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A Millennial Reacts to Millennials’ 10 Favorite Athletes

We surveyed 1000 13-32-year-olds on the their favorite athletes—then we asked our Anonymous Millennial Guy to react to his generation’s top choices. 

Athletes have been go-to marketing partners for brands for generations, so keeping tabs on what athletes are resonating with young consumers is important. In a recent monthly survey, we asked 1000 13-32-year-olds to tell us who their favorite athlete is. We culled their responses into a top ten, and then asked one Millennial to explain why they made the list. 

Here are the top ten athletes Millennials named as their favorites:  

…and here is our Anonymous Millennial Guy‘s reaction to his generation’s choices, and what brands should take note of: 

#10 Derek Jeter 

“The Captain” played and won in the most visible position for one of the largest markets in the NE for almost 20 years while avoiding any major controversies. I think many Millennials’ parents saw this biracial, successful and handsome athlete as someone who they could encourage their children to aspire towards while maintaining a neutral socio-political perspective on the world…meaning he has wide spread appeal even after retiring. Also, heads up MLB and anyone associated with their market appeal, why is a 40-year-old retired shortstop the only baseball player to make this list? 

#9 Kobe Bryant

For many Millennials, I think Kobe represents the early years of their sporting experience. His later troubles, both professional and legal, have definitely tempered that, but he still maintained a presence of importance. I would not be surprised to see his name drop off this list completely within the year…his time of popularity will end without a bridge to something outside of his athletic achievements.  

#8 Lionel Messi

Like ships crossing in the night, Messi’s star has been rising and passing Kobe’s just as they starred in a commercial together for Turkish Airlines two years ago. Messi is like Jeter, not that large of a personality, but his steady success on the largest stage has brought him widespread appeal. Messi’s appeal is huge both because of the range of markets that European soccer has and because he has an “everyman” dynamic to him. 

#7 Rodgers, #6 Brady, #5 Manning 

These NFL QBs will always be available marketing wise as long as the NFL keeps the gravy train going. Maybe with the exception of Manning, who has made a secondary living off self-deprecating and well-written comedic commercials and stints on SNL, athletes of this “make and model” will always be around. 

#4 Serena Williams

I don’t watch tennis, but my Mom and I sat and watched a full two hours of Serena and her equally admirable sister Venus battle a few weeks ago while I ignored the Yankees game. Not only is Serena an incredible athlete, she is giving my generation an expanded perspective on what excellence is without regard for background and color. I wish she were higher on this list. Ms. Williams represents what I think is an incredible combination of style and athletic accomplishment, Millennials are incredibly informed on what makes a great athlete and social personality (just ask A-Rod) I can see this athlete having longevity marketing-wise for young female Millennials especially, in a similar way that the next athlete on this list has. 

#3 Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan. Here is the Godfather of why this list is even created. The man has been retired for years, is kind of a jerk, beat my favorite team (Knicks) every year and yet I still kind of get choked up when I hear “Be Like Mike” and I own two pairs of Jordans. Enough said. 

#2 Steph Curry

I’d like to say this is all about Riley Curry and not her dad, but it is actually about a guy like Steph, who plays ball the way you want to play in the backyard…dropping three point shots from 25 feet away, driving to the paint and dishing out passes…then going to a press conference with your wonderful spouse and adorable kid while your NBA retired dad looks on in tears. (Can you say authenticity?) Also, he is a bit of a dreamboat. Curry is the anit-LeBron marketing wise, his brand is based on humility and access, he does not call himself THE KING, instead he lets his daughter take the stage. This is a language that open information Millennials identify with and enjoy.

#1 Lebron James

While he’s not my favorite, you can’t deny excellence. His return to Cleveland has softened the harsh feelings many fans had for him over the last few years while also opening a new market of shoes and jerseys for his second stint in Cleveland. LeBron is not a necessarily endearing athlete, and at times he has been downright irritating, but he is undeniably great at what he does and has a large marketing team behind him. He is not the only athlete to use changing of location/position/shoes/jersey number as a marketing tool, consider it the McRib of professional sports. 


*These were open-end response questions to allow us to capture the full range of Millennial and teens’ favorite athletes. As with any qualitative question, the responses include those that are top of mind, and those that are actually most loved.