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Millennials & Teens’ 14 Favorite Pro Athletes

We asked 1000 13-33-year-olds to tell us their favorite professional athletes…

Last week, we gave you The Winners & Losers Of Millennial Sports—and today we’re rounding up the professional athletes really winning with young consumers today. While Millennials and teens are undoubtedly shifting some areas of the sports world with their preferences, many are sports fans: almost 40% of 13-33-year-olds, and almost 50% of males, say that being a fan of a sports team is a big part of who they are, according to Ypulse’s research. Roughly eight in ten follow some league or sport, with NFL football and NBA basketball topping the list of leagues they follow most. But what athletes are appealing to them the most today?

In our recent monthly survey on sports and athletics, we asked 1000 13-33-year-olds to answer the question, “Who is your favorite professional athlete?”* We should note that this survey was fielded June 29th, 2016 – July 11th, 2016, so well in advance of the Olympics. While this means that the impact of the games on athletes’ standing had not yet been felt, it also represents the more typical opinions of young consumers, without an extenuating influencing event. (We also found out which Olympic athletes they were most looking forward to watching in our Special Report on the games!) We’ve rounded up their responses to rank their current favorite pro athletes, starting with the overall top picks:

*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. 

LeBron might have won their face-off at the Finals, but Curry wins first place in the list of young consumers’ favorite athletes. This is a turnaround from 2015, when James ranked number one on the list. Curry’s talent is undoubtedly admired (being the “god” of three pointers was mentioned by many) and despite his recent loss, fans are big believers in his future. One 16-year-old male said of the Warriors player, “[He’s the] best basketball MVP, he’s gonna be up there with Michael Jordan.” But the athlete’s personality might be what boosted him to the top. One 25-year-old male fan called him a “Great player with a great attitude,” and his demeanor was frequently cited as a reason he was named as their favorite. “Humble” seems to be the most common perception of Curry, with one 17-year-old female explaining, “He deserves all his fame because he trains hard. And he’s extremely humble,” and a 24-year-old female telling us, “I think he is the most humble athlete in the NBA right now. He truly understands the need for team work but also succeeds as an individual. I also love following his life off court with his wife and two kids.” Her interest in Curry’s family was not unique—his position as a father and husband has won him fans, especially female ones. A 20-year-old female said she chose him, “Mainly for the reason that he’s a very good husband and his daughter is adorable.” Another mentioned his “beautiful family,” and a 17-year-old female said, “He’s cute and has really pretty eyes and his wife and daughter do too.”

Respondents who named LeBron were more likely to stick to his stats and raw ability as reasons they picked him—and his recent win also helped. One 26-year-old male said he named James because, “He just broke the curse and brought a championship to the best city in America, Cleveland!” A 26-year-old male fan explained, “Stats-wise, and performance wise [he’s] the best player on the planet.” But even some who appreciate his talent also mentioned that they weren’t as enamored of his personality—one 27-year-old male told us, “[ I ] really enjoy watching him play but couldn’t care less about him off the court. I respect his game but off the hardwood he just comes off as a dick.”

When we look at the results by gender and age, Curry’s comparative popularity becomes even more clear:

Curry tops the list for every group, indicating he’s a universally liked athlete. Here it’s also clear that Serena Williams’s number three ranking overall is driven by younger and female fans. Almost all of the respondents who named Williams as their favorite were female, and her gender is part of the reason they say she’s a favorite. A 29-year-old female exclaimed, “She is a real woman and fabulous!” while a 16-year-old female told us, “She proves over and over again how powerful women can be.” “Powerful” was a common descriptor for the tennis player—one 15-year-old female said, “She is so strong and powerful that I admire her,” and an 18-year-old female explained, “I really admire her strength and drive she is incredibly confident and outstanding at her sport. She always demonstrates the meaning of being able to control your own power and I like the ways she brands herself.”

Nike might have crossed out “female” in their “greatest athlete ever” campaign starring Williams, but it’s clearly part of her inspiration, as is her race. One 15-year-old female told us, “She is a inspiration to me. To be a black women and doing all the stuff she is.” 

To download the PDF version of this insight article, click here.