Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

January 26, 2011

A Lot Of People Like Auto Racing as a Favorite Sport

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 12:01 am

Sports Business Daily used data from a recurring Harris Poll to measure the most popular sports according to fans who follow sports. The current list is interesting because auto racing is in fourth place, behind only the NFL, Major League Baseball and college football. It is ahead of the NBA, NHL and college basketball, among others.

The numbers are here: http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2011/01/Jan-25/Ratings-and-Research/Harris-Poll.aspx

The NFL’s #1 slot has 31% of the vote (up from 24% in 1985). Baseball is at 17% (down from 23% in 1985). College football holds steady at around 12%, and that is up slightly from 1985.

Youthful cart enthusiasts are likely to be bitter and shriek hysterically when they see data that clearly shows cart was not more popular in 1985 than today. Auto racing got 7% of the vote in 2010…and the trend is steady during the Tony George Indy Car years with 9% in 2009, 8% in 2008 and 7% in 1998, but only 5% in 1985.

One of the desperate yelps we will no doubt hear is that Indy Car does not register and all the numbers are for NASCAR. Fair enough. Were they for NASCAR in 1985 when cart was supposedly vibrant and NASCAR was not as popular? The poll says ‘auto racing’ and Indy Car is auto racing (as is NASCAR, F1, short trackers, road racers, etc.).

What is this sport more popular than? NBA, NHL, Soccer, college basketball, golf, track, bowling, tennis, boxing, horse racing and any sport in which women only compete.



  1. I am pretty sure that a 2% difference in a survey like that would just be down to statistical inaccuracies. ( ie down to who they surveyed). You could only really take any real inference from the data if the change is in the region of about 4 or 5% , or if the sample size was in the order of hundreds of thousands of randomly selected people accros the entire population. So the statistics don’t back up what you are saying.

    Comment by nosh — January 26, 2011 @ 10:57 am | Reply

    • But they don’t seem to disagree with what your saying either, a more indepth study of randomly picked motorsports fans would need to be done to find the true answer, with the survey including people who may not have autosport as their most favorite sport but still have it pretty high up there in terms of what they follow.

      Comment by nosh — January 26, 2011 @ 2:08 pm | Reply

      • Also seems that motorsport is pretty unpopular in the US when compared to here in australia, with motorsport being the third most popular sport here, with about 20-30% of people watching it in various forms.

        Comment by nosh — January 26, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  2. There are three kinds of lies. Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. That being said, I’m not accusing you of lying. Not at all. The poll results are out there. I’m just saying you’re using accurate statistics to promote an inaccurate argument.

    First, I’d question the poll methodology itself. Why use ‘Auto Racing’ as a catch all term? Football is broken down into pro and college. Basketball the same; even further it’s broken down into men and women. I know the argument; college basketball is different from pro, college football is different from the NFL. If you buy that, then you have to question why Harris lumped auto racing into one sport. Why NOT differentiate IndyCar from NASCRAP from F1 from ALMS from Short Track from Drag Racing? Using a vague concept like Auto Racing either prevents you from drawing real, accurate conclusions from the numbers or, at the opposite spectrum (should you be so inclined) allows you to flat out make sh%t up.

    Also, the question is ‘What is your FAVORITE sport’? Not ‘What sports do you follow’? Or ‘What sports do you watch on a regular basis’? By the Harris Poll, the people who listed the NFL as their favorite sport dropped by 4% from 2009 to 2010. During that time, NFL viewership went up. Way up. (Check the link: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2011/01/13/nfl-2010-tv-recap-most-viewed-season-ever/78564) The record levels of NFL viewership (up from record levels just set last year), don’t jibe with the supposed drop in popularity. Again, lies, damn lies, and statistics.

    Finally, I’ll argue with your conclusions. You say ‘clearly shows cart was not more popular in 1985 than today.’ It doesn’t. All it shows that in 1985, 5% of those surveyed listed Auto Racing as their favorite sport. That’s all it shows. That and in the last 25 years, that popularity has risen from 5 to 7%. You mention that Auto Racing stayed steady during the Tony George IRL years. True. It was 7% in 1998, and 8% in 2008. (You do, seem to overlook the results of the 2002 poll (taken during 2001), where it spiked to 10%. You remember 2001? The year NASCAR went network TV and had a HUGE ratings spike?). You can’t ignore the fact that NASCAR has become more popular over the past quarter century; but other than believing your eyes, you can’t tell that from the poll. You can argue that the reason it stayed constant was because while NASCAR was increasing OWR popularity was decreasing. But you can’t tell that from the poll. Unless Harris breaks it down by specific sport, any conclusions drawn smell of stuff that gets pulled out of someone’s backside.

    Mark Twain was right a century ago. ‘Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”‘. Give me those poll numbers, and the freedom to arrange them myself, and I can prove, or disprove anything.

    Editor’s Note: A couple of observations. First, stop using zap2it as a basis for any argument. If you want real numbers and not just 12+ meaningless trivia answers; i.e., if you want to the look at numbers ad buyers do, you need to get your figures from Nielsen. Not some web site that publishes 12+ summaries. Using those just makes people doing that look foolish. Second, NASCAR or no NASCAR, the numbers shoot down the cart apologist argument that cart was some sort of utopia in its heydey. It wasn’t. Not even close. There is probably no reason to split hairs for divisions of auto racing because non-fans do not think of it in that way. I guess if Harris or Street & Smith wanted to they could lump ‘football’ or ‘basketball’ together as a sport, but they didn’t. So it is what it is. And I believe it does bolster the argument that militant cart fans stuck in 1995 really are idiots when they decry the relative lack of popularity they say Indy Car has.

    Comment by Steven Kornya — January 26, 2011 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

    • Getting into an argument with Defender. Why do I feel I’m going to regret this later? Let me prepare. Facts, check. Spell check, done. Grammar? Okay. Profanity? Deleted. Alright, here we go.

      First, you want to argue Nielsen ratings? Really? Fine. I’m not a CART apologist, but prove your point. Put up Nielsen ratings from 1995 for CART and 2010 for IndyCar. Shouldn’t be that difficult, right? Show the demographic breakdowns. Don’t try and spin your argument with how they’re immaterial because of the increase in cable and the internet. Don’t try and confuse the issue with ‘alternative media’ this, and ‘change in broadcast modalities’ that, and throw out numbers about ‘up 40% in the 19-34 demo’ (which even I know ISN’T the media-buying target demo; that’d be M 25-49). If you seriously want to prove your point, give us the numbers. Which to the best of my recollection you have never done. To use your words: “If you want to the look. at numbers ad buyers do, you need to get your figures from Nielsen.”. So lets see the numbers.

      Editor’s Note: Ah, would it not be grand if life was that simple? It’s not. First, in order to post such numbers I either would have had to have purchased/licensed them from Nielsen, or have expressed written permission from entities that have purchased/licensed them to use them in some whizzing contest on the Internet. Here is what I can say without getting into too much trouble. Raw ratings in target demos were higher in in the 80s and 90s for cart than they are today for Indy Car. Similarly, ratings for all sports in the survey were proportionately higher (in many cases MUCH higher) in the 80s and 90s than they are today. This is largely because fragmentation and signal delivery alternatives that exist today did not exist then. Proportionately, the numbers in the Street & Smith Harris poll are very accurate. In other words, higher ratings in the 80s and 90s have nothing to do with any perceived notion of quality. Had the IRL been around then, the numbers would have probably equaled or exceeded the cart numbers. Ad buyers never, and I emphasize the word NEVER, ever use trending from fifteen or twenty years ago in their decision process. Two, maybe.

      Second, Seriously? You’re disputing NFL television ratings because I culled them from Zap2It? Fine. How’s this source working for you?

      I just gave you the numbers FROM Nielsen, released by the league iself. Which contradicts the results of the poll. If record numbers of people are watching on TV, how can a poll showing that the popularity of the sport declined not have its validity questioned? And you’re saying I look foolish?

      Editor’s Note: All of those numbers are still only eye 12+ eye candy. There are no deep dive Nielsen numbers in there. And no one is arguing that the NFL does not have great numbers. They do. That is not the point.

      And I stick with my conclusions. Which WASN’T that the poll showed that CART in 1985 was ratings utopia. Or more popular than the stick and ball sports. Again, it wasn’t. And I never argued as such. The poll shows that the number of people who listed ‘Auto Racing’ as their favorite sport increased obver the past 25 years. That’s it. It doesn’t show what is responsible for the increase (or for that matter, what is responsible for the decline this season.) Personally, I think that the primary reason for the INCREASE in popularity between 1985 and the present is significantly tied to the spike in NASCAR viewership; something that even you can’t deny the existence of. And the decline from last year to this year is caused by the decline in same.

      Finally, again, you say that there is “probably no reason to split hairs for divisions of auto racing because non-fans do not think of it in that way”. But the poll wasn’t about ‘non-fans’. It was about fans. And you know as well as anyone that there ARE divisions in fans. Just because a fan’s favorite sport is NASCAR, doesn’t mean he watches IndyCar; and vice versa. You’ve made the leap to suggest that the poll shows that somehow IndyCar now is more popular than CART was in its heyday. I’m not saying it isn’t, I’m not saying it is. What I’m saying is that basing your conclusions/answer on the results of a poll that NEVER ASKED THE QUESTION IN THE FIRST PLACE is ridiculous. Like I said. Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.

      Editor’s Note: Statistics are very fun to interpret toward subjective conclusions. In the poll, however, Indy Car = NASCAR = F1 = any form of motor sport.

      Comment by Steven Kornya — January 26, 2011 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

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