Updated Nov 9, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Americans now want to read about sports, not politics

Most popular U.S. news topics
Data: Taboola; Table: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Politics and hard news have moved to the back burner of the national conversation, with sports — and particularly the NFL — generating more interest, new data shows.

Why it matters: It's a huge shift from a year ago, when most of the top stories in the U.S. were about hot-button political topics.

By the numbers: Sports have rocketed to the top of Americans' news diets, according to pageview data from Taboola, a content recommendation company known for its boxes of thumbnail ads, which pulled data from 1,400 news sites.

  • The top 10 news topics last month included the NFL, football and ESPN, as well as a handful of cities that ended up on the list largely because of their sports teams — Houston (World Series runner-up Astros, Texans), Las Vegas (Raiders, Jon Gruden) and San Francisco (Giants, 49ers).
  • Last October, 18 of the top 20 stories were related to the national political conversation, led by "Trump," '"coronavirus," "Biden," "George Floyd," "White House" and "racism."

Bolstered by engaging storylines, including the resignation of Jon Gruden, the resurgence of the Dallas Cowboys, and most recently Aaron Rodgers' vaccination status, interest in the league has surged.

  • On television, the NFL is "is on pace to place a record high number of its games among TV’s top 100 telecasts this year, thanks to a significant rebound in game ratings combined with a further deterioration of entertainment viewership on TV," according to a report from Sports Business Journal.
  • Engagement on some of the NFL's biggest Instagram accounts was way up last month compared to October 2020: 30% for @nfl, 98% for @espnnfl and 57% for @nflonfox, according to data from CrowdTangle.
  • On the day of and the day following the House passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, there were more Google searches for Aaron Rodgers than Joe Biden, according to Google Trends data.

The big picture: Simultaneously, interest in politics has plunged.

  • Social media interactions (likes, comments, shares) on politics stories over the last 8 weeks have dropped 37% compared to late spring (before even the Afghanistan news began to ramp up), according to exclusive data from NewsWhip.
  • Engagement on the @POTUS Instagram account has steadily waned. Interactions in October were down 78% from February and 59% from June, according to CrowdTangle data.

Sports content in general has gained traction. Bleacher Report Football (soccer) was the most highly engaged publisher on Facebook in the third quarter, according to NewsWhip.

  • Overall, sports content posted natively “made a comeback on Facebook” during the third quarter.

Zoom out: Coronavirus remains the no. 1 news topic, but interest is falling — there were 1.44 billion page views in August, 1.02 billion in September and 677 million in October, according to Taboola's data.

  • Trump was the number two topic in October and has remained in the top 3 each month since leaving office.
  • After dropping out of the top 30 in the summer, 'vaccine' moved back into the top 10 in September and October.
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