As a state of sports lovers, Iowa is filled with people who love many different sports, but which are the overall favorites?
The following are some of the sports that you’re most likely to find Iowans watching, playing, or talking about. You can also check the top 10 sports teams of Iowa here.
The lack of an NFL team in the state hasn’t stopped Iowa from being the home to many fans of pro football, with the teams closest to Iowa generally attracting the most followers from here.
Teams such as the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Bears, and the Green Bay Packers all have big followings in Iowa, with plenty of fans happy to travel to a neighboring state to catch some action, or else watch their games on TV. According to Google searches, people in Iowa search for the Green Bay Packers more than any other team.
However, it’s college football that really catches the imagination of most Iowans, making this one of the states where the college version of the game is the most-followed sport. It’s no surprise that this is the case, as the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Drake University, and the University of Northern Iowa all have football programs.
The Iowa Hawkeyes play under the University of Iowa program, and they play in the West division of the Big Ten Conference, with their home games taking place at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Over 69,000 spectators can fit into this stadium, making it the biggest sports stadium in the state.
A look at their history shows us that they’ve collected 13 conference championships and five national championships since the team was formed in the 1880s.
The team will be on New Year’s Eve competing at the Music City Bowl.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 4, 2022
Iowa State Cyclones
The Iowa State Cyclones play their home games at the Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, where as many as 61,500 fans can fit in.
This team competes in the Big 12 Conference and the attendance of close to capacity for most games confirms how seriously people in this part of the country take their college football.
They’ve been playing football here since 1878 and have enjoyed successful seasons in the last few years.
Xavier Hutchinson is a Pro Football Focus First Team All-American!https://t.co/2nQLI6U60g
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) November 29, 2022
Northern Iowa Panthers
As for the Northern Iowa Panthers, they play at the UNI-Dome at their campus in Cedar Falls. With a capacity of just over 16,000, it’s smaller than the other college football stadiums we’ve looked at but football is just as important to the people here.
This is another historic football program that has been going since the end of the 19th century, and they’ve picked up 33 conference titles in that time.
First year Panthers made a difference for this year's squad. Congratulations to our three MVFC All-Newcomer Team selections!
— UNI Football (@UNIFootball) November 29, 2022
The Drake Bulldogs currently take part in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League. Their home stadium is the Drake Stadium in Des Moines, where up to 14,557 spectators can watch the games.
With a history stretching back to 1893, the Bulldogs managed their only unbeaten season to date in 1922, which ended with them getting invited to the White House.
Des Moines' own Finn Claypool is the 𝐏𝐅𝐋 𝐅𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐡𝐦𝐚𝐧 𝐃𝐞𝐟𝐞𝐧𝐬𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐏𝐥𝐚𝐲𝐞𝐫 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐘𝐞𝐚𝐫.
— Drake Football (@DrakeBulldogsFB) November 28, 2022
Iowa ranks highly on a nationwide basis when we look at the states where most people watch sports on TV. When it comes to basketball, there’s no NBA team in the state, but the Minnesota Timberwolves are rated as the most popular pro basketball team in Iowa, with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Chicago Bulls among the other teams having pockets of support in the state.
As with football and other widely-followed sports, the arrival of online streaming has opened up new possibilities for sports fans in Iowa to watch games involving all of the best NBA teams, and we can expect this trend to continue to grow as technology advances and matures.
The lack of a top-level pro team here hasn’t stopped basketball from being a sport that many people love watching.
Turning to the world of college basketball, the same programs that we saw in the football section are also present in the college basketball leagues. However, they play in smaller stadiums in this case, such as the Hilton Coliseum on the Iowa State campus, which has a capacity of just over 14,000 for the Cyclones fans who want to cheer on their team.
The Hawkeyes had a golden period in the 1970s through to the 80s when Iowa basketball teams were among the most successful in the country. Their home games take place in the Carver-Hawkeye Area, where up to 15,400 people can fit in to watch the action and where wrestling and volleyball events are also played.
The Panthers can have crowds of up to 7,000 fans cheering them on at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls. Meanwhile, the Drake Bulldogs are the fourth major college basketball team based in Iowa. You need to go to Des Moines to see their home games, as they play at the Knapp Center where there’s a 7,002 capacity.
These teams used to meet in the Iowa Big Four Classic, also known as the Hy-Vee Classic, but they’ve not been in such close competition since 2012. However, the rivalries between the programs remain as intense as ever.
𝗣𝗹𝗮𝘆𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗼𝗻𝗲 𝗮𝗻𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿.
— Drake Basketball (@DrakeBulldogsMB) December 4, 2022
As one of the fastest-growing sports in the US, it’s no surprise to see soccer listed among the sports that Iowans love to watch. The United Soccer League (USL) recently confirmed that a new Iowa franchise based in Des Moines will be playing out of here in the future.
There is no name yet for this franchise, which will be playing in the second tier of the country’s professional soccer system.
This means that they’ll be above the Des Moines Menace franchise, as that team takes part in the ULS League Two.
Time will tell whether the new Iowa soccer franchise gains a large level of support, but with the World Cup coming to the USA in 2026 it is expected that the popularity of the sport increases.
Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving 🖤🦃❤️ pic.twitter.com/O27bOe6xYJ
— Des Moines Menace ⭐️⭐️ (@MenaceSoccer94) November 24, 2022
A study a few years ago showed that the Chicago Blackhawks were the most popular ice hockey team in Iowa.
This is due to the fact that there’s no NHL team based in the state. However, the Iowa Wild Team plays in the AHL, with their games at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, and they’re affiliated with the Minnesota Wild franchise in the NHL.
Other teams in the state include the Des Moines Buccaneers and Dubuque Fighting Saints, while there are several teams that were once based here but no longer exist.
As for the biggest crowd to ever attend an ice hockey game in Iowa, this record was set in 2018, when the Minnesota Wild played against the St. Louis Blues at the Wells Fargo Arena for an NHL preseason game.
The fans filled the arena to its 14,282 capacity and it is viewed by some as the day that ice hockey proved itself a popular sport in the state.
We're back on home ice next Tuesday, December 13th – and it's TWOsday! That means $2 hotdogs and $2 popcorn! 🌭 🍿
— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) December 5, 2022
Wrestling / MMA / Boxing
Iowa has a proud record in wrestling, with several champions coming out of this state over the years. Dan Gable, Jim Zalesky, and Tom Brands are among the Iowan wrestlers who’ve produced big moments for the fans of this sport to enjoy.
In the last few years, MMA has started to make an impact in Iowa, giving sports followers here a new sport to enjoy, with fight nights at venues in Mason City, Des Moines, and other parts of the state.
However, wrestling continues to be popular, as we can see by the success of the likes of David Carr, who represents Iowa State University and was the 2019 Junior World Champion at the 74 kilograms level.
Boxing is also widely followed and Tristan James is currently one of the state’s brightest stars. Known as the Tree, he successfully defended his USA Mid-America light heavyweight title against Kevin Engel earlier in 2022.
I want the throne #165 pic.twitter.com/0Sn4Bb0TcA
— David Carr (@Carrchamp) September 15, 2022
Golf is another sport that remains much-loved here, with well over 400 golf courses dotted around Iowa and taking advantage of the state’s natural features.
In terms of competitive golf at a college level, the Iowa State Cyclones men’s golf team plays at Veenker Memorial Golf Course just a few miles from their campus, and they play in the Big 12 Conference.
The authorities are currently looking to raise $5 million to create Golf House Iowa, which would be a place to honor the history of golf in the state and those unforgettable players who’ve played here.
Of those players, perhaps the best known is Bettendorf-born Jack Fleck, who triumphed in the 1955 US Open when he defeated Ben Hogan in a playoff.
The Iowa State women's golf team is headed 𝙗𝙖𝙘𝙠 to the NCAA Regional Championships for the 11th-straight season! The Cyclones will tee it up at the Stanford Regional as the No. 9 seed on May 10th-12th.
— Iowa State Women's Golf (@CycloneWGOLF) April 28, 2021
While football and basketball are the main sports that people love in Iowa, followed by the others that we’ve looked at here, there are other popular sports here that provide interesting alternatives.
For example, baseball fans can follow the Iowa Cubs, who play out of Principal Park in Des Moines. This team takes part in the minor leagues and they’re affiliated with the Chicago Cubs of the MLB.
The Cubs join a long list of baseball teams to have played out of here, with Fred Clarke and Red Faber among the most famous baseball players from Iowa.
Guess that Auto(Graph)! What I-Cubs player signed this baseball? ⚾️👀 Comment Below 👇 pic.twitter.com/Z8GegnvC22
— Iowa Cubs (@IowaCubs) November 8, 2022
The state’s college programs provide numerous opportunities for students to get involved in other sports, such as track and field or tennis.
This helps to explain why other sports continue to be popular despite not currently having the same high profile as some of the others that we’ve looked at.