Interest in sports has made a comeback this year throughout the United States, with the number of people who follow basketball up 10 points since 1978 and the interest in baseball up seven points over the same period. Football is still No. 1, the favorite of 72 percent of all sports fans.
When 1,091 people were asked to name their favorite sport in a Harris sports survey, football led as the choice of 36 percent, followed by baseball at 21 percent and basketball at 12 percent. Since 1969, football has consistently been the favorite sport of Americans. Before, baseball was the most popular national pastime.
Here is the lineup on sports nationwide in response to the question, "Please tell me which of these sports you follow":
A record-high 72 percent of those surveyed follow football. Specifically, 68 percent are professional football fans, while 52 percent follow college football (three of four fans of the pro game said they also follow the collegians). Pro football is particularly popular in the South, in the suburbs, among those between 30 and 49 years of age, among men, blacks, business executives and those in the highest income brackets.
Baseball has a 61 percent following, up from 54 percent in 1978. But the highest interest in baseball was in 1976, when 64 percent said they followed it. Interest is strongest now in the East, among those 50 and older, the less well-educated and union members.
Fifty-two percent reported following basketball, with equal numbers, 40 percent, preferring the pros rather than college games and vice versa. Professional basketball is strongest in the West and big cities and among men, business executives and blacks. College basketball is strong in the South, in rural areas, among men, blacks, the better educated and those earning more than $35,000 a year.
Tennis drew 37 percent, a record high for that sport. Tennis appeals most to people in the South, in the suburbs, those under 30, the college educated, blacks, professional and executive types and those in higher income brackets.
Boxing is another sport definitely on the upswing, polling 34 percent. This is up sharply from the 28 percent who had high interest in boxing in 1978.
Auto racing attracted a following of 24 percent, up from 21 percent three years ago, but still below the 26 percent recorded in 1973.
Golf drew 22 percent, up from its low of 19 percent in 1977 but still below its high of 28 percent in 1973.
Track and field was popular with 25 percent, an all-time high for this sport.
Sports that have not shown signs of much growth are horse racing and bowling, each with 21 percent; hockey, with 18 percent, and soccer, at 14 percent.