Who is the world’s most marketable footballer – Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar?

world's most marketable football player

When considering the marketability of top sports stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar, or that of corporations or properties in any field, for that matter, the first thing to consider is the how. How, exactly, do you calculate brand value and marketability?

The prestigious business publication Forbes defines brand value as “a function of financial strength and consumer perceptions.”

“Brand value is the ultimate currency craved by companies. A valuable brand spurs demand and creates pricing power,” they write in a recent article.

Read that sentence again and we see two key elements. The top brands do two things: spur demand and create pricing power. In other words, they get people talking about them and they generate revenue.

When it comes to analysing the marketability of sports professionals and assessing who is the world’s most marketable football player, these are two key factors. But there are others.

The audience measurement system Nielsen rates more than 3,800 celebrities on their proprietary “N-Score”, which is an industry-recognised metric. The “N-Score” measures marketability based on awareness, likability and 10 other attributes like “influential,” “trendsetter,” and “stylish.” Their own list, of the most marketable athletes in the United States of America in 2016, can be found here.

If we add Nielsen’s own factors to the two above, marketability is therefore largely based on three main indicators:

  • How much the athlete gets people talking about them (for the right reasons, hopefully!)
  • How much revenue they generate commercially
  • How well liked they are, in terms of influence, stylishness and ability to set trends.

Who is the world’s most marketable footballer today?

Applying this to our three sports superstars then – Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo – we now have some guidelines to work with. Let’s take a look then at how each player scores in these various categories and use it to assess who is the world’s most marketable footballer.

How much are people talking about them?

Fortunately, in the internet age, calculating how much athletes or celebrities are talked about is fairly straightforward.

When it comes to the most popular footballers sorted by number of searches on Google, the world’s most popular search browser, Cristiano Ronaldo topped the most recent rankings sorted by average interest over time. Lionel Messi comes second, Neymar third.

Who is the world's most marketable footballer - Messi, Ronaldo or Neymar?

(Source: The Cauldron)

This was compiled in 2015 but note that Google has since shifted its searches to factor spikes in trending topics rather than average popularity. Average interest over time is a more instructive calculation. For example, Jamie Vardy may well have been one of the most popular footballers by Google searches in 2016 due to Leicester City’s success, but over a longer period of time that is not the case.

Furthermore, popular site Rankers 2016 Power List ranking the 100 most powerful celebrities in terms of social site ranking put Cristiano Ronaldo up there as the most socially powerful and talked about sports star, and fifth on the overall list behind Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Eminem and Lady Gaga.

By comparison, Lionel Messi was ranked 22nd while Neymar did not make the list.

How much revenue do they generate?

When it comes to stacking that paper – as it’s colloquially known – there can be no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo is king of the hill.

Forbes recently published its 2017 list of the world’s highest paid athletes and the kid from Madeira isn’t just numero uno when it comes to footballers making money, he’s number one in the world.

To generate such large amounts of commercial revenue, you must first of course be highly successful on the field. Through his sporting achievements, which include reaching a landmark 600 career goals during Real Madrid’s Champions League final win over Juventus in June, Ronaldo made a stunning $93 million US Dollars in the year spanning June 1 2016 to June 1 2017.

This amount is calculated taking salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements, licensing and appearance fees into account.

That puts Ronaldo top of the world’s highest paid athletes ahead of Lionel Messi, with basketball star Lebron James sandwiching the two footballing rivals.

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo, $93 million (Soccer, Portugal)
  2. LeBron James, $86.2 million (Basketball, U.S.)
  3. Lionel Messi, $80 million (Soccer, Argentina)
  4. Roger Federer, $64 million (Tennis, Switzerland)
  5. Kevin Durant, $60.6 million (Basketball, U.S.)

Neymar however only just cracks the top 20 of Forbes‘ list, his $37 million USD revenue putting him in 18th place, just behind Tiger Woods (17th – $37.1 million USD) and Novak Djokovic (16th – $37.6m).

How does Ronaldo make his money? Well, per Forbes, his 2016/17 earnings consisted of $58 million in salary, bonuses and prize money, and $35m from endorsements. Ronaldo’s sponsors include Nike, Herbalife and Tag Heuer.

Lionel Messi meanwhile made $53m in salary, bonuses and prize money and $27m from endorsements, while Neymar made $15m from salary bonuses and prize money, $22m in endorsements.

How well-liked / influential are they?

Once again we have a clear winner here, and yes it’s that boy Ronaldo.

According to Hookit, which tracks sponsorship value in social and digital media, Ronaldo totted up an astonishing $936 million in media value across his social media accounts in the 12 months ending June 1 2017 – a staggering seven times more than any other athlete on the planet.

When it comes to influence and popularity on social media Cristiano is simply a money-making machine. His total social media following of 276.7 million followers is over 100m followers clear of rivals Lionel Messi (163.7m) and Neymar (164.7m). In this area he is streets ahead.

And if you’re shocked by Ronaldo’s goalscoring numbers for Real Madrid, his marketability for the brands he represents is perhaps even more impressive.

The 32-year-old’s total number of likes, comments, shares and video views on social media posts hit a remarkable 2.4 billion interactions in the last year, at an average value per post of $1.61 million US Dollars. 2.4 billion interactions!

The demand from sponsors, therefore, and the value they are getting in return, is clear. In fact, some analysts believe brands like Nike are getting a bargain in sponsoring Ronaldo – even at a cost of $1 billion USD.

Once again, these numbers simply dwarf rivals Neymar and Messi, whose average value per social media post are less than a third of Ronaldo’s.

Who is the world's most marketable footballer today, Messi, Ronaldo or Neymar?

It has certainly been a vintage 12 months for CR7 in winning Euro 2016 with Portugal, a fourth Ballon D’Or, the Spanish league title and yet another Champions League with Real Madrid.

But alongside all this, such a fervent following across a variety of social platforms encapsulates why Cristiano Ronaldo is the most marketable football player in the world today.

Who is the world’s most marketable footballer in your opinion? Let us know below, and follow Just Football on Twitter @JustFootball or Facebook for more football news, opinion and analysis.

SEE ALSO: Real Madrid v Barcelona in trophies – which La Liga club has won more titles?

Main image credit: Nazionale Calcio via Flickr.

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