Sports

Americans’ Favorite Winter Olympic Sport Isn’t the One Where You’ll Find Team USA’s Biggest Stars

Polling reveals Team USA’s biggest stars are snowboarders, but Americans would rather watch figure skating

Fifty-two percent of U.S. adults ages 18-34 said they’d be interested in watching snowboarding during the Winter Olympics, compared with 48 percent who said they’d want to watch figure skating, according to new Morning Consult data. (Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Monique Zarbaf)

Despite Team USA entering the Beijing Olympics without a standout women’s skating star, Morning Consult polling data indicates Americans are more interested in watching figure skating than any other sport at this year’s Winter Games. The U.S. delegation’s most well-known athletes, however, can be found on the halfpipe.

Figure Skating Tops List of Most Popular Winter Olympic Events

Share of U.S. adults who said they were interested in watching each of the following sports during the Winter Games:

Poll conducted Jan. 29-31, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,211 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

What the numbers say

  • Figure skating was the most popular sport among survey respondents with 54 percent saying they were interested in watching during the Games. While figure skating is historically a key driver of Winter Olympics viewership, the United States’ lack of recent success in women’s single skating, the most popular discipline, hasn’t helped in recent Olympic cycles. And though Team USA lacks a top-tier female contender this year, a live-in-primetime battle on the men’s side between American Nathan Chen and two-time defending champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan could make for must-see TV.
  • While figure skating was the most popular sport among adults ages 35 and older, adults 18-34 preferred snowboarding by a slight margin. Fifty-two percent of respondents in this age cohort said they’d be interested in watching snowboarding, compared with 48 percent who said they’d want to watch figure skating. The bulk of Team USA’s star power — namely 35-year-old Shaun White and 21-year-old Chloe Kim — will be found on the halfpipe.
  • Every Winter Games elicits a flurry of news stories about American audiences going crazy for curling, but enthusiasm for the sport doesn’t appear to be sweeping the nation. Even in the wake of the United States’ first-ever curling gold medal at the 2018 Games, just 29 percent of adults said they’d be interested in watching the sport, putting it on par with cross-country skiing. Curling plays an important role in NBC’s Olympic programming lineup, however, with one former NBC researcher referring to the sport as an “innings-eater” for the amount of hours of competition it produces.
Shaun White Is Team USA’s Only Athlete Known by At Least Half of U.S. Adults

U.S. adults were asked if they had heard of each of the following athletes and, if so, whether they have a favorable opinion of them:

Poll conducted Jan. 25-27, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

More on the numbers 

  • The American delegation for the Beijing Games is bereft of household names. White, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who made his Olympic snowboarding debut in 2006, was the only athlete whom at least half of U.S. adults (54 percent) recognized by name. One in three respondents said they had a favorable opinion of White. Kim, who in 2018 became the youngest woman to win a gold medal in snowboarding, was the next most-known American athlete, with 32 percent of respondents saying they had heard of her.
  • USA Bobsled left a fairly well-known candidate for its team, Lolo Jones, off its roster for the Beijing Games, likely bringing an end to the 39-year-old’s chances to win an Olympic medal. Thirty percent of U.S. adults indicated they had heard of Jones, the track star-turned-bobsledder who competed in two Summer (2008, 2012) and one Winter Games (2014). Her story would have presented rich material for NBC.

The impact

Team USA’s delegation for last summer’s Tokyo Olympics only contained a few household names in the wake of Michael Phelps’ retirement, but the clout cupboard is even emptier ahead of the Beijing Games. White’s last hurrah will capture the attention of many millennials who grew up during the height of the X Games’ popularity, and Kim’s already-sizable star (and endorsement portfolio) seems poised to grow. NBC has also leaned heavily on Chen and figure skater Mikaela Shiffrin in its promotion of the Games, but don’t be surprised if the biggest American star coming out of these Games is someone who’s not yet on the general public’s radar.

Polls were conducted Jan. 25-27, 2022, and Jan. 29-31, 2022, among a representative sample of roughly 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult