Who Are The Most Famous Athletes In The World?

By Akiva Wienerkur   March 14, 2023    Reading time:

Who Are The Most Famous Athletes In The World?


Jordan versus LeBron, Messi versus Ronaldo – the debate over the greatest athlete in any given sport is always a matter of opinion. To gain a different perspective, the team at Sidelines.io has compiled data from Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to determine the most popular athletes in the world.

For the most part, we are only including active players, or players who have competed in the last year, so long-retired athletes like David Beckham or Shaquille O’Neal, who are known for having a large following on social media, are excluded from our research.


The 10 American Athletes with the Most Followers


Despite the NFL being significantly more popular than the NBA in the United States, basketball dominates this list, with seven out of the top ten followed athletes being NBA stars. This is likely due to basketball’s global appeal and its impact on popular culture. 

LeBron James, who is an icon both on and off the court, dominates this list: LeBron has more total followers than the next four athletes combined. In fact, he is the only American athlete to crack the list of the ten most followed athletes in the world. 

The top ten most followed athletes around the world are dominated by soccer players, which is understandable given soccer’s status as the world’s most popular sport. The 2022 World Cup Final garnered a staggering 1.5 billion views. The only non-soccer players to feature on this list are LeBron James and Indian cricket star Virat Kohli. 


The 10 Global Athletes With the Most Social Media Followers


Cristiano Ronaldo has an impressive lead of almost 300 million followers over the second-place athlete, Lionel Messi. Notably, he holds the title of the most followed person on all of Instagram, solidifying his status as a social media icon. 

Messi, on the other hand, has been making waves on social media since his World Cup win in December. Since then, he has gained over 61 million followers on Instagram, and his post celebrating the victory has become the platform’s most-liked picture with over 75 million likes.

Despite the majority of the athletes on this list being soccer players, it is more diverse than it may appear. The ten athletes hail from nine different countries and represent four different continents. Notably, Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic demonstrate that popularity is not limited to athletes from large countries, as both of their home nations have a population of fewer than 11 million people.

Just Missed the Cut:

Arguably the two most dominant athletes of the 21st century did not make the cut of these lists. Both Tom Brady (21.6 million total followers) and Tiger Woods (12.9 million total followers) have a great built-in excuse for not having bigger social followings: their careers started before social media existed. In Tiger’s case, his career even predates Google, let alone Instagram. 


The 10 Female Athletes With the Most Social Media Followers


The only female athlete to crack either of the above lists was Serena Williams, who has over 34 million followers on all platforms. While it is unlikely she ever plays again, Serena claims she is not officially retired, so we’ll take her word for it. 

While eight of the ten most followed athletes in the world are soccer players, women’s sports has much more diversity at the top, with seven different sports featured among the top eight women, including gymnastics, skateboarding, and the UFC.

RankAthleteCountrySportTotal Followers 
1Serena WilliamsUSATennis34.4M
2Alex MorganUSASoccer19.7M
3Smriti MandhanaIndiaCricket15.3M
4Simone BilesUSAGymnastics9.8M
5P.V. SindhuIndiaBadminton9.6M
6Rayssa LealBrazilSkateboarding7.3M
7Venus WilliamsUSATennis6.6M
8Miesha TateUSAUFC5.1M
9Paige VanZantUSAUFC5M
10Holly HolmUSAUFC5M

While LeBron is the only American athlete in the world’s top ten among men, five of the eight most followed female athletes are American. None, however, play basketball, which dominates the list of most followed American men. The most followed women’s basketball players are Liz Cambage, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Candace Parker, and Paige Bueckers. 


Other Platforms


Instagram

Instagram is the Cristiano Ronaldo Show as he has more followers than any person on the platform: Person is the key word there, as @Instagram itself is the only account to have more followers than Ronaldo and Messi, the top two humans on the site. 

Instagram logo

Twitter

Most athletes and celebrities have far higher follower counts on Instagram than Twitter: For instance, LeBron has almost 150 million followers on Insta and about 50 million on Twitter. One exception to this rule is Kevin Durant, who has far more followers on Twitter (over 20 million) than Instagram (13.2 million). Durant treats Twitter like his second job, frequently mixing it up with both fans and critics on the site. 

Twitter logo

TikTok


While athletes are not leading the way on TikTok in terms of follower counts, there are some notable players making strides on the app. LeBron’s son, Bronny James, might still be in high school, but he already has more followers on TikTok, 5.7 million, than any other active American athlete right now. 

PSG star, Neymar Jr. leads all current athletes with almost 14 million followers while retired Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho has over 11 million followers, to lead all athletes. 

  • Additional research by Oren Ramer
  • Data compiled from Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

Updated on: May 19, 2024

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