SportsProMedia’s 50 most marketable athletes; what does this mean for the future of sports marketing?

This week, SportsProMedia released their annual list of the 50 most marketable athletes, fuelled by Neilson’s athlete marketability assessment methodology. The methodology covers an array of social media data, including follower growth, media value, content engagement and branded vs organic content over the last 12 months across 6,000 athlete’s Instagram accounts over 21 sports. Understandably, the list foresees some of sports most globally-recognised athletes making a list including Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James, Neymar and more. However, what does this list teach us about the future of sports marketing?

Female sports growth presents an enticing opportunity for brands

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A record-breaking 17 female athletes were featured in this years top 50. The third best-represented sport after football and basketball on the list is tennis, where Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, Bianca Andreescu are the ambitious women looking to become the queens reigning the sport.

Andreescu witnesses her social media following growing over 570% after winning last years US Grand Slam Open which was accompanied by an interaction rate of 23%. This lead to a commercial sponsorship opportunity with Rolex, Nike and BMW, which is likely to prosper significantly in the foreseeable future. 15-year-old Gauff broke headlines across the world by defeating Venus Williams on her way to the 4th round of Wimbledon last year, resulting in her following rising by approximately 1000%. Japan’s Naomi Osaka became the highest-earning female athlete this year, surpassing Serena Williams’ net worth at a total of $37m.

The female athletes who’ve appeared on this year’s record haven’t held back to shine while female sports coverage is at its optimum level. However, US soccer world cup winners Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe are the only women to have featured from team sports. Following the fast-growing fame, women’s sport is receiving; this demonstrates the potential female sports leagues and competitions have to grow, leaving a positive perspective for more female team athletes to make the list in 2021.

Only 7% of corporate sports sponsorship is presently invested in women’s sports properties, 2020 has been an era where change will continue the rise female sport, but grow the commercial opportunity for brands to reach new audiences through the medium.

Boxing continues to run the combat sports scene

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Boxers Ryan Garcia, Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua made the final 50 alongside MMA fighters Khabib Nurmagomedov and Jorge Masvidal. Garcia remains undefeated in 2020 after beating Francisco Fonseca in February, and Fury looks to retain his WBC belt in a highly-anticipated trilogy against Deontay Wilder while AJ could be taking on Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev in December. Khabib will look to remain as the UFC’s cash-cow for his upcoming bout against the US’s Justin Gaethjie whilst Jorge demands redemption after losing to Kamaru Usman in July.

It’s a close tie, but boxing continues to stay ahead of the combat sports curve with regards to its athlete’s marketability value. However, the UFC has been proactive with their sponsorship and partnership activations throughout lockdown. They announced their first-ever music partner in July with ACX music to form a music streaming app, enhancing their fan engagement strategy.  In September, they declared a multi-year training partnership with the Chinese Olympic Committee for Chinese athletes to utilise the UFC’s resources in preparation towards the Olympic games.

Boxing has also exploited opportunity throughout these times of adversity. It weathered the pandemic by hosting an innovative series of boxing events entitled, ‘Matchroom Fight Camp’ during August which sparked international interest for it to return next year regardless of the state of COVID19. It’s strengthened their eSports portfolio by announcing a new game called ‘eSports boxing club’, it’s been a long-wait for boxing fans to hear this news which rivals against EA Sports Fight Night. This incentive is an attempt for the sport to bolster its connection with Gen Z, a demographic it’s struggled to unlock for some time.

Combats sports will remain a competitive market for brands, sponsors and stakeholders to explore. The UFC and boxing are battling it out to stay ahead of the curve to claim the throne of the combat sports scene, which presents a more exciting era than ever to see the development of the industry.

Current commercial sponsors will continue to fuel football’s global image

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It was hardly a surprise to see FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi at the top of the list this year, considering the mass amounts of PR his almost highly-anticipated departure from the club gained not so long ago. Coincidentally, the Argentine forward exclusively featured in a Budweiser advert as their ambassador for a new product range a few days after announcing he’ll be staying with the La Liga Club.

Out of every athlete on the list, Messi has the highest reach and provides exclusive partners such as Pepsi, Adidas, Lays and Gatorade a combined online reach of 157m. On this note, brands in the following sectors of fast-food, alcohol and betting appear to dominate the football sponsorship landscape due to their engagement within sports fan culture. What does this mean for the future of football marketing? Essentially, the sport will continue to be fueled by these commercial sponsors rather than their being further diversity in the sector of football sponsorship, or sports sponsorship for that matter.


In summary, the 50 most marketable athlete’s of 2020 demonstrates the growth of women’s sport will benefit not only sport for development, but also commercial opportunities for sponsors to expand online reach. The combat sports landscape remains more exciting than ever, the margin for error with boxing and MMA remains tight for one to claim the rightful throne of the fight game. Lastly, it will take something extraordinary to revolutionise the current football sponsorship model regarding the sectors that fuel it.

Published by Ashwyn Lall

I'm a First-Class Graduate in Sports Business Management who has worked across Local Government, Sport and the Third Sector. Throughout my career, I've developed a thriving passion to promote sport being used as a tool to bring positivity to the world we live in. This ethos has inspired me to create a website which champions this value through comprehensive online content for you to gain value from. Join me on this journey of discovering what sport can do to enhance society.

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