Cristiano Ronaldo is the biggest star in the world’s most popular sport, and the global soccer icon just wrapped 12 months for the ages. It started with his club, Real Madrid, winning the Champions League title at the end of May 2016.
Ronaldo then led Portugal to its first European Championship last summer before helping Real capture its first La Liga title in five years ahead of rivals Barcelona and Lionel Messi. The magical run for his clubs continued this month with another Champions League title, the first team ever to win back-to-back crowns.
Ronaldo also racked up individual accolades with a fourth player of the year award, as well as his 600th career goal and record 100th goal in Champions League play. One of the biggest beneficiaries of Ronaldo’s success was his sponsors. They racked up $936 million in media value across his social media accounts in the 12 months ending June 1, according to Hookit, which tracks sponsorship value in social and digital media. The tally is more than seven times any other athlete.
Ronaldo’s value is a combination of heavy usage of social media and the largest following of any athlete. He posted 580 times over 12 months with a sponsor mention or logo. The next highest in the top 10 was Barcelona’s Neymar with 255. Ronaldo’s 277 million followers are 68% higher than Neymar, who ranks second with 165 million followers. Ronaldo added a staggering 62 million followers in the past year, and his Facebook fans alone of 122 million are more than any other person on the planet.
Ronaldo tallied 927 million interactions (likes, comments, shares) and video views on his sponsored posts for an average value per post of $1.6 million for sponsors like Nike, Herbalife, Tag Heuer and Abbott Labs (his total interactions and video views were 2.4 billion, including non-sponsored posts).
Ronaldo was the highest-paid athlete in the world for the second straight year with $93 million, including $35 million off the pitch from sponsors and licensing deals. Sponsors recognize the value Ronaldo brings to the table. Nike inked him to a lifetime deal at the end of 2016 reportedly worth as worth as much as $1 billion.
Hookit conducted a study exclusively for Forbes on the world’s biggest sports stars. The Solana Beach, Calif.-based firm started with the universe of the 100 athletes from Forbes’ annual look at the highest-paid athletes. Hookit measured interactions and video views across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter from the athletes’ personal social media accounts for posts with hashtags, mentions or images in photos/videos of sponsors (Hookit performed the same study last year without image recognition for logo analysis). Hookit measures account promotion type and quality and applies market-driven costs per interaction and platform to deliver a dollar value for each post.
Soccer players dominate the list of athletes delivering the most interactions and media value for sponsors with six of the top seven. Credit the popularity of the players, teams and sport itself, which touches every corner of the globe.
The 25-year-old Neymar is already a popular pitchman for brands like Nike, Gillette, Red Bull, Panasonic and Beats. Neymar’s personal brand got a boost last summer when he led Brazil to its first Olympic gold in soccer with the game-winning penalty kick in the gold medal match. His 255 social media posts with sponsor images or mentions produced $125 million in media value on 160 million interactions and video views over the last year.
Track star Usain Bolt is the only non-soccer player to crack the top seven. He ranks third with $68 million in media value. The Jamaican sprinter completed his third straight gold medal sweep of the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4 x 100-meter relay at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Bolt plans to retire after the 2017 World Championships, but many of his 10-plus endorsement partners like Puma, Gatorade, Nissan Motors, Hublot and Sprint are expected to maintain their relationships.
Bolt’s total social media following of 31 million fans can’t match the top soccer players, but the interactions on his posts are sky-high when a sponsor is involved. The average promoted post had 281,839 interactions or nearly four times what a non-sponsored Bolt post received. His 194 sponsor-branded posts were worth $351,013 on average per Hookit.
“Athletes who have embraced the major platforms to make themselves accessible and engage with their fans have done the best job to grow their followings into the millions,” says Hookit CEO Scott Tilton. “Athletes like Ronaldo, Neymar and Bolt have capitalized on this opportunity to create 24/7 media properties for themselves where they can control the content, messaging and brands they endorse to generate massive sponsorship value.”