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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Preece

World's most marketable athletes: Who is winning on social?

This week saw Nielsen reveal their top 50 most marketable athletes of 2020. The report was created using Nielsen's Influencer Selection and Measurement Framework, the methodology draws on vast amounts of social media data to generate an Athlete Influencer Score comprising four key data points: relevance, reach, return, and resonance.

The framework incorporates a range of performance and sponsorship-related KPIs, such as:

  • social following

  • content engagement

  • fanbase growth over time

  • media value

  • performance of branded versus organic content

Under the framework, the Instagram accounts for over 6,000 athletes from 21 sports were tracked over the last 12 months. Below we have taken a look at some of the data behind the report.

A diverse collection

Athletes represented 16 sports from across 25 countries, with sportswomen taking 17 of the spots this year which is a new high. The oldest athlete was Tom Brady with Britain's Sky Brown being the youngest at just 12 years old, with the average age of the list being 27 years and 8 months. The list included some of sport's GOATs but also profiled some of sport's rising stars, so presented a balance of established and next-gen athletes.

Growing a fan base

While Instagram Followers is often talked about as a vain metric, growth of followers is one of the key metrics that the report was based on. Standout growth came from Norway's rising star Erling Braut Haaland, who amassed an impressive growth of over 8000%.

  • Top 3: Erling Braut Haaland (8389%), Coco Gauff (923%) and Bicana Andreescu (573%)

  • Average growth for the top 50: 250%, but remove Haaland's 8389% growth, the number drops to a more realistic average number of 84%

  • 1-10 vs 40-50 ranked on the list: when looking at the top and the bottom of the list, it pointed out that the top ten had grown their Insta followings by 90% on average, that being nearly 3 times more than the bottom ten's score of 32%


  • Across the list, the average number of times athletes posted was 140, so less than 3 a week.

  • Top 3: Khabib Nurmagomedov (362), Tyson Fury (346) and Carissa Moore (264)

  • Interestingly the top 10 posted 193 times (on ave.), a 54% increase on the bottom ten who posted 125 times (on ave.)

  • When you look at the percentage of branded posts (calculated looking at the athlete's 30 most recent posts) the average number across the list is 21% so roughly 2 out of 10 are branded posts, which seems a good base number to aim for. Boxer Ryan Garcia and Snowboarder Anna Gasser came out on top with 63%, with 6 out of 10 being branded posts on ave. Garcia heavily focuses on one brand, that being his partnership with Gymshark, where Gasser promotes a range of brands from Huawei, Audi to SkullCandy.

Interacting with the fans

This metric has been calculated using 'all interaction rates', so we are a little in the dark to the exact science behind this one, however, if we look at the data available, the average interaction rate for the list is 7.14%. Therefore, if we presume that the interaction rate is mirroring engagement rate, then 7.14% is an impressive number, as the industry reports anything from 2%-5% as a strong number for influencer engagement rates, dependent on the audience size.

  • Top 3: Haaland (25.98%), Andereescu (23.01%) and Son Heung-min (19.28%)

More than just an athlete

While many have talked about who is not included in the report (no golfers, no rugby players, no baseball players and only one track and field athlete etc), the report certainly paints a picture that shows the changing face of athlete marketing. No longer can athletes just play a high profile sport to secure deals, they must also demonstrate how they can be a strong and active marketing partner for a brand.

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