WASHINGTON — Americans are watching more sports but playing less, according a report released Wednesday.

Participation in almost every recreational sport, from golf and tennis to bowling and snow skiing, was down in 2004, while attendance at professional sporting events was up.

Television viewing also increased, continuing an eight-year trend.

Those and many other facts were included in this year's Statistical Abstract, a 1,023-page book of numbers quantifying just about every aspect of American life.

The Census Bureau assembles the statistics from a myriad of government and private sources, so researchers, academics and businesses can find them in one place.

"It reflects the changing nature of the country," said Lars Johanson, a statistician at the Census Bureau.

Norman Chad said he didn't need a government report to tell him that people are watching more TV and playing fewer sports.

"We all have televisions. They are relatively inexpensive," said Chad, who writes a syndicated sports column called "Couch Slouch" about the sports he watches on TV. "We all have microwave ovens. Why do we need to go out?"

Chad also does color commentary for the World Series of Poker on ESPN. Card playing increased slightly in 2004, but was still down from five years earlier.

Skiing, tennis and other recreational activities enjoyed increased popularity until 2004, when participation slipped.

Andrew Yiannakis, a sports sociologist at the University Of Connecticut, said there are several potential reasons for the decline.

"During times of security and abundance, people feel more inclined to spend money and enjoy themselves," said Yiannakis, who teaches a course called, "Defining Leisure: A Sociological Perspective."

"During times of, say, political unrest, insecurity, economic downturns, people feel insecure, and their mood shifts into a negative state," Yiannakis said. "People don't feel as good, so they shrink away from spending money and engaging in activities."

Yiannakis also said children are taught, intentionally or not, that they shouldn't play sports if they are not good at them. It happens when kids get cut from sports teams, or when coaches bench them for poor play.

"It is an elitist system that encourages the best to play and in a sense teaches the rest to be fans and spectators," Yiannakis said.

Among professional sports, baseball is still the national pasttime when it comes to attendance, in part because there are 162 games in the regular season.

Nearly 75 million people attended Major League baseball games in 2004, compared with 23 million who went to National Basketball Association games and the 22 million people who attended National Football League games.

The National Hockey League's 2004-2005 season was canceled because of a labor dispute.

Among those who play, exercise walking was the number-one sports activity, followed by camping and exercising with equipment.

The number-one leisure activity was dining out, followed by entertaining friends and family at home and reading books.


On The Net: 2006 Statistical Abstract: www.census.gov/prod/www/statistical-abstract-06.html