NBA fans call for logo update with Black player—but league still winning with Gen Z: new poll

Plus, what do NBA fans think of the Rachel Nichols-Maria Taylor drama at ESPN?  

NBA fans call for logo update with Black player—but league still winning with Gen Z: new poll

The National Football League remains the most dominant pro sport in the U.S.—but the National Basketball Association is beating it when it comes to younger generations, according to a new poll. 

Fifty-three percent of Gen Zers and 68% of millennials are NBA fans, compared with 49% and 66%, respectively, for the NFL, according to the latest Ad Age-Harris Poll. Pro football remains a baby boomer obsession, with 60% of respondents from the generation describing themselves as NFL fans, compared with 40% for the NBA. The NFL also has a commanding lead with Gen Xers—by a score of 66% to 44%. Overall, 61% of Americans are NFL fans, compared with 50% for the NBA, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,012 U.S. adults from July 16-19.

The NBA has long been considered the most progressive pro sort, a standing that helps the league with younger generations that polls have shown back brands that take stances on social causes. Still, there is one area where the NBA might be falling short—its logo. 

Among NBA fans, 56% say the league should update its logo to feature a silhouette of a Black player, according to findings the Harris Poll made based on separate surveys conducted in April and March. 

The current logo features what has long been considered a silhouette of Jerry West, the Los Angeles Lakers legend whose career ended in the early 1970s. The trademark was created in 1969 by brand consultant Alan Siegel, who made it a year after designing Major League Baseball’s logo, according to this account in Sbnation. The NBA has never officially acknowledged that it is based on West.

The league earlier this year faced pressure to update its look in wake of comments made by Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who pushed the NBA to swap West with the late Kobe Bryant. 

"As a native Black man, as a native Black king, I think it's part of my responsibility to continue to push our generation, our culture, forward,"  Irving said, according to this account from CBS News. "I know that it probably was met with some people that love the idea and some people that don't like it." He added: "My thing is paying homage to the example that has been set by that man ... He was the standard for our generation and he will continue on," he added. Irving’s Instagram post imagining Bryant in the logo has drawn more than one million likes since it was posted in February.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the call for change during a press event held in conjunction with the 2021 All-Star Game.  “There are no ongoing discussions right now at the league office about changing the logo,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the NBA. “I certainly saw Kyrie Irving’s comments. Again, everything changes over time. Nothing’s permanently fixed. But the logo is iconic. As you know, we’re distributed globally. Even changing the logo, purely even from a legal standpoint, isn’t an easy exercise. Not that that should be the impediment.”

Harris Poll CEO Will Johnson says: “As we discovered in our research, NBA fans have a strong affinity for the brand and they’re invested in its future. While fans reported they wanted to see a logo change, it isn’t necessarily an indictment of the league. Rather, it underscores the currency of the NBA and demonstrates the passion its young and racially diverse fan base has for the sport, the NBA brand and the players.”  

The NBA has stuck with the Jerry West look for a special logo that will be used for its 75th anniversary season, which will be celebrated throughout the 2021-22 season. The logo shows the West silhouette fronting a diamond shape. The Harris Poll found the special logo winning broader support, with 59% of fans approving it.

The findings come in the wake of the conclusion of the NBA Finals, which ended Tuesday when the Milwaukee Bucks clinched the title with a Game 6 victory over the Phoenix Suns that aired on ABC. 

TV ratings are up from the 2020 Finals, held later than normal in the so-called “bubble” in Orlando. But the league is falling short of its pre-pandemic numbers. Total viewership through the first three games this year was 26.95 million, compared with 40.8 million in 2019, when the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors, according to the New York Post.

This year’s Finals was accompanied by drama at ESPN/ABC as the Disney networks dealt with backlash from a New York Times report earlier this month about private comments made last year by ESPN personality Rachel Nichols about her colleague, Maria Taylor. Nichols was caught on tape suggesting that Taylor won duties hosting NBA Finals programming because she is Black. 

ESPN today announced that Taylor is leaving the network.  She is expected to land at NBC, the New York Times reported today. Nichols, who apologized for her comments, remains at ESPN. But she undoubtedly has lost support from a large portion of NBA fans. The Ad Age-Harris Poll found that “78% of NBA fans agree that sports commentators who make disrespectful or inappropriate remarks about other commentators should be removed from their position.”

Below, some additional findings Harris Poll has made related to NBA trends, based on recent polling:

**77% of NBA fans think the NBA should make a concerted effort to feature commentators who identify as women and 75% say the same effort should be made for people of color.

**75% think the NBA has too many superstar players concentrated on the most well-known teams. 

**41% enjoy watching the games more this season due to the increase in three-point shots.

**61% are watching more NBA games with friends or family this season compared to last season.

**56% are watching NBA games using the official NBA app this season.