With their talent, discipline, passion, and success, athletes have been role models for generations. In the digital era, people can not just admire their favorite sportsmen’s professional performance, but engage with them and have a glimpse into their personal life. Today, athletes can use their social media influence for an additional revenue stream through lucrative brand endorsement and sponsorship deals, and in this article, we will highlight the top 10 athletes and sports influencers on Instagram.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Number of followers: 180 million
Cristiano Ronaldo is the all-time leading goal scorer in the UEFA Champions League and a five-time FIFA’s Player of the Year. A former Manchester United and Real Madrid star, he currently plays as a forward for Juventus and captains the Portugal national team.
Apart from one of the most famous soccer players, Ronaldo is also the world’s leading sports influencer on social media. With 180 million followers on Instagram and on top for mentions and engagement, Ronaldo has scored numerous lucrative collaborations with big brands like Electronic Arts, Herbalife, KFC, and Emporio Armani. Notably, in 2015 the Portuguese athlete signed a $1-billion lifetime deal with Nike. Forbes estimates Ronaldo’s earnings from endorsements for 2019 to be $44 million.
Lionel Messi – Number of followers: 128 million
Following closely on Ronaldo’s heels is Lionel Messi with 128 million followers on Instagram and a solid engagement rate. The Barcelona striker and former Argentina captain has been awarded FIFA’s Player of the Year five times and has won the European Golden Shoe a record six times.
Messi has an endorsement portfolio of $35 million, a lifetime pact with Adidas and sponsorship deals with Huawei Technologies, Pepsi, Gillette, Turkish Airlines and Mastercard.
Neymar Jr. – Number of followers: 124 million
Brazilian professional footballer Neymar Jr. plays as a forward for French club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and the Brazil national team. His $263 million transfer from Barcelona to PSG is the most expensive in the world to date.
Neymar is also one of the most marketable athletes, with 124 million Instagram followers. He earns $30 million from brand endorsements, including those with Qatar National Bank Group, Nike, Gillette, Red Bull, Beats by Dre and McDonald’s.
David Beckham – Number of followers: 57.9 million
David Beckham has won league titles in four countries — the US, England, France, and Spain. Although retired from professional football, and far behind the three leading athletes in our list in terms of Insta following, the British icon remains one of the top sports influencers on social media.
Beckham counts 57.9 million fans on Instagram and has collaborated with several major brands, including Adidas, H&M, Sainsbury’s and Samsung. This year, he will bank a total of $42 million from endorsements.
LeBron James – Number of followers: 57.9 million
LeBron James is the first and only basketball players to make this list. The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player Award winner is also one of the greatest sporting assets in terms of social media value. His Hollywood and TV appearances also generate frequent mentions across his networks.
LeBron has a strong following of 51.1 million people on Instagram and makes a whopping $53 million from endorsements annually. The basketball star has partnered with Nike, Coca-Cola, Samsung, McDonald’s, Upper Deck and Beats by Dre.
Ronaldo de Assis Moreira – Number of followers: 48 million
Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, more commonly known as Ronaldinho, is another footballer already off the pitch but still very influential in the marketing realm.
The former Gremio, PSG, Barcelona, and AC Milan star has been an endorser of major brands including Pepsi, Coca-Cola, EA Sports, Gatorade, Lenovo and Danone. Notably, a video of his cooperation with Nike was the first to reach one million views on YouTube in 2005. Currently, Ronaldinho is boasting 48 million followers on Instagram.
James Rodriguez – Number of followers: 42.9 million
James Rodriguez is a professional footballer who currently plays for Bayern Munich and the Colombia National team. The World Cup Golden Boot winner is also a former player for Real Madrid. The Spanish team attracted Rodriguez with a $100 million transfer deal in 2014. Shortly after, Calvin Klein featured the Colombian native in the underwear company’s ad campaign. Sponsorship deals with Huawei Technologies, Libertex, and Adidas came after, while his Instagram following has grown to 42.9 million.
Gareth Bale – Number of followers: 41.1 million
Gareth Bale is a winger for Real Madrid and player in the Wales national team. With 41.1 million Instagram followers, Bale ranks 8th in the list. His audience is very diverse in terms of nationality and this brings him profitable collaborations with global brands like Adidas, Nissan, EA Sports, Foot Locker, Lucozade, and BT Sport. According to Forbes, Bale’s annual income from endorsement deals is $6.5 million.
Virat Kohli – Followers: 39.4 million
Virat Kohli is the only cricketer to have a place on our list. Since making his debut for the India national team in 2008, the Royal Challengers Banglore captain has delivered numerous top-notch performances and records.
With 39.4 million Instagram followers, Kohli is the second most popular Indian on social media behind actress Priyanka Chopra. His popularity spreads beyond India and cricket fans and is recognized by global brands such as Audi, Puma, and Uber. Forbes estimates his endorsements portfolio at $21 million.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Number of followers: 37.9 million
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the most marketable figures in the world of football and a social media influencer with 37.9 million followers on Instagram.
He captained the Sweden national team for six years and has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world including AC Milan, Barcelona, PSG and Manchester United. In 2018, the striker transferred to the Los Angeles Galaxy team.
Ibrahimovic is said to make $5 million a year from brand endorsements and has inked partnership deals with Volvo, Nivea, and Microsoft Xbox among others. Notably, the Swedish has been on both sides of the biggest sportswear brands battle. Nike sponsored Ibrahimovic between 2004 and 2014, while Adidas’ label was on his equipment in the 2016-17 season. The sportsman has made another switch since then and currently endorses Nike.
And this wraps up our list of the top 10 athletes and sports influencers on Instagram. If you have any suggestions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment!