What’s More Popular—NCAA Basketball or Football?

We’re in the throes (sorry for the pun) of March Madness, arguably the most popular collegiate sports competition in the country. But just because the NCAA Football Championships don’t have a month dedicated to bracket-building and a catchy, alliterative name, can we conclude that basketball is the most popular NCAA sport?

Measuring popularity is tricky, but one quick way of doing so is looking which phrase “NCAA Football” or “NCAA Basketball” is searched on the web more frequently. The chart below plots weekly searches on Google for each phrase.


The most obvious observation about the plot above is the enormous spikes that occur every March that coincide with March Madness. Absent those peaks, Football actually seems to have larger, more persistent search activity.

Comparing these two series is difficult because each includes a large seasonal component. The chart below was constructed using time series decomposition (described in another blog post here) and shows the underlying trend for Basketball and Football searches, as well as averages for each phrase from 2004 – 2013. The conclusion we see is that each sport is roughly equal in terms of searches, with basketball averaging just barely more than football.


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