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Revealed preferences among NBA fans: Is skin tone a factor?

Ariel R. Belasen (Economics and Finance, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, Illinois, USA)
Alan T. Belasen (MBA Program, SUNY Empire State College, Saratoga Springs, New York, USA)

International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship

ISSN: 1464-6668

Article publication date: 4 June 2019




Skin tone has been shown to impact the ability of darker-skinned athletes to maximize their earnings to potential earnings ratio. Additionally, studies of fan preference have found strong support for racial implications on team preference and ticket sales. The purpose of this paper is to test these theories empirically by examining the marginal impact of skin tone on top selling jerseys.


This study makes use of an ordered probit regression analysis to examine the impact of NBA players’ skin tone on their jersey sales after controlling for a number of other factors. Jersey sales are measured in rank order and skin tone is captured by measuring the level of pigmentation in player profile photos.


Overall, the study finds a significantly positive relationship between skin tone and jersey sale rankings. This runs contrary to the standard literature results that darker-skinned athletes are likely to earn less and attract fewer endorsements than their lighter-skinned counterparts. More specifically, the marginal impact of skin tone is comparable to the marginal impact of individual player statistics in determining how well a player’s jersey will sell.

Practical implications

If, in fact, fans are more likely to purchase jerseys from darker-skinned NBA players, it stands to reason that the standard business practice found in the literature of rewarding lighter-skinned players with higher salaries and better endorsement deals requires further investigation.


This study provides valuable information about athlete branding and offers insights to advertisers and sponsors seeking to align the strategy of branding athletes for increased jersey sales.



Belasen, A.R. and Belasen, A.T. (2019), "Revealed preferences among NBA fans: Is skin tone a factor?", International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 462-476.



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