Lionel Messi has been named No 1 in SportsPro’s 2020 list of the World’s 50 Most Marketable Athletes, with his rival Cristiano Ronaldo finishing in second spot.
The two lead the field globally, ahead of NBA star LeBron James and India cricket captain Virat Kohli, but it’s a shock to see the Barcelona player placed ahead of his rival at Juventus.
CR7 has often been listed as the world’s most marketable athlete and is the planet’s most followed person on Instagram (238 million compared to Messi’s 167 million).
But Messi is the reigning Ballon d’Or winner and SportsPro’s study allowed for factors such as “social following, content engagement, fanbase growth over time, media value, and the performance of branded versus organic content.”
There is an argument that because Ronaldo is seen to work with a greater number of sponsors and brands than Messi, the Argentine might be perceived as therefore more valuable to those he does choose to endorse.
SportsPro admitted it was “narrow” between the pair, who are undoubtedly the two most high-profile sportspeople on the planet. And there can be little argument with their putting the face of the NBA James in third, while Kohli – a sporting idol across India – is in fourth.
The top five is rounded out by the highest-placed female athlete: Canadian tennis player Bianca Andreescu, who won the US Open in 2019.
Football players dominate the list with three more in the top 10 alone: Brazil superstar Neymar (sixth), Liverpool’s Mo Salah (ninth) and Ronaldo’s teammate at Juventus, Paulo Dybala (10th).
In a surprise, the highest combat sports athlete is not Conor McGregor but his UFC rival Khabib Nurmagomedov, who takes seventh spot. Perhaps there is a feeling ‘The Notorious’ has damaged his standing with his outside the Octagon antics.
Anthony Joshua comes in at 31st, just ahead of his would-be heavyweight opponent Tyson Fury in 32nd (oddly, Mexican multi-weight champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is absent altogether). However the highest British athlete overall is Lewis Hamilton, the Formula 1 ace who is in 21st place.
As usual, there’s a desire to show a variety of sports and to include some new names, which arguably skews the rankings (are there really 34 more marketable athletes on the planet than Roger Federer, who comes in at 35th?). But there’s plenty of interesting choices.