For the third year in a row, I’ve conducted a survey to figure out who the biggest, most popular, and most recognizable names in sports were. At first, it was done as a way to see how in Derek Jeter’s final year, he became the biggest name in baseball and it would be hard to fill his void. Last year, I added five new sports to go along with the “Big Four” American sports.
This year, the same question remains: When you hear or think of certain sports leagues, who are the first people the come to mind? Who are becoming the faces of their sports and are the most gravitating for viewers and businesses?
Below are the results of each survey. Please feel free to leave your input and feedback.
- Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
- Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
- Peyton Manning
- Roger Goodell
- Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
After all of the news surrounding Deflategate which was followed up by incredible performances in the regular season and postseason, Tom Brady was far and away the first person people think of nationwide when thinking of the NFL.
The NFL remains a quarterback-driven league, with the top 3 active players (and top retired player) being quarterbacks. They all range in age and experience as well. Whenever Tom Brady retires, Rodgers, Newton, and Russell Wilson are three examples of QBs who will be right there to carry the torch.
- LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Steph Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
- Michael Jordan
- Kobe Bryant
- Kevin Durant, SF, Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry and the Warriors have revolutionized the way the game is played today but after his championship in 2016, LeBron James remains in command of the NBA title for the third year in the row.
Players like Russell Westbrook and James Harden, with their triple double performances, fell into the 1-vote category. After their seasons in 2016-17, I imagine they will make more of a presence on this list next year.
- Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
- Derek Jeter
- Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals
- Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
- David Ortiz
Two years ago, when this survey was done, Derek Jeter was the leader on this by a considerable amount. Now, MLB is happy as the young guns are here and players like Trout, Harper, Bryant, and Rizzo are at the top of mind of baseball fans.
Pitchers still remain off of the Top 7 in this list. Pitchers that made an impact during the postseason either didn’t advance far (Kershaw) or did not get the same amount of attention as the daily players (Arrieta). Pending a massive performance in the postseason a la Bumgarner, it may be hard for a pitcher outside of Kershaw and Mad-Bum to make this list.
- Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
- Wayne Gretzky
- Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals
- Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks
- Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres
Being born in and having a large network of friends in Buffalo, Jack Eichel over-indexed and received way more votes than he normally would. However, he is the example of the power of the young players in the NHL. Eichel, McDavid, Tarasenko, Matthews, Laine, Marner, and others have generated an excitement in the up-and-coming talent in the NHL not seen since Crosby, Ovechkin, and Malkin.
No goalies made the Top 7 on this list. On the best teams in the league in the standings, either the goalie is playing well and is overshadowed by another star (Holtby, Crawford) or is playing well and is in a small market (Bobrovsky, Dubnyk). It would be hard for a goalie, who isn’t putting the puck in the net, to make this list.
- Lionel Messi, RW, FC Barcelona
- Cristiano Ronaldo, LW, Real Madrid
- David Beckham
- Landon Donovan
The overwhelming majority of people who take these surveys are from the United States, hence why Donovan and Lloyd are so high. Other American players, such as Dempsey, Bradley, Morgan, etc., are lower on the list.
Despite not having the same level of TV deals in the United States as the Premier League and Bundesliga, no player from either of those leagues are anywhere in the Top 6 and the two best players in the world are #1 and #2. What will be interesting to see is if more players from the PL and Bundesliga appear on this list as the leagues get more and more exposure in the US.
The notable faces of the latest marketing campaigns from Adidas and Nike, such as Paul Pogba, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, and Dele Alli, are nowhere to be found on this list. As popular as they are in Europe, it will take a little bit more work to make mainstream America more familiar of them.
- Tiger Woods
- Jordan Spieth
- Rory McIlroy
- Arnold Palmer
- Phil Mickelson
Despite not being a factor at all over the last few years, whenever Tiger Woods plays golf, it’s must-see TV. Because of his groundbreaking success for so long, Tiger should remain the big name in the minds of golf fans from the 2000s.
The younger talent of golf (Spieth, McIlroy, Fowler, Johnson, Day, etc.) continues to make its presence known on the list. However, only one person in this list of five won a major in 2016. Showing up on the biggest of stages moves you up on this list.
- Serena Williams
- Roger Federer
- Maria Sharapova
- The Williams Sisters
- Andy Murray
Serena Williams, the 2015 Sportsperson of the Year, broke the record for the most Open Era singles titles in early 2017. Her incredible wins, dominance on the court, and marketability off the court makes her the understandable face of tennis.
On the men’s side, the Top 4 players on this list have dominated the sport for years, owning the top of the rankings and winning a combined 47 majors, including 9 of the last 12. Without anyone else consistently rising to the occasion at the biggest stages, outside of occasionally Stan Wawrinka, tennis might be in some trouble looking for that next marketable player as the careers of the “Big Four” dwindle.
- Conor McGregor
- Ronda Rousey
- Dana White
- Jon Jones
- Brock Lesnar
The most dominant and best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, Demetrious Johnson, is nowhere to be found on this list. Fans gravitate not only to winners, but winners who finish fights. Hence, McGregor and Rousey, who know how to market their fights and deliver on the biggest of stages, dominate the top of the list.
With the bigger divisions seeing their champions changing hands more frequently, it’s hard for fans to catch onto a consistent winner. In order for anyone else to slip into the Top 2, such as Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier, or Tyron Woodley, they need to be able to defend their titles multiple times and deliver those gravitating finishes.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Jeff Gordon
- Jimmie Johnson
- Dale Earnhardt
- Tony Stewart
The top names on this list, two retired and two active, have either had stretches of success or have a long legacy in the sport. They were able to make those emotional connections to the fans.
Despite not having success on the track, Danica Patrick’s brand is strong because of being a groundbreaker in NASCAR. Her impact to the casual audience will make her a memorable name no matter how many wins she has.
With the long season and the fact that there are so many different winners throughout the season, it’s hard for the casual fan to pick a driver (Busch, Edwards, Harvick, Hamlin) that doesn’t win consistently, have success over a number of years, and doesn’t have the legacy factor.