Nearly half of American sports fans changed viewing habits because of social justice

Jay Busbee
·3 min read

In the wake of last summer’s social justice protests, which consumed sports for much of the second half of 2020, nearly half of all Americans changed their sports viewing habits, according to a new YouGov / Yahoo News poll. As athletes and leagues embraced a new, progressive strategy aimed at amplifying messages of social justice and political advocacy, some Americans began watching more sports, but about three times as many watched less.

Of those who watch sports on TV, about 11 percent said they now watch more as a result of political and social messaging. However, 34.5 percent, more than one-third, said they are watching less. The vast majority, roughly 56.3 percent, said they watch about the same amount regardless of political or social messaging.

Ratings across all major sports were down in 2020, the result of a range of factors including time-shifted sports calendars and the presidential election, but it’s clear from this poll that politics and social justice had some impact on the ratings decline.

Men were more likely to turn away from sports as a result of social messages; 37.6 percent of males said they had tuned in less, as opposed to 28 percent of females. Meanwhile, 13 percent of men said they watched more sports in the wake of social justice movements, as opposed to only 7 percent of women.

The breakdown by political party runs as might be expected given the tenor of the national conversation around sports. About 13.7 percent of Democrats say they watched more sports in the wake of social justice movements, while 19 percent watched less. On the other hand, only about 8.6 percent of Republicans watched more sports, while 53 percent watched less once social justice messaging became prominent.

Worth noting is that Independents came in somewhere in the middle, with about 8.7 percent saying they watched more sports in the social justice era, and about 38.6 percent saying they watched less.

The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,606 U.S. adults interviewed online between March 22-25, 2021. Respondents were asked, "How has the discussion of politics in sports on social media impacted your viewing habits," and given the option to answer that they watched more sports, fewer sports, or the same, with a breakout option to state that they are not sports fans at all. The poll has a margin of error of ±2.7%.

Sports' turn in a more outspoken direction had impacts — both positive and negative — on the viewing habits of almost half of American sports fans. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Sports' turn in a more outspoken direction had impacts — both positive and negative — on the viewing habits of almost half of American sports fans. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

[Correction: the initial version of this story listed an incorrect survey date. It has been updated to the correct date.]

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee and contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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