The Washington Post published a piece about baseball’s dilemma because its biggest star on the field, Mike Trout, is not a breakthrough star in the public conscience. Within that piece, they quoted Henry Schafer of Q Scores, who cited that Mike Trout was roughly as well-known as NBA player Kenneth Faried, who has never made an All-Star team or appeared deep in the postseason (or made the playoffs in five years).
Trout scored a 22 in Q Scores’ awareness category, Schafer said, which means a little more than one in five Americans even know who he is. The closest NBA player to Trout in terms of awareness among the general population, per Q Scores’s research, is reserve forward Kenneth Faried, who was traded by the Denver Nuggets to the Brooklyn Nets last week in a salary dump. If that’s to be believed, it means that if you stopped a random person on the street, they’d be about as likely to be familiar with a power forward who averaged 14.4 minutes last season as the hands-down best baseball player on the planet.
“That’s like, what’s wrong with baseball?” Schafer said.
Well, we were collectively dubious of that claim here in the virtual Big Lead offices, so I decided to go stop random people. It’s not unfathomable that Mike Trout might not be universally known — after all we kind of live in a sports bubble and most people don’t watch sports regularly, and he’s not active on social media or very public. What seemed implausible was the claim that someone outside the Top 100 players in one sport might be as well-known as one of the best in another, when other public polling generally shows the two sports to be similar in overall popularity.
So I put on my hat and went to a gas station and a McDonald’s just off I-70 here in Kansas City, and asked people that came through if they knew who four people were: LeBron James, Mike Francesa, Mike Trout, and Kenneth Faried. (I added LeBron, who I anticipated would be very well-known, and New York personality Mike Francesa, who would likely not be outside the northeast market, to provide some controls).
I asked 25 people, ranging from a grandmother with her early teen grandkids, to teenagers, to people over 50, with several in the 25-45 range stopping in going to and from whatever they were doing with their lives, besides being annoyed by a stranger at a gas station or fast food restaurant. The distribution was 60% male, 24% minority (For what it’s worth, Kansas City came in 13th in a study of which communities were closest to the average U.S. demographic).
100% knew who LeBron James was.
40% (10 of 25) knew who Mike Trout was.
12% (3 of 25) knew who Kenneth Faried was.
4% (1 of 25) knew who Mike Francesa was.
Now, this isn’t anything more than a 25-person sample, so I’ll just speak to what I observed. First, the name Mike Trout is boring. I think people would think they knew him more if he had a noticeable name. Some of the people thought they knew Francesa or Faried, but when I asked them how, I got answers like “isn’t Faried a golfer?” So those got marked as a “no.” No one who thought they knew Mike Trout incorrectly identified how they knew him. I don’t know what the methodology for the Q-rating is or if there are secondary questions to rule out false positives.
The only ones that knew Faried were teenagers (all at the same table) who said they were NBA fans and could describe him, but they also knew Mike Trout. So I guess that plays into the young NBA fans thing.
Whereas everyone knew LeBron, and pretty much no one knew Faried or Francesa, there was a male/female split on who recognized Mike Trout. Only one of 10 women did, while 9 of 15 (60%) of the men I asked knew Trout. So maybe my wife is higher up the sports fan chain than I think, because I bothered her with a text at work when I saw this story:
I am not sure if I buy that Kenneth Faried and Mike Trout are equally well-known by the public. I do buy that Mike Trout is not very popular–by best player in a sport standards–and he probably lags way behind Bryce Harper in the “hide your girl” metric. There are some issues endemic to the sport, including that it is far more regional in terms of fans and their viewing, and not as individualistic (after all, a lot of fans are LeBron fans or Steph Curry fans, not Cleveland or Golden State fans traditionally). Another big barrier, though, is that Mike Trout has never advanced deep in the postseason, and has played just three playoff games in 2014. The relatively biggest national audiences and casual fan audiences, whether you are talking NFL with the Super Bowl or the NBA with the Finals or the World Series, come in the postseason. The Angels are again outside the playoff picture, so that will again prove to be an issue when it comes to putting Trout in front of a broader audience.