 Jul 2123401248
2006 Jun 91147943
2006 Apr 7933858
2006 Mar 1012371053
2005 Dec 911361153
2005 Aug 57371053
2005 Mar 182039952
2005 Jan 141641752
2004 Dec 5843948
2004 Mar 262836955
2003 Oct 2426441145
2003 Oct 101242850
2003 Jun 2729361054
2003 Jun 910391150
2002 Nov 810381349
2002 Aug 192137854
2002 Jul 2628371053
2002 Jun 78351648
2002 Mar 2224441046
2002 Jan 1114361153
2001 Nov 2627381052
2001 Nov 24451144
2001 Jun 810351451
2001 Mar 2628461044
2000 May 57351154
2000 Apr 2830401248
2000 Mar 30Apr 2451045
1999 Nov 1821451639
1999 Oct 2124371053
1999 Jul 1314401941
1999 Mar 1921341551
1998 Oct 912471439
1998 Sep 1415451837
1998 Jun 2223341056
1996 Mar 1517381052

base among all sports. Major League Baseball (59.1%) and college football (58.2%) had the next biggest fan bases. Table 2.19 tracks the fan bases of major sports since 2001. It shows that the fan base for football, both professional and college, has grown in recent years, whereas the professional basketball and hockey fan bases have shrunk slightly. Baseball has remained relatively stable. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) fan base, which experienced explosive growth during the 1990s, has tapered off since 2001.


Attendance trends vary considerably from one sport to another, and in general one sport's loss, whether

Yes, a fanSomewhat of a fan (vol.)No, not a fan
2005 Dec 91150941
2004 Dec 5858636
2003 Jan 232550941
2001 Mar 262854937
2001 Mar 911481438
2001 Jan 1516441442
2000 Aug 2427421246
1999 Mar 5747944
1999 Jan 2224511039
1998 Jan 1618451143
Yes, a fanSomewhat of a fan (vol.)No, not a fan
2006 Apr 7929665
2004 Dec 5835659
2004 Mar 262832662
2002 Mar 182037558
2001 Mar 262838952

because of scandal or declining interest, translates into another sport's gain. Professional sports teams rely on revenue from ticket sales to cover much of the cost of the huge salaries they pay their players. At the college level, ticket sales are a big part of what keeps university athletic programs solvent.

Major Sports


Even though the national pastime seems to have lost some of its luster in terms of participation and self-identified fan base over the decades, the public is still taking itself out to the ball game. According to the

*Less than 0.5%.
Auto racing5443
Ice/figure skating2142
Ice hockey4212

Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN), approximately 75.9 million fans attended Major League Baseball (MLB) games during the 2006 regular season, a new record. Average attendance at MLB games for the year was 31,419. Eight different teams topped the three-million mark for home games. One team, the New York Yankees, drew 4.2 million fans during the season for the second year in a row, also averaging more than fifty-one thousand paid attendees for the second straight season. No other team has achieved a higher season total or per-game average since 1993. Only three teamsthe Kansas City Royals, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and the Florida Marlinsdrew fewer than twenty thousand fans per game to the stadium.


Professional basketball is enjoying strong ticket sales in the 2000s. Attendance at National Basketball Association (NBA) games during the 200607 regular season reached 21.8 million, breaking the league's all-time record. The Chicago Bulls led the pack in home attendance for the season, drawing a total home-court crowd of 908,600, or an average of 22,160 over the course of their forty-one home games. The Bulls were followed closely by the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Dallas Mavericks, each enjoying average home-game attendance of more than twenty thousand. The Memphis Grizzlies finished at the bottom of the league in attendance numbers. Memphis crowds averaged 14,654 per game, for a season total of 600,836.

On a team-by-team basis, attendance in the NBA has a lot to do with the success of the team and the size of the city. It is not difficult to predict that a winning team in a large city is likely to sell more tickets than a lousy team

College football54.754.955.856.156.258.2
College basketball46.044.945.646.346.447.1

in a small market. Perhaps more than any other sport, however, professional basketball attendance is influenced by personalities. The acquisition of a truly high-profile playersuch as Shaquille O'Neal (1972) or Kevin Garnett (1976)can lead to a spike in ticket sales for the star's new team. Periodically, a player or set of players emerges with such charisma that the entire league's attendance numbers benefit. This was the case in the 1980s, when the ongoing rivalry between the team of Magic Johnson (1959)the Los Angeles Lakersand that of Larry Bird (1956)the Boston Celticsspurred a surge of interest throughout the league. Michael Jordan (1963) had a similar impact in the 1990s.


The National Football League (NFL) also set a new overall attendance record for the 2006 regular season. League-wide, an average of 68,773 fans attended NFL games, for a total paid attendance of 17.6 million for the season. The Washington Redskins led the league in attendance. The pride of the nation's capital attracted 701,049 paying customers over the course of its eight home games in 2006, for an average of 87,631 fans per game. New York City is a big enough market not only to have two NFL squadsthe Jets and the Giantsbut also to have these two teams place second (Giants) and fourth (Jets) in attendance. (Both the Jets and the Giants play their home games at the Meadowlands stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City.) As with all spectator sports, one of the most important factors in an NFL team's attendancealong with market size and personalitiesis team performance. However, in 2006 market size clearly trumped performance: The Indianapolis Colts, the eventual champs of the 2007 Super Bowl, had the lowest regular-season attendance in the league, drawing paid attendance of 57,144 per game, for a regular-season total of 457,154 fans.

The Super Bowl, which determines the NFL champion from between the champions of its two conferences, is much more about television viewing than about live attendance. Its paid attendees are limited by the size of the venue, which changes each year. For example, the NFL (2007, notes that Super Bowl XLI brought 74,512 ticket-holders to Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Florida, on February 4, 2007, to see the Indianapolis Colts defeat the Chicago Bears. This was nowhere near record attendance for a Super Bowl; according to the NFL (2007,, in 1980, 103,985 spectators packed the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV.


National Hockey League attendance for the 200607 season was nearly twenty-one million, a new record. ESPN ( notes that this represented a small increase over the previous record set a season earlier, when the league's games drew 20.8 million in paid attendance. It represented a much larger increase over the 200405 season, when attendance was zero; that entire season was canceled because of labor turmoil. The top draw in 200607 was the Montreal Canadiens, with 872,193 spectators over the course of the season, for an average of 21,273 per home game. The only other team to attract more than twenty thousand fans per game was the Detroit Red Wings, a perennial powerhouse. The Red Wings' total paid attendance for the season was 822,706. The St. Louis Blues had the poorest turnout for the season, with total attendance of 513,345.


Even as soccer emerges as a major sport in the United States, attendance at Major League Soccer (MLS) games has stagnated over the last several years. According to the MLS (2007,, MLS games drew an average of 15,504 fans during the 2006 regular season. The MLS (November 18, 2004,*equals;stats_league) states that this figure fell short of the 15,559 league average in 2004. The MLS further reports (October 30, 2006, that the top drawing team in 2006 was the Los Angeles Galaxy, whose home game averaged twenty-one thousand per game. The Galaxy expected to boost attendance further in 2007 with the signing of the British megastar David Beckham (1975).


Auto racing has enjoyed a surge in popularity during the 2000s. The most prominent auto racing event in the United States is the Indianapolis 500 (Indy 500), which is held on Memorial Day weekend each year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 2007 race was the ninety-first Indy 500. The Indy 500 does not release official attendance figures, but according to Curt Cavin, in "Busch Makes Amends, Finishes 4th at Brickyard" (Indianapolis Star, July 30, 2007), NASCAR estimated that more than 270,000 fans packed the grandstand for the 2007 event.

However, the Indy Racing League (IndyCar) is only one faction of the broader auto racing scene. There is also NASCAR, which has become such a phenomenon that its followers (also know as NASCAR dads) are now viewed by political analysts as a powerful voting bloc alongside so-called "soccer moms." The Super Bowl of the NASCAR circuit is the Daytona 500, which is held in February at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. Like the Indy 500, exact attendance figures for Daytona are not released, but David Caraviello reports in "Martin Finds Himself Odd Man out Again" (February 20, 2007, that 185,000 people attended the event in 2007. Besides the IndyCar and NASCAR circuits, there are the Champ Car Series, the Formula One Grand Prix series, the National Hot Rod Association, and various smaller racing circuits. Of these races, NASCAR has by far the greatest overall attendance numbers, drawing 4.4 million spectators in 2004, according to John W. Schoen, in "Auto Racing Revs Up Revenues, Profits" (May 28, 2005,

Attend one or more times a monthAttend less than once a month
Auto racingNASCAR2,6641.28,5184.0
Auto racingother2,4401.16,0832.8
       College games4,3832.07,4853.5
       Professional games3,2021.59,1684.3
Equestrian events5740.33,5341.6
Figure skating6960.33,3301.5
Fishing tournaments7160.33,1321.5
       College games6,3082.99,5134.4
       Monday night professional games1,9580.94,4932.1
       Weekend professional games3,8091.89,5914.4
High school sports12,0875.68,3633.9
Horse racing:
       Flats, runners1,2810.63,8421.8
       Trotters and harness7450.42,7471.3
Ice hockey1,9730.96,7543.1
Motorcycle racing9800.53,5541.7
Pro beach volleyball2540.12,7311.3
Rodeo/bull riding1,1900.64,2672.0
Truck and tractor pull/mud racing6550.33,6381.7
Wrestling professional1,2430.63,6041.7

However, by late 2006 the industry was concerned about an apparent dip in attendance at auto racing events, as reported by Nate Ryan, in "NASCAR's Growth Slows after 15 Years in the Fast Lane" (USA Today, November 15, 2006) and by Terry Blount, in "NASCAR Not Hitting Panic Button over Ratings" (November 16, 2006,, reflecting a possible end to the NASCAR boom.


It can be assumed that what draws these hundreds of thousands of spectators to auto races such as the Indy 500 each year is the speedthe experience of watching people hurtle around a track at well over two hundred miles per hour. However, people also jam Boston's streets each year to watch a race in which the fastest entrant averages a mere twelve miles per hour. That race is the Boston Marathon, the most famous marathon in the world. Each year, according to the Boston Athletic Association (2007,, 500,000 spectators line the streets along the marathon's 26.2-mile route. Few other sports in the world are witnessed live by as many people as is the Boston Marathon.

Table 2.20 presents information on 2005 attendance at various sporting events by adults. Table 2.21 puts attendance patterns for a handful of sports into historical perspective, using data dating back to 1990.

aBeginning 1997, two rounds of playoffs were played. Prior years had one round.
bSeason ending in year shown.
cFor women's attendance total, excludes double-headers with men's teams.
dFor season ending in year shown.
eIn September 2004, franchise owners locked out their players upon the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. The entire season was cancelled in February 2005.
Baseball, major leagues:
              Regular season1,00054,82450,46972,74872,26767,85967,56873,02374,926
                     National League1,00024,49225,11039,85139,55836,94936,66140,22141,644
                     American League1,00030,33225,35932,89832,70930,91030,90832,80233,282
              World Series1,000209286277366306365174168
       Players' salaries:
Basketball:b, c
       NCAA Men's college:
       NCAA Women's college:
National Hockey League:d
       Regular season attendance1,00012,5809,23418,80020,37320,61520,40922,065e
       Playoffs attendance1,0001,3561,3291,5251,5841,6911,6361,709e
Professional rodeo:
       Permit holders (rookies)Number3,2903,8353,2492,5442,5433,1212,9902,701
       Total prize moneyMillion dollars18.224.532.333.133.334.335.536.6