As LeBron slipped on a Lakers’ jersey for the first time this month, he made the kind of headlines across the world which the LA team must have been dreaming of.
As the league’s most high-profile player, his move echoes that of soccer’s Cristiano Ronaldo who transferred from Real Madrid to Juventus on the same day – a fine player looking to breathe life (and titles) back into to a sleeping giant.
But whilst LeBron’s move made headlines around the world, just how big a figure is he in American sports compared to some of the other greats?
At YouGov SMG Insight, we don’t just track teams, leagues and events, but the athletes themselves. And our data shows exactly why the Lakers prioritised signing LeBron – he is America’s favorite player.
LeBron’s is the favorite athlete of more than 20m Americans, ahead of other NBA stars like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant but also beating off stars including Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Serena Williams.
In addition, we track athletes as part of our Ratings database and this metric also demonstrates LeBron’s popularity with Americans. Forty-four percent of Americans have a positive opinion of Mr. James. But he also polarises opinion more than almost any other athlete in the top ten of our Ratings, with 21% having a negative opinion of him. For reference, the average negative opinion of our top ten athletes is 10%. The athlete attracting the highest amount of negative opinion is Tom Brady (27%).
The group most likely to have a positive perception of LeBron is millennials. Mr. James is also popular amongst Generation X but he doesn’t have quite the same appeal for Baby Boomers. Interestingly, he is viewed equally positively amongst men and women, giving him the type of crossover appeal that marketers pay big bucks for.
What’s also great news for the Lakers is that on top of being an outstanding player, James also manages to project a good guy image. Our polling records that he is commonly perceived as ‘hard-working’, ‘talented’, ‘a leader’ and ‘a good role model’. We look forward to him showing it off at the Staples Center from October.