Last week the authoritative British sports media company, SportsPro, released its annual list of the most marketable athletes on the planet. This week SportsPro released its inaugural list of the world’s 50 most marketed brands.
Before reading further, see if you can guess which athlete and brand came out on top…
The key drivers for the marketability of athletes are performance and social media presence. As it should be, athletes who perform well on the global stage generate the most exposure for their sponsors (or as SportsPro calls them, brand partners) and attract a larger fan following. Social media platforms can no longer be considered a trend in the sports world. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, VK, Weibo and YouTube are here to stay. The athletes who can engage best with their fans on social media, are more marketable and therefore more likely to attract sponsors.
Heading the list of the most marketable athletes in the world are two footballers, Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo. Arguably two of the greatest players the game has ever seen, Messi edges out Ronaldo because performance still slightly outweighs social media presence. Messi has won the sport’s highest individual accolade, the Ballon d’Or, a record-breaking six times as opposed to Ronaldo’s five. That gives him the No.1 spot. Ronaldo fares better on social media though. On Instagram for example, he has the most followers in the world while Messi is eighth.
Third on the list is the American basketball player LeBron James. Cricket’s growing global prominence is evidenced in the Indian cricket captain, Virat Kohli, occupying fourth place. At No.5 is the 20-year old Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu.
Another cricketer in the top 10 is Kohli’s teammate, Rohit Sharma. Sharma is the world’s eighth most marketable athlete. The duo’s placing is remarkable when one considers they were weighed against all the stars of the big American sports leagues. America is the world’s biggest sports market by a country mile and consequently the most influential indicator of an athlete’s marketability. Cricket is an insignificant sport in America, but the country does have a significant Asian expat community. While cricket performances might not mean a lot to Americans, social media does allow cricket fans in America to interact with the likes of Kohli and Sharma, and in this way opening new markets for American brands.
For every professional sport and the athletes who make a career of competing at the highest level, sponsors are key to their financial stability and the building of a fanbase. For sponsors social media has presented it with an opportunity to expand their income streams and build brand value, in addition to their traditional in-stadia and kit sponsorship exposure.
It should come as little surprise that Nike is the world’s most marketed brand. According to SportsPro, from August 2019 to August 2020 the American footwear and apparel giant had no fewer than 11,988 sports partnerships, ranging from individual athletes (Ronaldo, Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters to name a few) to team and event sponsorships. Nike received more social media posts from sponsored properties than any other brand in the world – a staggering 5.5 billion posts in total. Experts estimate this exposure value for Nike to be worth more than US$450 million.
After Nike, the next most marketed brands in the world are Emirates Airlines, Adidas, Monster Energy and Red Bull. Football and motorsport rule the roost with sponsorships. Except for the American insurer State Farm (sixth overall), the other 19 brands in the top 20 all have a presence in either football or motorsport, or both (like No.18 Heineken).
Will a South African athlete or brand ever get onto any of these lists?