News on Religion Scarce in Media despite Greater Public Interest in Religion, Sports Events Get More Coverage in the Press

Article excerpt

THE facts don't seem to fit. As measured by attendance and money, Americans show greater interest in religion than in sports, but it receives far less attention from the news media.

This curious tilt has been borne out statistically.

"It's a strange disparity considering the importance religion has in American life," says sociologist Robert N. Bellah of the University of California in Berkeley, Calif.

He says the media seem to assume that religion, except in cases of scandal, is largely a private matter. "This is a very bizarre idea, but it's part of the ideology," he says.

Newly gathered comparative statistics in the 1990s on two key yardsticks of human interest - financial and personal involvement - show religion ahead of sports.

Yet religion gets only a tiny fraction of media notice compared with the huge volume of attention lavished on sports.

The latest comparative figures collected on religion and sports find that money contributed to religion totaled $56.7 billion in 1992, according to the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel. That is about 14 times the $4 billion spent on the three biggest sports - major league baseball, football, and basketball.

THE major sports leagues don't disclose gate receipts, but totals were obtained through league public-relations sources who asked not to be named. Financial World magazine reported similar figures for 1992. Major religious organizations make public annual financial reports.

In attendance, religion totaled 5.6 billion in 1993, based on annual Gallup polls. That is about 55 times greater than the 103-million total attendance reported by the three main professional sports leagues.

The latest tally of overall attendance at all United States sporting events, gathered in 1990 by the Daily Racing Form, totaled 388 million, including both professional and college football; baseball; basketball; hockey; boxing; tennis; soccer; wrestling; and harness, automobile, and dog racing.

In comparison, religious attendance of 5.2 billion in 1990 was about 13 times the overall sports total. More people turned out for worship in one month - about 433 million - than the 388-million total all year at all sporting events.

Past comparisons of such statistics - initially in 1973 and again in 1980 - found the same striking contrasts as today. Religion far exceeded sports in attracting people's time and money. …