NFL tops YouGov’s annual Buzz ranking in the US

YouGov
February 04, 2021, 4:27 PM UTC

While it’s never necessarily a surprise to see the NFL come out on top of a ranking of US sports, when it comes to Buzz, it is unusual to see every top-ten peak score laid down by the fifth month of the US sports calendar. 

Our Buzz score is the difference between the percentage of respondents hearing positive news and the percentage hearing negative news about an event in the previous two weeks. So, depending on what is going on, an event’s Buzz score can reveal whether conversations around a property are positive or negative at a point in time. 

By the time Super Bowl LIV had been won by Kansas City Chiefs on 2nd February, health officials in China had already confirmed that a novel coronavirus emerging in Wuhan could be transmitted between humans. The rest of the year was history –in more ways than one. 

Nevertheless, the peak Buzz score that the NFL recorded in January was, with the help of Kansas City Chiefs’ star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, significantly higher than it managed in the previous year. 

NASCAR’s peak score, which propels it to second in the US rankings, was amongst the latest to be recorded –well into pandemic chaos. Its score of 14.3, just 1.4 points below the NFL, was achieved in May –as the Cup Series returned after a two-month hiatus. 

And amid strong political and cultural undercurrents, NASCAR made significant policy changes to its events that may have factored into the positive conversations occurring around the sport. In response to protests erupting across the nation to the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of police, NASCAR relaxed its rules barring kneeling during the national anthem and banned Confederate flags from its events. 

The NBA also recorded its peak score early in the year. That’s pretty usual for the league, which tends to record a high in February, but we’d also expect to see another peak some time during or after the play-offs in May/June. In the absence of anything resembling a regular season, then, third place is still a good performance for the league. Hot on its heels, just 0.3 points below, is Major League Baseball. Its season was also heavily impacted by the pandemic, shrinking from 162 to just 60 games, played between July and September. And while its peak 2020 Buzz score is significantly lower than its 2019 marker, its ranking is still respectably high.  

College sport performs pretty well in 2020, despite it being a highly challenging 12 months for the NCAA and its schedulers. Even though basketball’s season was completely wiped out, it still manages to generate enough Buzz to make it into sixth place – but that’s a legacy of early-year optimism more than excitement about anything that took place on the court.  

Any madness around March had much more to do with coronavirus-related cancellations than it did with basketball in 2020. 

The same early-year optimism may account for the Summer Olympics’ presence in the US top ten. Its peak score was recorded in January, well before any serious commentary around its postponement. 

Domestic sport is what dominates Buzz in the US. But removing international or overseas properties does leave room for a couple of other sports properties to climb into the top ten. In this case, it’s the Harlem Globetrotters and the PGA Men’s Golf Tour who see the benefits.  

The Globetrotters lost legend Curly Neal in 2020 but that was after the team’s peak score was recorded in February. It was June before the PGA Tour recorded its peak score –as the property returned from a coronavirus-enforced hiatus. The Charles Schwab Challenge was the tournament which got the ball rolling again and it’s likely to be no coincidence that the eagerly-awaited event coincides with the Tour’s high-water mark for the year. 

YouGov Sport’s annual Buzz report looks at the world’s most talked about sports teams and leagues around the world, with data across ten markets. Read the full report.