Tom Brady and Tony Romo at top of Least Liked Athletes List

The tallies are in, the votes cast, and for the second year in a row LeBron James sits atop the list of America’s favorite sports stars. This will hopefully provide some degree of comfort as, while he clearly has plenty of supporters, he also leads a less desirable category: when asked to name their least favorite sports star, James tops that list as well. He’s far from alone in having mixed response though – in fact, among the top ten sports stars chosen as Americans’ favorites, five also appear among the top ten least favorite sports stars.

Focusing first on favorites though, Michael Jordan is in the No. 2 spot for the second year in a row, followed by a couple of players who have made strong gains this year: quarterback Aaron Rodgers moves up seven spots to No. 3, while the NBA’s 2015 Most Valuable Player, Stephen Curry, makes his top-ten debut at No. 4. Rounding out the top five is Tom Brady, rising two spots since last year.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,220 adults surveyed online between June 17 and 22, 2015. Full results of the study, including data tables, can be found here.

According to Nielsen’s N-Score (a measure of entertainers’ marketability), each of the top five athletes named above – with the exception of Aaron Rodgers – is known by at least 75% of Americans. Among the group, Michael Jordan has the highest awareness at 88%, followed by LeBron James at 76%, while 75% are aware of both Stephen Curry and Tom Brady. Although Aaron Rodgers is known by a lesser 46% of Americans, he’s still 70% more recognizable than the average football player.

Looking at the rest of The Harris Poll’s top ten favorite sports stars, Peyton Manning drops two spots to No. 6 while Derek Jeter falls four spots to No. 7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kobe Bryant – who tied at No. 5 last year – tie at No. 8 this time around. And in the No. 10 spot is Tiger Woods, down two positions from 2014.

With Stephen Curry joining the top ten for 2015, that means one sports star dropped off the list this year: Drew Brees, who held the No. 9 spot last year.

Different groups tend to have different favorites, though this year many agree on LeBron James in the No. 1 spot. He holds the top rank among both men and women; across the Millennial, Gen X and Baby Boomer generations; in the Southern, Western and Eastern regions (albeit in a tie with Tom Brady in the East); among both Urban and Suburban residents; and among Democrats.

  • Tom Brady is No. 1 among Matures in addition to the aforementioned tie in the East, while Aaron Rodgers holds the top position in the Midwest and ties at No. 1 with Dale Earnhardt Jr. among Rural Americans.
  • Meanwhile, Republicans are split between Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow, while Michael Jordan is No. 1 among Independents.

Favorite Female Sports Star

For the sixth year in a row, Serena Williams is America’s Favorite Female Sport Star. Race car driver Danica Patrick three-peats at No. 2, while Venus Williams does the same in the No. 3 spot. Mixed Martial Artist Ronda Rousey debuts on the list at No. 4, while soccer star Mia Hamm holds onto spot No. 5 for the fourth year in a row.

Soccer makes a few more appearances in the top ten, with Hope Solo at No. 6, Abby Wambach at No. 8 (after both dropped out of the top ten last year), and Alex Morgan in between at No. 7 (up one spot from last year). Tennis is where this list begins, and is also where it ends: Maria Sharapova holds the No. 9 spot, down five positions from last year, while past rivals Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova tie at No. 10 (Evert is down two spots from last year, while Navratilova returns to the top ten after a two-year absence.

Three female sports stars drop off the top 10 list this year: Tennis legend Billie Jean King (who tied for the No. 6 spot in 2014), Skier Lindsey Vonn (the other part of last year’s No. 6 tie) and Misty May (who held the No. 10 spot in 2014).

There tend to be demographic differences for favorite female sports star, but this year Serena Williams holds onto the top spot with authority. She tops the list among both men and women, across regions, generations and even political parties. Rural Americans’ top pick is Danica Patrick, but Serena Williams holds the title among those in Urban and Suburban areas.

Some additional insights about Serena Williams’ fans come courtesy of Nielsen Talent analytics: compared to the average American, her fans are:

  • 10% more likely to visit social networking sites 11-25 hours a week
  • 45% more likely to watch streaming video 11-25 hours a week
  • 23% more likely to plan to buy a full-sized car in the next 12 months
  • 9% more likely to watch animated TV shows

As for that other list…

And now we come back to Mr. James. While he enjoys the top position among America’s favorite sports stars, there are clearly negative sentiments toward him among many Americans as he also sits atop the list of America’s least favorite sports stars. At No. 2 on the least favorites list is another familiar face: Tom Brady (No. 5 on the favorites list). Other repeat appearances include Tiger Woods at No. 4, Kobe Bryant at No. 5 and Stephen Curry at No. 7.

Filling in the gaps on the least favorites list are Alex Rodriguez at No. 3, Michael Vick at No. 6, Tony Romo at No. 8 and Ray Rice and Richard Sherman in a tie at No. 9.

What’s the big idea?

But this is all just a big popularity contest, right? Hardly. “How fans feel about an athlete matters tremendously,” says Stephen Master, Global SVP of Sports, Nielsen. “As leagues, programmers, advertisers or the athletes themselves look to translate that popularity into other opportunities like endorsements or sponsorships, it’s important to know who fans are emotionally investing in, and to have the most complete picture of those fans – who they like and dislike, but also what they buy, watch and listen to.”

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This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between June 17 and 22, 2015 among 2,220 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

About Nielsen Talent Analytics
Nielsen Talent Analytics is the collective Nielsen intelligence, insights and solutions for linking brands and audiences to entertainment personalities. Talent Analytics is powered by Nielsen N-Score – Nielsen’s syndicated tool for evaluating the endorsement potential for personalities across the Sports, Television, Film, Music, Book Publishing and Radio industries – and leverages a variety of Nielsen data sets such as TV ratings, the HomeScan panel, and consumer segmentation systems.

The Harris Poll® #57, September 24 2015
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®
Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, please visit our new website,