After spending some time with ESPN’s project on the 100 most famous professional athletes in the world Tuesday, plenty of interesting themes emerged.
First, of course, you have to attempt to define fame. ESPN did that by looking at athlete salaries and querying journalists to come up with a pool of athletes, then generating a formula based on “athletes’ endorsements, their following on the social media Big Three (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and Google search popularity.” Only current pro athletes were considered — no retired athletes or amateur athletes.
(Full disclosure: the methodology of the project was devised by Ben Alamar, a friend of mine. I didn’t even realize it was his project until a few minutes ago).
So who made the cut? Well …
*Nobody from Minnesota. That’s right, out of the most 100 famous professional athletes in the world right now, none play for Minnesota’s pro sports teams. That might seem a little surprising considering the possibilities (Karl-Anthony Towns? Maya Moore?), but Minnesota is shut out.
*If you dig deeper into the list, though, it’s not really too surprising that nobody local is on there. After all, only 21 of the 100 athletes — barley one fifth — play for pro sports teams in the United States. The rest are either individual stars, overseas stars or both. The same ratio holds true for the top 10, where only LeBron James (No. 2) and Kevin Durant (No. 9) make the cut from U.S. team sports.
It’s a good reminder of the global nature of sports fame. Cristiano Ronaldo (No. 1), Lionel Messi (No. 3) and Roger Federer (No. 4) can attest to that.
That said, 35 of the 100 athletes are Americans — by far the single largest representation from one country.
*Guess how many players from MLB, NHL or WNBA are in the top 100. Lower. Lower. Lower. It’s zero. Nobody. No Sidney Crosby, no Mike Trout, no Bryce Harper, no Moore (as already noted). Of the 21 U.S. team sport athletes, 13 are NBA players and eight are in the NFL (though none of the top 20 are in the NFL).
*The first woman to crack the list? MMA figher Ronda Rousey at No. 16, followed quickly by tennis player Serena Williams at No. 19. Overall, though, only eight of the top 100 are females.
You can quibble with the definition of fame being tied to endorsements, Google searches and social media presence, but that seems like a pretty fair way to cross sports and continents. Based on Towns’ increasing social media and endorsement presence, I’d guess he has the best chance of any current local athlete to make the list someday.