We often hear about the NFL’s dominance in the mindshare of sports fans, and it’s hard to argue with the facts and figures floating around to support this notion. Pro football has been No. 1 in the annual Harris Poll survey of Americans’ favorite sports for three consecutive decades, and the NFL’s television ratings routinely trounce those of other sports. But, curiously, I was fooling around with Google Trends, and there is at least one area in which the NFL is not crushing the opposition: Google searches.
The NFL is trailing the NBA by about 5 percent since Google’s Trends search data became available in 2004.
There are a lot of factors that can cloud these results, including the possibility that not all search terms are being correctly attributed to each league. This is a particular issue for “football,” which is, as you probably know, what everyone outside the U.S. calls soccer. Recent improvements to Trends make this issue less problematic, but it’s still worth mentioning.
The numbers also include worldwide searches; the NBA has a large global presence (particularly in Asia), and Google is, by definition, biased toward countries with a greater number of Internet users. For what it’s worth, the NFL is still tops by quite a bit within the U.S.
Even so, it’s an interesting data point about the relative global reach of America’s biggest sports leagues. If we look at things from an international perspective, the NFL is not the behemoth it usually appears to be stateside.