December 15, 2011

Play Ball! Labor Unrest Tops National Poll on Most Impactful Sports Story of 2011

In the end, it’s the games that matter most. That’s according to a Marist Poll done in conjunction with the Marist College Center for Sports Communication that asked sports fans nationwide to pick the story with the biggest impact on sports in 2011. 42% selected labor unrest in the NFL and NBA, far outpacing the 28% that selected scandals in college athletics as the most impactful story. Performance enhancing drugs and college conference realignment finished a distant third and fourth, with 15% and 12%, respectively. The results confirm that while crimes and scandals may get serious media attention and lip service, in the end, sports fans are far more concerned about whether games will be played than the morality of its participants.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this study is that labor unrest seemed to top the poll across virtually every demographic. From young to old, working class to upper class, male and female, everyone seemed to think that potentially missing football and basketball games was the most important story of the year. In fact, only the Northeast region picked scandals in college sports as the top story with 41%. That likely has to do with Penn State falling in the region, the most prominent of the year’s college scandal. It should be noted that this survey was done just before the story at Syracuse broke, which may have changed the results a bit. Still, given the ongoing coverage of Penn State while this survey was being taken, it’s hard to imagine the results moving much.

The story here is clearly that while we might be bombarded with stories of scandals in college athletics, in the end, what sports fans really care about is their ability to watch the games – particularly professional games. So even as the college sports world was unraveling at Penn State, in the wake of more generic college sports scandals at places like Ohio State and Miami, that fell secondary to something that might cause sports fans to miss part or all of an NFL or NBA season. While this wasn’t asked in the poll, it’s very likely that the NFL lockout was driving that number, as the NBA lockout seemed a much less vital affair.

Just as surprising is the relative lack of interest in performance enhancing drugs. The story that once seemingly threatened to end sports as we know it is now little more than an afterthought, even given the high profile hearings that are ongoing with prominent athletes. It clear that sports fans as an aggregate have simply accepted PED’s (and the constant battle to monitor their use) as part of the game. In some ways, it’s simply yesterday’s news. And as long as we don’t know, it really doesn’t affect us. Interesting, only 8% of Gen X (31-46) picked PED’s as the biggest story. They also had the highest percentage pick lockouts, with 52%. This group may be considered the cynical generation, long ago giving up on the dark underside of sport and simply wanting to watch the games. Having lived their entire lives watching scandal after scandal unfold on television, this level of cynicism shouldn’t be that surprising.

For more analysis, visit the Center’s YouTube Channel for video commentary of the results. For complete results and methods, visit the Marist Poll.

About the Poll: Marist Poll National Adults: Interviews conducted November 8th through 10th, 2011, N=1026 MOE +/- 3%. National Sports Fans: N=624 MOE +/- 4%. Totals may not add to 100% due to rounding.