Our Second Annual Ranking of the Biggest Names in Sports
Who are the most famous athletes on the planet? Ben Alamar, ESPN's director of analytics, devised a formula that combines endorsements with social media following and internet search popularity to create the ESPN World Fame 100 rankings. (Note: NA means either an athlete doesn't have an official account for a social media site or an accurate endorsement figure could not be confirmed.)
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We started with Forbes' annual list of the highest-paid athletes and expanded the pool from there using a variety of domestic and international sources to make sure we didn't overlook any legitimate candidates. (You can find the 2016 World Fame 100 here.) We also sought input from ESPN journalists around the world, including colleagues in our bureaus in Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
The data for each athlete in the pool was then fed into a formula created by ESPN director of sports analytics Ben Alamar that weighs athletes' endorsements, their following on the social media Big Three (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and Google search popularity, producing a comparative ranking system. The analysis includes five categories: endorsement money, Twitter followers, Instagram followers, Facebook followers and Google Trends score. For special situations (esports and China) we used two additional categories: other social media -- for when the athlete was more relevant on a platform outside the Big Three (Twitch, for example, although no gamers made the top 100) -- and, in China's case, Baidu search score, because Google is blocked there.
Salary is not used as a factor because of differences among sports. For example, players in a league with a salary cap would be at an unfair disadvantage when measured against players in uncapped leagues. Endorsement dollars, however, reflect the ability to draw attention -- which is a good way to define fame.
Endorsement amounts cover 2016 and were compiled by ESPN researchers. All currency figures were converted to U.S. dollars using March 27 rates. The social media followings and Google Trend scores (which show relative popularity based on how often names are searched on a scale of 0 to 100) were as of April 19. (Note: Where categories in the profiles are marked as NA, the athlete either doesn't have an official account for that social media site or an accurate endorsement figure could not be confirmed.)
Retired athletes are not included. Therefore, popular stars such as Tony Romo (No. 70 in 2016) and Floyd Mayweather (No. 26 in 2016) are absent. We have also excluded amateur athletes -- Deshaun Watson, Lonzo Ball and Katie Ledecky, for example -- due to lack of salary and endorsements.
Contributors: Primary research by Sachin Dave Chandan and Charlotte Gibson. Additional research by Sam Bruce, Jayaditya Gupta, Sam Lyon, Richard Maguire, James Martin, Gueorgui Milkov, Fernando Olivieri, Darren Rovell, Sripath Srinath, Xin Wan, Qixin Wang, Andy Withers and Ricardo Zanei.