Data Visualizations
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Who is the Most Popular Athlete in your State?

Popular Players Complete Blu2

Athletes rank right among the biggest musicians and movie stars when it comes to fame. Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest NBA player of all time, is one of the most recognizable figures on the face of the earth. With that in mind, which players are the most popular? Using Google search volume data from the last 12 months (April 2013 – April 2014), the chart above illustrates the most searched-for athletes in each of the 50 States.

LeBron James dominates the competition, showing up as the most searched athlete in 23/50 states. Next in line is Peyton Manning who claims seven states, then Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady who tie for 3rd with four states. Andrew Wiggins (two states) and Johnny Manziel (one state) are the only athletes to win at least one state despite technically not having made the transition to professional sports yet. Tiger Woods (one state) is the only athlete on the map who doesn’t play one of the “Big Four” North American sports. Below, the top ten most popular athletes overall.

Most Popular Athletes2
While LeBron James dominates the “most popular” spot, the same can not be said for the league he plays in.

Popular Sports Complete BLUE

The NFL is far and away the most popular league in the United States. In almost every state, the NBA was the second-most popular league, but the MLB and NHL did make a few appearances in the number two spot. New York is the only state in which the NBA is the most popular league. In Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon, the NBA and NFL tie for first. With the knowledge that NFL is the most popular sport in America, you might guess that the most popular sports position would be one from the NFL. You’d be right.

The quarterbacks run away with this one. On average, they receive 58,852 more search queries than any other position. We also see the other prime positions from the NFL: running back and wide receiver. All of the NBA positions are listed as well. If your favorite player hasn’t shown up in the study yet, there’s still hope. Maybe your team is among the most popular in its league. We’ll start with the NFL.

Most Popular NFL Teams
It comes as no surprise that the two most recent Super Bowl participants top the list. The Vikings may come as a surprise however, as they sit comfortably in 5th place. Much of their success in this department is thanks to Adrian Peterson. The Jacksonville Jaguars are not only arguably the worst team in the NFL, they are also the least popular. Imagine that. Now let’s look at the NBA.

Most Popular NBA Teams
Here we see the Miami Heat ruthlessly stomping the competition. On average, they receive more monthly search queries than the entire bottom half of the league combined. The omnipresent LA Lakers come in second place with slightly more than half the search queries of the Heat. The Bulls and Spurs fall in the top five, which means that the Boston Celtics are the only super-elite franchise to be left out of the top five most popular. The tank technique must be working. How about Major League Baseball?

Most Popular MLB Teams
No surprise here. The New York Yankees sit right at the top of the list, followed by the Dodgers and Red Sox. The absence of the Cardinals, the Giants, and especially the Cubs atop the list is a bit surprising though. The unlucky Padres sit at the bottom of the pack, joined by the  Diamondbacks. Remember when the D-Backs won that awesome 7-Game World Series against the Yankees? I guess times have changed.

On to the NHL!

Most Popular NHL Teams2
The Detroit Red Wings, for me, have always been synonymous with hockey. It is surprising to me then, that they are not closer to the top of this chart. That being said, I could not even remotely be considered a hockey fan, so what do I know? The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks are familiar names that we see at the top of the list. Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane helped make that happen. At the bottom of the list we find the Calgary Flames, whose name suggests they may be playing the wrong sport. The closest thing to the Flames are the Winnipeg Jets, who receive nearly 12,000 more queries per month than the least-searched team.

That’s it for this study, although I’m sure you number crunchers out there can find some interesting stuff using the information in the data collective. Be sure to speak up in the comments section as well! As always, thanks to Brett and Mykel for helping with the data collection. The raw data download is available below.


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Comments (42)

  1. The Whaleman - Reply

    April 21, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    Can we get data on the Hartford Whalers in that search? Given merch sales, curious as to how they’d stack up…

  2. Tony - Reply

    April 21, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    It’s not a surprise that the Padres have few searches. I’ll bet you that if you asked half of San Diego County to name a player on the roster, they’d screw up and name someone who’s been traded or retired.

  3. Mick Prendergast - Reply

    April 21, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Great info! Thought it was odd that “Fantasy Leagues” weren’t mentioned as contributors to ‘search’. My guess for the Vikings inflated ranking.

  4. ratatat - Reply

    April 21, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    I cry “Shenanigans” on Andrew Wiggins being #1 athlete by search query in Kentucky. Also, your raw data doesn’t allow for us to see how this was determined.

    • Andrew Powell-Morse - Reply

      April 22, 2014 at 10:34 am

      I assure you our information is accurate. In order to determine the most popular athlete in each state, we simply found Google’s search volume by state for all of the athletes in our study.

      • Teresa L.K.B - Reply

        April 22, 2014 at 5:42 pm

        People just want to complain because their team wasn’t number one.

        Ignore them Andrew.

  5. Kate - Reply

    April 21, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    I am shocked that their was no Micheal Jordan for most popular in at least illnois, and not Derek Jeter coming from New York

    • Andrew Powell-Morse - Reply

      April 22, 2014 at 10:31 am

      Michael Jordan was not included in the study because he is retired. Derek Jeter, while popular among fans, is not the most-searched for athlete in New York. LeBron takes that title!

  6. David - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Very interesting. Just one question, though. These are all based on “searches/month”, but how many (and what) months are included in the study period?

    I’m from Chicago, and the search numbers for Chicago teams are not what I would have thought: Buils doubling the Bears? Quadrupling the Blackhawks? Would have thought Bears first (by a wide margin), then Hawks, then Bulls (or maybe even Cubs). That my Sox were last … not a surprise.

    • Andrew Powell-Morse - Reply

      April 22, 2014 at 10:29 am

      Google provides data from the last 12 months, so from April ’13 to April ’14.

  7. zardoz - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 10:07 am

    What were the dates used for compiling the statistics? Was this based on data from a single month? If so, which month? Or was this compiled over a 12-month period? I think this matters, especially when comparing searches of different sports. Searches for MLB-related topics probably zoom right after the Super Bowl, just as NFL searches drop off.

  8. Matt - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Besides AP’s fantasy stock, I have to wonder if the Chris Kluwe controversy factored into the Vikings’ high ranking. Although not a huge story among sports circles, it also seemed to draw in non-traditional sports consumers.

    Aside from that, Anderson Silva was the biggest outlier, no doubt due to his dramatic knockout at the hands of Weidman.

  9. George - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Well I doubt you could say that LeBron James is popular in Ohio. Infamous sure, popular not so much.

    • Nate - Reply

      April 22, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      umm… he is very popular. First of went from High School to Pro and is an Ohioan(so by default a lot of loyal fans. Secondly the only reason he is infamous is because of Cleveland being butt hurt even till this day about him leaving, like it or not he rescued that city up north and put them back on the sports map. Beside what other pro athlete are we going to root for? so many people on ohio are Pittsburgh fans its not even funny, along with the fact that our other major pro teams are… bengals browns indians blue jackes and The Crew(indians who are they browns who are they bengals are the only ones of worth and hockey and soccer are not big enough for people to care. So…. yes King James is our PRO Star

  10. Fred - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Help me understand you results. You say you used Google search volume data. Does this data come from Google Trends? Or are you using actual total volume of searches per month?

    • Andrew Powell-Morse - Reply

      April 22, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      It is the actual average number of searches per month. The data we used goes back to April of last year.

      • Fred - Reply

        April 23, 2014 at 11:57 am

        Okay. So a follow up. Looking at Google Trends for Kentucky, Lebron James has a higher average search volume when compared to Andrew Wiggins for the last 12 months. Do you know why their is a disconnect between the Trends results and what you are reporting as average number of searches per month?

  11. counterfit - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Oh West Virginia

    • Richard - Reply

      April 26, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Really? Because we keep up with our own? MANY other states are lusting for an athlete that they don’t even root for (see New York) but we are thankful for what we have and want to continue to support the young man through his career. I wish people would quit acting if us West Virginians are idiots.

  12. Robbie - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for publishing this Andrew. It’s surprising that there are no soccer players, clubs, leagues (Premier League) nor competitions (Champion’s League Confederation’s Cup). Any ideas as to why soccer isn’t showing up?

    • B Dubb - Reply

      April 23, 2014 at 1:49 pm

      hahahahahaha HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH

      That cannot be a serious question!

      Thanks for the laugh, though.

      • ReV - Reply

        April 23, 2014 at 5:13 pm

        Seeing that it’s the most popular sport in the world AND still growing even further. I agree that it’s surprising but then there are blind Americans like you who probably think the NFL is the best league in the world while the rest of the world laughs at you. Not saying soccer is my favorite, but to laugh at its popularity is naive

  13. Joey Catorse - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    This study has no merit with out the dates of when the data started and when the data ended. With football and basketball being so heavily searched, one could assume the data was collected during the winter.

    • Andrew Powell-Morse - Reply

      April 22, 2014 at 2:34 pm

      The opening paragraphs state that the data represents searches made between April 2013 and April 2014.

  14. unhipcat - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    if the jaguars are the worst team, how come we’re drafting third?

    • Vince - Reply

      April 23, 2014 at 9:31 am

      If the draft was based on actual lack of talent/direction, Jax would draft #1 annually. They managed to squeak out one more win than 2 teams who didn’t play a 4th place schedule.

  15. Donald - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    I’m going to join the philosophy that the reason the NFL is the most searched for sport is fantasy football.

  16. Felton - Reply

    April 22, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    I can’t see the name on my phone…who did Oklahoma search the most?

    • Andrew Powell-Morse - Reply

      April 22, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Oklahoma’s winner is Kevin Durant.

      • Felton - Reply

        April 22, 2014 at 9:53 pm

        Thanks…not too surprising since we have one pro team.

  17. edward - Reply

    April 23, 2014 at 2:23 am

    Did you omit college football? because by far college football is the most popular sport in the state of Alabama.

    • Andrew Powell-Morse - Reply

      April 28, 2014 at 10:05 am

      We only included athletes that were already professionals, or those who will become professionals in the next year.

  18. Josh - Reply

    April 23, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    So we have stats, what they don’t say is what knd of personal info have they gathered during this process?

  19. Question - Reply

    April 23, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Question: is the Google search data for the US or global?

  20. Jake - Reply

    April 23, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    How does Carmelo Anthony feel about Lebron James being the most popular athlete in New York?

  21. Courty - Reply

    April 24, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    I asked this on Twitter as well. Is it possible that the results for a team like the Vikings are affected by searches for the popular TV show of the same name. The vast majority of people searching for “49ers” are looking for the football team so it is not important to try remove people researching the Gold Rush. In the case of “Vikings” a material percentage might be interested in the show or the the ancient people. I don’t think it is trivial to separate the intentions of the searcher without knowing what they clicked next.

    • Andrew Powell-Morse - Reply

      April 25, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      If you view the charts you will see that the teams ranks are determined by the “players monthly searches” not by team name monthly searches. There is no concern about the TV shows with similar names.

      • Courty - Reply

        April 25, 2014 at 2:30 pm

        Great. Thanks. That makes sense.

  22. Courty - Reply

    April 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Got the answer. Thanks,

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