Tuesday 28 January 2020

Who are the biggest sporting social media icons? Here is your Top 10

Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Reaching the pinnacle of a sport is no longer enough when it comes to maximising your commercial potential - with the scale of an icon’s social media reach now just as significant when advertisers select their prized assets.

Becoming the global face of a sportswear giant, a luxury watch maker or a car company can be more lucrative than any prize claimed on the sporting field, with the biggest brands eager to hand the world’s A-list sports stars blank cheques if they tick all their promotional boxes.

Here is your guide to the European-based sports stars who are swelling their bank balance by several million euros a month, with soccer stars dominating the sporting social media landscape.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo

Sport: Soccer

Key sponsors: Nike, Tag Heuer, Monster headphone, ZTE Nubia mobile phones.

Social media followers: 235m

Annual income: €79.5m

The Real Madrid superstar is the leading light of the social media generation of sporting superstars, with the Portuguese soccer hero attracting an astonishing social media reach across his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Ronaldo has the power to generate one million likes for a sponsor with a single post on his Instagram account, with PR gurus estimating that a solitary promotional message from his Twitter account is worth in excess of €400,000 to any sponsor.

2. Lionel Messi

Sport: Soccer

Key sponsors: Adidas, Dolce and Gabbana, Turkish Airlines, EA Sports.

Social media followers: 137m

Annual income: €73.2m

The debate over whether Ronaldo or Messi should be hailed as the greatest soccer star of their generation has raged for a decade and their duel has also moved onto the sponsorship battlefields.

It appears that Messi is losing the commercial war, with his reluctance to show the same enthusiasm for social media a factor. Messi hasn’t even got an official Twitter account, but his annual earnings are still reaching mind-blowing levels.

3. Neymar

Sport: Soccer

Key sponsors: Nike, Red Bull, Panasonic, Konami and Gillette

Social media followers: 139m

Annual income: €37.5m

Any Brazilian soccer star who is as talented and popular as Neymar is a marketing fantasy, with this dashing star enhancing his already strong global brand when he sealed a mega-money move to Barcelona in 2013.

The face of Nike in South America, Neymar was the poster boy for the 2014 World Cup finals and is widely tipped to step into the shoes of Ronaldo and Messi as the world’s ultimate soccer icon in the next few years.

4. David Beckham

Sport: Soccer

Key sponsors: Adidas, H&M, Kent and Curwen, Luneng

Social media followers: 83m

Annual income: €67m

The original superstar of modern sport paved the way for those that have come after him, with Brand Beckham long-since established as one of the most recognizable names in sport.

Beckham’s marketing value has seen him collect more cash from long-running sponsorship deals than he ever made as a footballer, with his swelling Facebook and Instagram accounts confirming he still has a huge global appeal long after his playing days have come to an end.

5. Mesut Ozil

Sport: Soccer

Key sponsors: Adidas,

Social media followers: 52m

Annual salary: €17.6m

His performances on the field with English giants Arsenal are often maligned, yet German international Ozil still has plenty of admirers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

With his own logo now patented, Ozil the brand is well on the way to being established. Now the social media giant has to prove he can be a match winner for his club when it matters most.

6. Wayne Rooney

Sport: Soccer

Key sponsors: Nike, sponsorship deals tied into Man Utd contract

Social media followers: 46.5m

Annual income: €23.5m

The England captain signed a lucrative new deal with Manchester United back in 2014 that ensured he would be used as the front man to promote many of the club’s leading sponsors.

Rooney has starred in videos promoting blockbuster movies as part of United’s big money sponsorship deal with the 20th Century Fox film makers. It is a ground breaking deal more top sports stars may sign up for in the coming years.

7. Gerard Pique

Sport: Soccer

Key sponsors: Nike, image rights deal with Barcelona

Social media followers: 40.7m

Annual income: €22m

Barcelona defender Pique is a global star for his sporting pursuits and his long-running relationship with pop queen Shakira, with his vast social media reach boosted by his high profile romance.

A World Cup winner with Spain in 2010, Pique signed a new contract with Barcelona last summer that included an image rights agreement for him to promote the Catalan club’s leading sponsors.

8. Rafael Nadal

Sport: Tennis

Key sponsors:  Nike, Babolat, Kia Motors, Telefonica, Banco Sabadell, Richard Mille, Tommy Hilfiger

Social media followers: 26.8m

Annual income: €34m

Nadal’s tennis ambitions are fading as he battles injuries at the back end of his magnificent career, yet his commercial pulling power remains more potent than ever.

His haul of followers on his three social media platforms offer wonderful marketing potential, with Nadal’s business advisers shrewd in the commercial deals they have done for a sports star who has a likeability factor few can match.

9. Maria Sharapova

Sport: Tennis

Key sponsors: Not too many left

Social media followers: 20.8m

Annual income: €19m

Sharapova has long been the highest paid sportswoman in the world, but most of her sponsorship deals evaporated overnight after she failed a drugs test at the Australian Open in January.

Nike, Porsche and Tag Heuer have all “distanced themselves” from the Russian court queen, who is in the process of appealing against her ban. She is estimated to have lost an €18m-a-year sponsorship windfall after her doping calamity.

10. Roger Federer

Sport: Tennis

Key sponsors: Nike, Rolex, Mercedes Benz, Gillette, Credit Suisse.

Social media followers: 16.6m

Annual income: €62m

Federer may have fallen from his pedestal as the greatest tennis player in the world as he approaches the twilight of his career, but this Swiss maestro is still a dream client for any classy sponsor.

A clean cut family man who has never been involved in scandal on or off the court, he has been a brand leader for Nike for more than a decade and earns around €54m-per-year from endorsements away from tennis.



Conor McGregor (12.1m social media followers)

This Dubliner has barged his way into the sporting spotlight with his efforts in the UFC octagon, with his importance to the sport he is associated with confirmed by his vast following on his three social media platforms.

Rory McIlroy (5.2m social media followers)

Plenty of abuse flies in McIlroy’s direction on his social media platforms, but this astute sportsman appreciates the importance of engaging with his fans. Videos and the odd contentious comment makes Rory a must follow.

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