Football is the nation's favorite spectator sport and it's so hot that even high-school games outrank the booming NBA in popularity.
That's one of the conclusions 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.
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 survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent.
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,'' said Nye Lavalle, chairman of the Sports Marketing Group in Dallas, who released results of the survey yesterday to The Associated Press. ``I base that on how it's growing, the potential for international competition, the grassroots support and the increasing appeal to women.''
Other survey results:
-- 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 - the bottom five.
-- 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 go wild for skating and gymnastics.
-- Auto racing may pack huge crowds at the tracks, but Indy-CART ranks only No. 26 in popularity, just behind NASCAR.
America's most and least popular sports. Percent of people 18 and older who said they loved the sport of called it one of their favorites:
MOST POPULAR SPECTATOR SPORTS:
NFL football - 39%
College football - 34%
Winter Olympics - 33%
Summer Olympics - 31%
Major league baseball - 31%
MOST UNPOPULAR SPECTATOR SPORTS:
WWF-Pro wrestling - 40%
LPGA golf - 37%
PGA Seniors golf - 37%
Pro boxing - 36%
College wrestling - 36%
MOST POPULAR PARTICIPANT SPORTS:
Exercise at home - 20%
Swimming - 18%
Camping - 17%
Beach activities - 16%
Bowling - 14%
SOURCE: AP; Survey by the Sports Marketing Group, Dallas