For the third year running, the SportsPro research team has been hard at work ranking athletes from around the world according to their marketability over a three-year period from this summer, with greatest weight given to marketing potential and value for money.
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Continuing a theme from last year’s list, which was compiled very much in the growing light of this summer’s Olympic Games, this edition looks beyond London 2012 to consider the prospective influence of major events on the not-too-distant horizon, with attention set to turn in coming years to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and Brazil’s Fifa World Cup in the same year. As a result, an increased number of Russian and Brazilian athletes have made the list, while for the same reason the likes of British heptathlete Jessica Ennis, included last year due to her central role in the build-up to London 2012, have been omitted.
Athletes from across the world have been ranked according to their marketing potential over a three-year period from this summer.
- Value for money
- Home market
- Crossover appeal
Once again, the rankings are as much a snapshot of the moment as a three-year outlook. Clearly, a degree of subjectivity is involved when evaluating potential; in the same way the future marketability of many, if not all, of the athletes is very much subject to speculation. In that respect, only time will tell if Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin – two rather unexpected heroes of the past year whose bursts of form attracted considerable media hype – can attain similar heights in future. The proverbial punt has also been taken on Bubba Watson. His recent victory at the Masters catapulted him into the wider public consciousness but it remains to be seen if he can go on to greater things after his improbable April feat.
Conversely to Watson, Andy Murray’s marketing potential – and to some extent that of Caroline Wozniacki – stems from a lack of Major honours, with the ‘will this be his/her year’ fever fuelling marketability.
One of 20 new entries on the list is the resurgent Tiger Woods. After a cataclysmic fall from grace, and thus a rather significant depreciation in the value of his endorsements, sponsors, as well as form, are slowly beginning to return to the global icon. His re-entry demonstrates that big names can, albeit for the wrong reasons, again come to offer the kind of value for money they once did.
Last year’s rankings were somewhat affected by ongoing and impending lockouts in the NFL and NBA. However, the resolution of both labour disputes has restored a degree of predictability this time around. With their marketing potential no longer threatened by the possibility of a cancelled season, players in both leagues once again rank well thanks to the cross-demographic appeal sustained by their sport. On the other hand, baseball players, whose earnings are typically dominated by their salaries, have fallen from their elevated 2011 rankings, leaving only two names from MLB in this year’s list.
Elsewhere, the inclusion of mixed martial artist Jon Jones, as well as the ascension in the rankings of fellow MMA star Anderson Silva, is a sign of the increasing commercialisation of fight sports, and in particular the promotion for which both men fight. The UFC continues to pen ever more lucrative broadcast and sponsorship contracts – not least the multi-million dollar mainstream broadcast deal it signed with Fox in August. Both fighters are already used heavily in the broadcaster’s promotion of the sport as it grows in the USA.
Meanwhile, the inclusion of women’s boxing on the Olympic programme, likely to be one of the major talking points of London 2012, could yet spark a wave of sponsor interest in female fighters such as Indian hopeful Mary Kom. The 29-year-old, arguably the surprise package in this year’s list, is one of only eight women to make the cut; a markedly low number but perhaps illustrative of a male-dominated industry.
Similarly underrepresented in the list are athletes from China, with the indefatigable Lin Dan the only athlete from the country to make the list. Generally speaking, western athletes remain the biggest draw in a nation that more readily embraces foreign stars, while Yao Ming’s retirement has put an end to the career of one of the country’s only truly household names.