Americans share a passion for sports, loving some and hating others with equal intensity, all the while pumping up a $75 billion a year business.
They love football, the Olympics, baseball, basketball and figure skating, making those the most popular spectator sports in the country.They hate to watch wrestling, golf, boxing, Roller Derby and hockey - or at least enough people do to put those sports atop the most unpopular list.
Men and women disagree strongly about every Top 20 sport except the Olympics, swimming, skiing and thoroughbred racing. Men are big on football, baseball, basketball and boxing; women prefer skating and gymnastics.
Auto racing may pack huge crowds at the tracks, but Indy-CART ranks only No. 26 in popularity, just behind NASCAR. And floating somewhere between mild interest and general indifference are tennis and World Cup soccer.
Those are some of the findings of the most detailed survey ever of America's sports tastes, breaking down preferences by sex, age, income, race, job, household status, education, and region to serve companies in the $20 billion sports marketing industry.
The information may be just as valuable to the teams, television and radio networks and other businesses that account for an additional $55 billion in annual sports spending.
``There's so much money at stake in sports marketing and advertising, all deals are being carefully scrutinized. We needed all the information we could get,' said Nye Lavalle, chairman of the Sports Marketing Group in Dallas, who released results of the survey Wednesday to The Associated Press after keeping them secret for proprietary reasons since last year.
In interviews at homes in 175 key census areas nationwide, 2,060 people were asked to give their opinions of 71 participant sports and 114 spectator sports they might attend, follow on television or radio or read about in newspapers or magazines.
The choices included ``love the sport,' ``one of my favorites,' ``dislike,' and ``hate the sport.'
The survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent, differed from attendance studies that didn't account for repeat spectators. Television ratings showed viewer strength but didn't indicate how people felt about sports that weren't televised in their area.
``The most televised sports aren't necessarily the most popular sports, and the United States is not made up entirely of major markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas,' said Lavalle. ``High school and collegiate athletics, especially football and basketball, are very, very popular. There are a lot of small cities out there - places like Des Moines, Iowa, and Odessa, Texas - where people identify with their local teams.'
PGA golf, shown nearly every week on national television because it appeals to wealthier, older viewers important to the sport's sponsors, ranked No. 43 in overall popularity - behind tractor pulls and body building. The LPGA was even farther behind at No. 69.
Football, the nation's favorite spectator sport, is so hot that even high school games outrank the booming NBA in popularity.
The NFL topped all sports with 39 percent of Americans saying they loved it or considered it one of their favorites. NCAA football ran second, followed by the Winter Olympics, Summer Olympics and major league baseball, high school football, the NBA and figure skating.
But even football, with its lofty support, couldn't claim to be ``America's sport,' with 61 percent of the country saying it's not one of their favorites.
``My projection is that by the year 2000 the NBA will become the most popular spectator sport in America,' Lavalle said. ``I base that on how it's growing, the potential for international competition, the grassroots support and the increasing appeal to women.'
Some major sports flopped in the survey. The NHL ranked No. 40, men's pro tennis No. 68, women's pro tennis No. 71, and World Cup soccer No. 75.
Pro wrestling topped the unpopularity list, drawing ``dislike' or ``hate' responses from two out of five people. Not far behind were the LPGA, PGA Seniors, pro boxing, intercollegiate wrestling, PGA and amateur boxing.
Men and women clearly had their favorite sports.
The NFL was preferred by three of five men and baseball by two of five men. Only one of five women cared much for either sport.
But when it came to figure skating and ice dancing, women preferred them over the men by a 3-1 margin.
Pro boxing was high on both the most popular and most unpopular sports lists, no doubt reflecting the polarization of men and women. Nearly one of three men called boxing one of their favorites, while 93 percent of the women indicated they couldn't care less about the sport.