How well do Americans understand the rules of professional sports?

Linley SandersData Journalist
Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
January 31, 2023, 10:13 PM GMT+0

During the recent FIFA World Cup, there's a good chance that many Americans who caught a game were left a bit confused over what was happening on the field. New polling by YouGov finds that most Americans say they don't have a thorough understanding of the rules of popular professional sports, including soccer, tennis, golf, and others.

A few professional sports stand out as especially confusing for Americans to follow either live or on TV. When it comes to rugby, more than half — 57% — say they don't understand the rules at all. Around one-third of Americans say they have no understanding of the rules of golf (32%), ice hockey (31%), soccer (29%), or boxing (29%). And about one-quarter say tennis (24%) and volleyball (22%) are sports that they know nothing about the rules of.

There are some sports, though, where Americans are especially familiar with the rules of the game — particularly when it comes to sports that are common childhood activities. Majorities of Americans are at least somewhat familiar with the rules of football, baseball, and basketball: Around one in three say they understand the rules of these sports "very well," and similar shares say they understand each "somewhat well." Around a third for each sport say they understand the rules "not very well" or "not at all."

For each professional sport asked about, men were more likely than women to say they understood its rules either very or somewhat well. The largest gaps were in regard to boxing (58% of men had a good understanding vs. 29% of women) and football (77% vs. 54%). The smallest gender gaps were for volleyball (53% vs. 44%) and baseball (75% vs. 62%).


See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on January 20 - 25, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Adobe Stock (motortion)