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Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk crunches the numbers

January 28, 2013 at 8:30 AM

Which sports have the most fans in Seattle?

NASCAR — more popular than you thought?  Fans watch the action at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe (Photo: Guroadrunne/Wikimedia Commons)

I recently wrote about the low level of fan interest in the NBA here — when surveyed, only 4.1 percent of people in the Seattle market expressed a “very high” level of interest in pro basketball.  Some readers asked me for more context — how does the NBA compare with other sports here when it comes to fan support?

The chart below shows the 12 sports that came out on top. The data come from surveys conducted in 78 major markets during 2011 and 2012; in the Seattle/Tacoma market, more than 4,500 people were interviewed. People were asked about their level of interest in a wide variety of sports. The 12 sports on the chart are the ones in which the most people expressed a “very high” level of interest here. I also noted where Seattle ranks among 78 major markets for each sport, and the market that has the highest percentage of fans.


Rank Sport % Fans Seattle/Tacoma U.S. Rank Top % Fans
1 NFL 23.4% 63 Green Bay/Appleton, WI
2 College Football 16.6% 47 Birmingham, AL
3 MLB 13.1% 32 St. Louis, MO
4 College Basketball 8.1% 53 Lexington, KY
5 NASCAR 6.3% 53 Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA
6 Figure skating 6.1% 33 Spokane
7 MLS 5.5% 3 Houston, TX
7 (tie) PGA 5.5% 54 Ft. Myers/Naples, FL
9 Gymnastics 4.6% 60 Las Vegas, NV
10 NBA 4.1% 75 San Antonio, TX
11 UFC 3.6% 65 Bakersfield, CA
12 NHL 3.0% 35 Buffalo, NY

Source: Scarborough Research, 2011-2012

Clearly, Seattle is a football town these days. The NFL is No. 1, with nearly a quarter of the population expressing strong interest. And, considering the Mariners’ recent troubles, it may not surprise you that Major League Baseball has slid into a distant third place behind college football. Just a decade ago, pro baseball was at the top of the heap, and by a wide margin.

But are you surprised to see NASCAR in the top-5?  And how about the significant amount of interest in figure skating and gymnastics?  That interest comes almost entirely from women — about 90 percent of the fans of both these sports are female.

The biggest story here could be Major League Soccer.  It’s popularity is growing rapidly in Seattle, and when the new market data is released, MLS will almost certainly have jumped a notch or two from its 7th place showing on this chart.  We are among the top areas in terms of our interest level in the game; out of  78 major U.S. markets, Seattle/Tacoma ranks third for the popularity of MLS.

As for NBA and NHL, their numbers will rise once we get teams here, but this chart shows where things stood as of 2011-2012.

Thoughts?  Interpretations?  Feel free to sound off in the comments.


Follow me on Twitter @genebalk

Comments | More in Market Research | Topics: sports


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