In January 2015, I conducted a small survey to figure out who the biggest names in American sports were. At the time, it was done to show the impact that Derek Jeter had on baseball in his last season and how the Yankees, sports media, and brands had done a great job of celebrating him. On top of that, it was to show how baseball might have an issue filling the void in having a superstar.
This year, I wanted to do the same thing with no specific mission in mind. Who are the biggest names in major American sports? Who are the athletes that brands can use as endorsers for products? Who are the stars that the public and the media gravitate to?
This focuses on US football/soccer. Would the women’s World Cup run in 2015 propel their stars to the minds of the American audience? Or would the men’s run in 2014 help make their stars more memorable?
THE BIGGEST NAMES IN UNITED STATES SOCCER
Number 4 (tied): Tim Howard
- Goalkeeper for the United States, MetroStars, Manchester United, and Everton
- Achievements: 3x CONCACAF Goalkeeper of the Year, 2001 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, 106 CAPS for the United States
- Endorsements: Nike, McDonalds
Tim Howard’s 2014 World Cup heroics, helping lead the USA out of the “Group Of Death” and into the quarterfinals, helped to put him in the minds of Americans. His work in England with Everton increased his international appeal shortly after that. His career has been on the decline since then but as long as he continues to perform on an international level, the casual fan will remember him.
Number 4 (tied): Michael Bradley
- Midfielder for the United States, MetroStars, Heerenveen, Borussia Monchengladbach, Chievo, Roma, and Toronto FC
- Achievements: 111 CAPS for the United States, 2015 US Soccer Athlete of the Year
Due to his role with not only the US team, but with Toronto FC, he may not have the statistical prowess that his peers have, his consistency and long career have helped grow his brand over the years. His role as a leader and captain on Team USA doesn’t hurt either.
Number 3: Abby Wambach
- Retired Forward for the United States, Washington Freedom, and Western New York Flash
- Achievements: 2015 World Cup champion, 2x Olympic gold medalist, 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, 1st all time in international goals
- Endorsements: Gatorade, Nike, MVP Healthcare, Cree
Despite not being a pivotal force in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, where the United States took home their first time since 1999, Wambach is the most successful forward since Mia Hamm. Ending her career as the all-time leader in goals internationally amongst men and women, Wambach’s legacy has inspired both men and women in America. That combined with her popularity off the field makes her a figure that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Number 1 (tied): Clint Dempsey
- Forward for the United States, New England Revolution, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur, and Seattle Sounders FC
- Achievements: 3x US Soccer Athlete of the Year, 2x CONCACAF Gold Cup winner, 119 CAPS for the United States
- Endorsements: EA Sports, Degree, Pepsi
One of the most successful goal scorers in American history, Dempsey has brought excitement to not only MLS, but to the US national team. Despite the fact that he is late in his career, he still remains one fo the most marketable names in the sport.
Number 1 (tied): Landon Donovan
- Retired Forward for the United States, Bayer Leverkusen, San Jose Earthquakes, and LA Galaxy
- Achievements: 4x US Soccer Athlete of the Year, 6x MLS Cup winner, 7x MLS Best XI selection, 157 CAPS for the United States
- Endorsements: Wells Fargo, Heineken
Donovan helped to popularize the game of soccer for Americans, both with MLS and the national team. Crucial goals in the 2010 World Cup and success alongside David Beckham in MLS with the Los Angeles Galaxy helped to popularize him during his career and after he retired. It might be a while before an American reaches the level of success he reached in his career.
Most people (in this survey) could not think of one individual player. As a result, fans know and support the national team and culture of soccer, regardless of the players.
Despite the recent success of the 2015 women’s team, more of the individuals on the men’s team are remembered by the casual fan.
MLS teams have made plenty of moves to bring in international superstars and legends. They, however, do not have the name recognition that homegrown stars have.