There’s no doubt that the impact of social media on the sporting industry has been huge, with sponsors clambering to strike a deal with the latest hot property from all sporting professions. The top two football teams on social media, Barcelona and Real Madrid, boast a combined media value of $42.5million alone and command an audience of 286million, as fans from across the globe not only support their heroes from the side lines, but from their laptops too.
But how influential are these sporting heroes? And how do they match up to our favourite pop and movie icons, who dominate Twitter and Instagram? Let’s look at the top ten and what makes them so desirable to the world’s biggest brands…
10) Zlatan Ibrahimović (@ibra_official) – Twitter: 4.44m /Instagram: 24.7m
Hailed as the most successful Swedish footballer ever, Ibrahimović is an infrequent tweeter but when he does decide to share he likes to make an impact. When transferring from Paris Saint Germain to Manchester United (for an eye watering £260,000 a week) the striker shared his news with a simple tweet – amassing 222k retweets, 265k favourites and 11k replies from surprised fans. No wonder it’s well known that he “does what he wants”!
9) Luis Suarez (@LuisSuarez9) Twitter: 9.16m/ Instagram: 21.9m
Barcelona star Suarez is as infamous for his culinary habits off the pitch as he is for his impressive soccer skills, but no matter which way you look at it, the forward from Uruguay is social media gold. Just moments after the shocking biting incident in the 2014 World Cup, social media was abuzz with memes and brands jumping on the news from Snickers, to Listerine. Perhaps Luis’s avid followers can’t wait to see what the star does next?
8) Andres Iniesta (@andresiniesta8) Twitter: 15.9m/Instagram: 17.7m
You may need to use the translator function on Barcelona alumni, Andreas Iniesta’s Twitter account, but that doesn’t stop the Spanish midfielder from becoming one of the most followed sports stars on social media. Recently, Iniesta was left red faced as his social media team accidently shared a post of Blanco’s basketball team star Sergio Llull followed by the hashtag #HalaMadrid. The hashtag commonly used by Barcelona’s footie rivals (Real Madrid) was swiftly deleted – but not before a few screen shots were taking by amused fans!
7) Ronaldinho (@10Ronaldinho) Twitter: 14.6m
Brazilian legend Ronaldinho is just as popular off the pitch as he in on and makes number 7 on our top 10 most influential sports stars on social media. Back in December 2016, football was hit with the tragic news that the plane carrying Brazilian club Chapecoense crashed on its way to the Copa Sudamericana final, killing 71 and injuring 6 others. Fans of the semi-retired star created a campaign with the hashtag #ronaldinhonachape calling for him to play for the side. However, plans to involve the famous footballer were down played by the club who chose to find younger players to rebuild the devastated team.
6) Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) Twitter: 11.8m Instagram: 28.8m
Wales and Real Madrid hero Gareth Bale is a prolific tweeter, often sharing his online support for his fellow team mates. Back in 2016, Bale joined over 150 fellow players in joining a new football related social media network, Dugout.com, a site dedicated to offering exclusive content, interviews and behind the scenes footage to news hungry fans. The company has hired former AOL, Buzzfeed and Google executive, Kate Burns, as executive vice-president – who has said that the first of its kind website has been designed to “attract millennials from across the globe“, a critical audience for advertisers to reach.
5) James Rodriguez (@jamesdrodriguez) Twitter: 12.2m/Instagram: 30.7m
He may be a star on the pitch and on social media, but that didn’t stop James Rodriguez receiving death threats last year, after pulling out of the Columbia squad for their 2018 World Cup qualifying match. An online group of trolls called ‘Legion Holk’ sent the player and his family terrifying messages alongside pictures of guns and other weaponry but thankfully, nothing came of the threats.
4) Lionel Messi (Twitter: Zero /Instagram: 70.7m
He may only post occasionally on Instagram, but that doesn’t stop Lionel Messi from safely sitting in the top 5 most influential sporting stars in the world. Arguably one of the greatest players in the world today, Messi has recently struck up a ‘lifetime’ deal with Adidas which will see him wear the brand on the pitch, until the end of his playing career which no doubt will rocket sales for the popular sporting brand.
3) LeBron James (@kingjames) Twitter: 34.6m/Instagram: 29.9m
The only star on this list that doesn’t play football, basketball hero LeBron James just misses out on the runner up spot. Don’t expect him to be posting much recently however, as James is avoiding social media until he leads his team to a second consecutive NBA title (he hopes!).
2) Neymar (@neymarjr) Twitter: 28.6m/Instagram: 79.3m
Barcelona superstar Neymar is our runner up, with a whopping 73.9m followers. Sharing updates from his personal life and off pitch antics as well as football related updates, Neymar was the one to beat in the social media numbers until a certain Portuguese icon took his place…
1) Cristiano Ronaldo (Cristiano) Twitter: 50.9m/Instagram: 95.6m
Ambassador, model, fashion icon and arguably one of the greatest footballers of his generation, Cristiano Ronaldo has recently added another notch to his designer belt – King of social media. Enjoying a combined online audience of over 200million the three-time FIFA player of the year’s popularity has continued to rise to such an extent that this Portuguese superstar is bringing in the big bucks – all $88 million of them.