Argentine soccer legend Lionel Messi has been named as the world’s most marketable athlete for 2023. The Inter Miami forward tops SportsPro’s annual list of the world’s 50 Most Marketable Athletes (50MM) for a second time, finishing ahead of National Basketball Association (NBA) icon LeBron James.
Messi’s return to the top of the rankings, having previously reached number one in 2020, sees him become only the second athlete in 50MM history to take top spot on two occasions.
US Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) striker Alex Mogan is third, with NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo and Morgan’s USWNT teammate Megan Rapinoe completing the top five.
Last year’s number one, Portuguese soccer great Cristiano Ronaldo, slips to 27th in the list. Indian cricketer Virat Kohli is another big mover, dropping out of the top 50 from number seven in 2022.
This year’s list also underlines the growing commercial influence and value of women’s sport. There are four women in the top ten and female athletes make up nearly 50 per cent of the top 50. US Open tennis champion Coco Gauff takes the title of the most marketable teenager, with the 19-year-old sitting in 12th place.
Soccer, basketball, tennis and motorsport have the greatest number of athletes in the top 50 but other major international sports are less well represented. Notably, no rugby players made the cut and while US athletes accounted for 26 per cent of the top 50 there are no players from Major League Baseball (MLB). College sports stars Angel Reese and Olivia Dunne also cracked the top 50 as the impact of name, image and likeness (NIL) rights continues to be felt.
Now in its 14th year, SportsPro’s 50MM list has once again been compiled with the support of NorthStar Solutions Group, which has developed an enhanced methodology to deliver the most comprehensive assessment of athlete marketability ever undertaken.
SportsPro and NorthStar Solutions Group’s expanded methodology assessed hundreds of global athletes across three key scoring pillars: Brand Strength, Total Addressable Market, and ECON – Triple Bottom Line.
For the first time, sophisticated qualitative research was integrated with quantitative marketability measurements, while comprehensive mathematical and statistical formulas from multiple data sources were then applied to determine the final rankings according to each athlete’s Total Marketability Score.
“This year’s 50 Most Marketable Athletes list follows the most comprehensive assessment of athlete marketability we’ve ever undertaken in the 14-year history of SportsPro’s annual ranking,” said Michael Long, editorial director at SportsPro.
“NorthStar’s robust methodology and rich, data-led marketability model has produced not only a compelling list in its own right, but a wealth of fascinating insights and storylines that highlight the ever-evolving trends shaping the sports marketing industry – from the gathering commercial momentum in women’s sport to the growing importance of authenticity and shared purpose in athlete-brand relationships.”
Chris Collins, president at NorthStar Solutions Group added: “This year, we’ve gone even further by introducing innovative additions such as the qualitative research approach, Social Media Ethnography, and a market research perspective that views athlete brands in a sports category similar to how we view brands in a product category. These enhancements have allowed us to unearth deeper athlete stories and broaden our understanding of marketability across entire sports ecosystems.
“As we continue to sponsor the 50 Most Marketable Athlete List, our commitment remains unwavering. We aim to adapt and evolve with the dynamic sports industry, constantly striving to set new standards in delivering a comprehensive understanding of an athlete’s marketability.”