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Beer and Sports Go Hand-in-Hand, Almost Always

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For many Americans, watching certain sports and enjoying an adult beverage seem to go hand-in-hand.

A recent Harris Poll asked legal drinking age Americans what alcohol beverage types they're most likely to associate with various sports, and what they're most likely to drink while watching and cheering on their favorite sports teams. 

Some sports have a much higher association with alcoholic beverages than others. A majority of those who consume alcohol at least several times a year ("regular drinkers") associate football (84%), baseball (78%), hockey (62%), car racing (66%), horse racing (62%), basketball (60%), and boxing (56%) with one or more alcoholic beverage types. About half associate golf (50%), soccer (48%), and beach volleyball (46%) with adult beverages, while just 4 in 10 do the same with tennis (42%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 1,986 U.S. adults aged 21+ (1,394 of whom drink alcohol at least several times a year, i.e., "regular drinkers") surveyed online between August 26 and 30, 2016. Complete results of this study can be found here.

Alcohol and sports pairing

When asked what type of adult beverage first comes to mind when thinking of 11 different sports, it's no surprise that beer is the clear leader for sports like football (75%), baseball (70%), car racing (55%), and hockey (51%). Beer also tops the list, though to a lesser extent, for basketball (48%), boxing (39%), soccer (34%), beach volleyball (25%), and golf (17%). Following closely in second place for golf is spirits/liquor (14%). One quarter of regular drinkers associate horse racing first with spirits/liquor (25%), while wine tops the list for tennis (19%).

"There is no denying the concurrence of watching sports and enjoying an adult beverage.  Given the surrounding business environment connected with professional sports, there is intense competition among those beverages to become that fan's beverage of choice - whether that occasion be at a sporting event or watching that sport at home or elsewhere.  Suppliers would be wise to know which sport(s) offers the best opportunities for their products, and which sports might require greater emphasis in order to elevate their products into the fan's consideration set when they choose an alcoholic beverage," says Danny Brager, senior vice president of Nielsen's Beverage and Alcohol Practice.

Watching in person vs. on television

While not all sports evoke an image of a pint glass, it doesn't stop Americans from picking up a glass while watching. Beer is the beverage most likely consumed while watching any sport, whether in person or on television, among regular drinkers who watch the respective sports.

No matter the beverage, a majority of regular drinkers are tipping something back while watching their favorite sports, regardless of the setting:

  • Football: 84% drink any alcohol while watching on television and 83% while watching live
  • Boxing: 80% and 81%
  • Hockey: 78% and 79%
  • Basketball: 78% and 80%
  • Baseball: 77% and 81%
  • Car racing: 76% and 81%
  • Horse Racing: 75% and 80%
  • Soccer: 74% and 76%
  • Beach volleyball: 73% and 76%
  • Golf: 71% and 76%
  • Tennis: 67% and 75%

But who's watching?

Nearly two thirds of regular drinkers describe themselves as football fans (63%), while around 4 in 10 say they're a fan of baseball (43%) and/or basketball (37%). Around 1 in 5 regular drinkers each are fans of hockey (22%), car racing/motor sports (20%), boxing (19%), golf (18%), or soccer (18%).

Sports fans do differ across age groups, with Millennial drinkers more likely than those 65+ to be fans of boxing (22% vs. 12%) and soccer (21% vs. 11%), while those 65+ are more likely be a fan of golf (30% vs. 11% 21-34). Perhaps not surprisingly, males are significantly more likely than women – across all age groups – to be fans of each sport.  

Regular drinkers in the Northeast were much more likely to describe themselves as fans of baseball (54%) than all other regions, whereas those in the South (24%) and Midwest (22%) describe themselves as car racing fans more so than the Northeast (14%).