The World’s Most Popular Sports Stars
Written By: SportsShoes
For as long as there’s been professional sports, there have been iconic sportspeople. Figures like Babe Ruth, Muhammed Ali, David Beckham and Billie Jean King have historically become household names, with their most famous moments featured in countless news stories, documentaries and even movies.
But, while those stars have been popular over the last century, we wanted to take a look at the most popular sportspeople right here and now and reveal which sporting heroes are piquing our interest the most globally.
To find out, we dug into Google search data to discover which sports stars have been Googled the most in different countries over the past 12 months, revealing the most popular male and female athletes around the globe. We broke our findings down into the most popular male sportspeople and female sportspeople, before taking a look at the most searched for figures in a variety of our favourite sports – including running, cycling, swimming and CrossFit. Read on to find out more…
THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR SPORTS STARS
Top Male Sportspeople Globally
Basketball and football stars really dominated the list of annual global searches, with Portuguese football soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo hitting the top spot. Since Manchester United paid £12 million to sign him at just 16 years old, he’s gone on to play for Real Madrid and Italian Serie A club Juventus. The 36-year-old footballer has won the Ballon d’Or a whopping five times, with only Lionel Messi (who came in at 8th in our list) having won more in the award’s lifespan. Ronaldo is also the top goal scorer of all time for his country, having scored 103 goals for the Portuguese international team. Admired all around the world, the data revealed Ronaldo to be the number one sports star in 82 different countries, including Italy, Spain and Switzerland. He’s also not just the most followed Instagram sportsperson, he’s also the most popular account full stop, with over 275 million followers.
In second place on our list is American NBA legend LeBron James, considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time, with Brazilian football megastar Neymar da Silva Santos Jr taking third spot.
|Ranking||Sportsperson||Sport||Annual Global Searches|
|5||Tom Brady||American Football||63,573,740|
|13||Lewis Hamilton||Formula 1||26,050,970|
Top Female Sportspeople Globally
When it came to world’s most famous sportswomen, UFC legend Ronda Rousey was able to fight off the competition with ease. With almost double the amount of annual global searches than US football striker Alex Morgan who came in at second place, Rousey topped the list in 93 different countries around the world. Originally trained in judo, after becoming the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in the sport at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Rousey began to pursue a career in mixed martial arts. She then went on to set the record for the most UFC title defences by a woman, losing only twice in the entirety of her professional MMA career. Interestingly, Rousey was one of eight MMA stars to make it into the sportswomen top 20 list.
Widely regarded as one of the best tennis players of all time, Serena Williams came in third on the list, making it an all-American top three. Williams has won an incredible 23 Grand Slam singles titles- the second highest of all time and was ranked world No. 1 eight times between 2002 and 2017. Perhaps surprisingly, Serena’s sister Venus did not feature, despite her also being widely regarded as one of tennis’ all-time greats.
|Ranking||Sportsperson||Sport||Annual Global Searches|
|4||Tonya Harding||Figure Skating||7,254,410|
|15||Caster Semenya||Middle Distance Running||2,608,910|
|19||Sarah Fuller||American football and football||2,165,910|
POPULAR SPORTSPEOPLE BY ACTIVITY
Our research covered a wide range of popular sports, so we thought we’d dig a little deeper into the results to learn more about the current most searched-for figures in some of our favourite activities.
Here at SportsShoes we’re famous for our huge range of running shoes and kit, so looking into the world’s most popular runners seemed the perfect place to start.
Long distance running:
British athlete Mo Farah took top spot for long distance running – little surprise considering he is one of the most successful British track athletes in recent Olympic Games history. In the female list British marathon, half marathon and cross-country world champion Paula Radcliffe came out top.
|Long-distance running||Long-distance running|
|1||Mo Farah||4,598,700||Paula Radcliffe||317,380|
|2||Eliud Kipchoge||1,525,080||Shalane Flanagan||117,390|
|3||Kenenisa Bekele||451,400||Tirunesh Dibaba||92,870|
|4||Joshua Cheptegei||345,740||Letesenbet Gidey||61,600|
|5||Galen Rupp||315,050||Molly Huddle||56,370|
|6||Haile Gebrselassie||268,160||Gabriela Szabo||54,690|
|7||Mohammed Ahmed||104,250||Karissa Schweizer||44,840|
|8||Hagos Gebrhiwet||53,650||Elvan Abeylegesse||39,530|
|9||Jacob Kiplimo||46,960||Almaz Ayana||38,550|
|10||Paul Tergat||43,830||Derartu Tulu||33,390|
Middle distance running:
Topping the male list for middle-distance runners is Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a Norwegian runner who broke Norway’s national record in the 5000m and won 2 gold medals at the 2018 European Championships. Meanwhile, South African two-time women’s Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion Caster Semenya was the most popular female in this set.
|Middle-distance running||Middle-distance running|
|1||Jakob Ingebrigtsen||846,220||Caster Semenya||2,608,910|
|2||Hicham el Guerrouj||627,880||Konstanze Klosterhalfen||290,250|
|3||José Luis González||240,100||Genzebe Dibaba||242,250|
|4||Steve Ovett||219,680||Zola Budd||195,650|
|5||Steve Scott||213,820||Sifan Hassan||145,810|
|6||Sebastian Coe||207,130||Jenny Simpson||127,400|
|7||Steve Cram||190,160||Laura Muir||106,440|
|8||Fermín Cacho||167,360||Elle Purrier||104,490|
|9||David Rudisha||149,620||Jemma Reekie||82,880|
|10||Alan Webb||149,150||Sonia O'Sullivan||64,060|
Short distance running:
Jamaican Usain Bolt has raced to the lead in our male short distance running category, thanks to his legendary Olympic status and three world records in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay. Meanwhile, American track and field sprinter Allyson Felix holds the top spot for females, thanks to her incredible achievements in both the Olympics and IAAF World Championships.
|Short distance running||Short distance running|
|1||Usain Bolt||14,851,290||Allyson Felix||811,560|
|2||Michael Johnson||1,362,320||Florence Griffith-Joyner||760,580|
|3||Carl Lewis||1,306,910||Cathy Freeman||711,920|
|4||Pietro Mennea||780,200||Marion Jones||695,770|
|5||Justin Gatlin||630,940||Dafne Schippers||426,490|
|6||Yohan Blake||629,250||Dina Asher-Smith||421,270|
|7||Maurice Greene||456,190||Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce||316,560|
|8||Tyson Gay||415,760||Sha'Carri Richardson||259,190|
|9||Noah Lyles||414,070||Ana Guevara||226,740|
|10||Asafa Powell||413,120||Merlene Ottey||169,310|
Michael Phelps is by far the most searched-for swimmer on our male list – another accolade to add to his mind-blowing 28 Olympic medals, making him the most successful and decorated Olympian of all time. Meanwhile, Italian freestyle swimmer Federica Pellegrini dives into first place for females. Pellegrini was the first female to break the 4-minute barrier in the 400m freestyle swim and holds multiple medals in The World Championships, European Championships and Olympics.
|1||Michael Phelps||7,068,970||Federica Pellegrini||1,794,150|
|2||Tom Daley||2,033,870||Alexandra Paul||1,132,780|
|3||Ryan Lochte||1,042,530||Laure Manaudou||968,740|
|4||Johnny Weissmuller||797,920||Esther Williams||739,440|
|5||Camille Lacourt||615,070||Inge de Brujin||312,490|
|6||Mark Spitz||602,180||Franziska van Almsick||287,430|
|7||Ian Thorpe||564,230||Annette Kellerman||272,030|
|8||John Marshall||487,820||Charlène Wittstock||233,150|
|9||Nathan Adrian||224,890||Natalie Coughlin||203,090|
|10||Duke Kahanamoku||166,460||Erica Terpstra||195,310|
|1||Lance Armstrong||5,103,000||Annemiek van Vleuten||319,790|
|2||Peter Sagan||2,851,910||Anna van der Breggen||276,630|
|3||Nairo Quintana||2,092,860||Marianne Vos||225,740|
|4||Eddy Merckx||1,734,860||Jeannie Longo||196,070|
|5||Chris Froome||1,574,150||Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig||132,170|
|6||Jan Ullrich||1,215,410||Alison Jackson||110,870|
|7||Primoz Roglic||1,093,230||Alfonsina Strada||83,170|
|8||Marco Pantani||1,042,780||Leontien Van Moorsel||79,200|
|9||Alberto Contador||812,350||Hannah Barnes||72,760|
|10||Bradley Wiggins||631,510||Sarah Roy||65,530|
World-renowned Portuguese football player Cristiano Ronaldo is the most popular male sportsperson in the world, as well as the most searched for male footballer player. The forward has one five Ballon d’Or awards and four European Golden Shoes, setting European records for both. Amongst females, American soccer player Alex Morgan tops the searches. Morgan currently plays for the Orlando Pride and was named U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year in 2012 and 2018, and one of Time’s 100 most Influential People of 2019.
|1||Cristiano Ronaldo||99,207,840||Alex Morgan||8,446,340|
|3||Lionel Messi||38,967,190||Hope Solo||1,710,930|
|7||David Beckham||20,279,640||Julie Ertz||818,840|
|8||Luis Suarez||16,879,330||Pernille Harder||792,370|
|9||Sergio Ramos||15,094,540||Lieke Martens||750,880|
|10||Gareth Bale||13,519,820||Mia Hamm||726,650|
The most searched-for male tennis star is Rafael Nadal, who is currently ranked ATP’s No.3 in the world and has been No.1 on their list five times. The Spaniard has won 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, whilst the only other player to do so is Roger Federer (fourth on our list). Two former tennis players who have dabbled in fashion feature in our top 10 list: Fred Perry, who created an eponymous clothing brand in the 1940s; and Stan Smith, whose Adidas tennis shoes are considered iconic by many. Serena Williams tops the searches for female tennis players, and is also the third most popular sportswoman across all sports. Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, which is record breaking in the Open Era, and the second highest of all time.
|1||Rafael Nadal||12,561,660||Serena Williams||7,462,710|
|2||Novak Djokovic||11,104,750||Maria Sharapova||4,418,870|
|3||Dominic Thiem||8,096,720||Ana Ivanovic||1,740,970|
|4||Roger Federer||7,834,120||Simona Halep||1,704,650|
|5||Fred Perry||4,678,780||Gabriela Sabatini||1,528,930|
|6||Stan Smith||4,139,700||Venus Williams||1,415,270|
|7||Alexander Zverev||3,332,480||Monica Seles||877,120|
|8||Boris Becker||2,630,560||Kim Clijsters||795,510|
|9||Yannick Noah||1,822,230||Martina Hingis||790,110|
|10||Andy Murray||1,667,340||Angelique Kerber||665,920|
American quarterback Tom Brady has the most searches for American footballers and is considered by many to be the best quarterback of all time. Brady holds records for most passing yards, touchdown passes and games started by a quarterback, and has won five Super Bowl MVP awards. He is also the only quarterback to have won Super Bowls across three separate decades. Sarah Fuller is the most searched for female American footballer, partly because she made history becoming the first women to score in a major college football game in 2020.
|American Football||American Football|
|1||Tom Brady||63,573,750||Sarah Fuller||2,165,910|
|2||Aaron Rodgers||18,463,760||Katie Sowers||282,760|
|3||Drew Brees||15,318,020||Callie Brownson||189,840|
|4||Russell Wilson||11,117,700||Katie Hnida||100,240|
|5||Lamar Jackson||10,731,050||Ashley Martin||70,070|
|6||Rob Gronkowski||9,983,330||Samantha Gordon||34,740|
|7||Odell Beckham Jr.||8,498,340||Jennifer Welter||31,630|
|8||Peyton Manning||5,458,200||April Goss||18,530|
|1||Conor McGregor||62,375,910||Ronda Rousey||21,666,500|
|2||Khabib Nurmagomedov||21,874,320||Paige Vanzant||6,330,600|
|3||Jon Jones||15,031,500||Joanna Jedrzejczyk||5,595,360|
|4||Israel Adesanya||14,504,780||Amanda Nunes||4,537,240|
|5||Tony Ferguson||12,115,400||Valentina Shevchenko||3,617,710|
|6||Anderson Silva||8,357,070||Holly Holm||3,466,430|
|7||Nate Diaz||4,363,600||Rose Namajunas||3,217,310|
|8||Daniel Cormier||3,980,170||Miesha Tate||2,098,980|
|9||Donald Cerrone||3,962,400||Michelle Waterson||1,545,750|
|10||Stipe Miocic||3,591,870||Karolina Kowalkiewicz||777,600|
American born LeBron James is considered by many as one of the greatest NBA players of all time, which is perhaps why he tops our list as the most searched for basketball player. James is the only player to have won NBA championships with three franchises as a Finals MVP and has won two Olympic gold medals. Sue Bird nets the most searched female position on our list. The Israeli-American WNBA player has the most assists in the league’s history and is one of just eleven women in history who have won the WNBA Championship (4), an Olympic medal (4), the NCAA Championship (2), and the FIBA World Cup (4).
|1||LeBron James||77,564,570||Sue Bird||2,934,770|
|2||Michael Jordan||75,210,140||Candace Parker||2,053,930|
|3||Stephen Curry||30,281,390||Maya Moore||1,361,600|
|4||Dennis Rodman||20,482,780||Diana Taurasi||1,314,210|
|5||Giannis Antetokounmpo||20,448,480||Lisa Leslie||1,283,680|
|6||Kevin Durant||20,395,370||Liz Cambage||1,272,020|
|7||James Harden||19,932,280||Tina Charles||1,166,930|
|8||Anthony Davis||18,727,320||Brittney Griner||1,050,000|
|9||Scottie Pippen||16,805,230||Becky Hammon||852,600|
|10||Shaquille O'Neal||15,366,090||Elena Delle Donne||807,290|