Bodybuilding, flag football, and skateboarding are real sports, according to Americans
February 9th, 2024, Christien Pheby

Bodybuilding, flag football, and skateboarding are real sports, according to Americans

What makes a real sport? We asked Americans in a new YouGov poll. Three in five (62%) say an element of physical skill, half say physical exertion (48%), and nearly as many say that a strategic component (46%) and a scoring system (46%) – be it judge or points-based – are vital to legitimising an activity as a sport.

Another quarter cite the activity’s history (24%) or the presence of a governing body or regulator (23%), while a sixth claim that a large fanbase (17%) is essential. Some 13% also say that inclusion in the Olympics makes a sport “real” in their eyes.

Thinking about specific sports, we asked Americans about a range of sports that occasionally have their legitimacy called into question. We found that over three quarters of US consumers view cycling (79% saying it is a sport vs. 12% saying it isn’t) and golf (75% vs. 17%) as real sports, with nearly as many saying the same of equestrian sports (71%) and motorsports (69%). Activities that have experienced a recent surge of popularity such as flag football (64%) and pickleball (53%) are also considered proper sports by a majority of Americans, as is skateboarding (62%).

Some more contentious activities are also considered sports. Bodybuilding, for example – excluded from the Olympic Games, and which even luminaries like Jay Cutler consider to be more of a “pageant” than anything else –  is considered a sport by over half of Americans (53% vs. 35%). To put that in perspective, about as many regard sailing (52% vs. 35%) or shooting (51% vs. 37%) as sports, and Americans are actually more likely to regard it as a sport than dance (48% vs. 40%). It also gets more respect than CrossFit (41% vs. 36%).

Of the activities presented, Americans are most likely to consider eSports (24% vs. 64%), chess (31% vs. 57%), darts (36% vs. 50%) fishing (44% v. 45%) and cue sports such as pool, snooker or billiards (43% vs. 44%) as not being true sports.

What sports are men or women more likely to consider “real”? 

Our data shows that American men are, broadly, more likely to consider certain sports real than women. Most notably, shooting (57% vs. 45%), motorsports (72% vs. 66%), sailing (54% vs. 50%), cue games such as pool, snooker, or billiards (49% vs. 38%), darts (41% vs. 31%) and eSports (28% vs. 21%) are considered true sports by men.

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to consider dance (53% vs. 43%) a real sport, and slightly more likely to say the same of equestrian sports (72% vs. 70%).

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YouGov Surveys: Serviced provide quick survey results from nationally representative or targeted audiences in multiple markets. This study was conducted online on 31 January – 2 February 2024, with a nationally representative sample of 2440  adults (aged 18+ years) in the US, using a questionnaire designed by YouGov. Data figures have been weighted by age, gender, education and social grade to be representative of all adults in the US (18 years or older). Learn more about YouGov Surveys: Serviced.