Popularity means being able to transcend geographical and race boundaries. You know you have made it big when your name is known whether you are in the high-rise buildings of New York and the cosmopolitan city of Paris or the jungles of the Amazon and the dirt streets of Africa. During the height of Muhammad Ali’s reign in the 1970s, his name was being chanted from New York and London to Kinshasa in Zaire and Manila in the Philippines. Possessing amazing skills certainly help, but playing the most popular sport in the world or having a billion countryman to back you up would not hurt your chances either. So here are the ten most popular athletes in the world, the ones that advertisers would prefer to sign up for their precious endorsements:
10 Neymar, Brazil – Soccer
He is being touted as the next Pele’. At such a young age, Neymar is already being argued as even better than Lionel Messi, the Argentine soccer phenomenon. And to think that he is only 20 years old and still not playing in the big leagues in Europe, although definitely not because of a lack of interest. The huge-spending clubs, such as Barcelona and Real Madrid of Spain’s La Liga and Chelsea and Manchester City of England’s Premier League, have all inquired and are ready to place a record-breaking bid for the Brazilian playmaker. But he is biding his time and remains loyal to his Brazilian club Santos. Neymar is aware, however, that to fully realize his potential, he has to make the move to Europe one day. And when that happens, expect more products lining up for his signature. Panasonic, Volkswagen, Red Bull, Unilever and Nike have already beaten everybody else to the draw. Neymar is not lacking of smart advisers, as well. To take full advantage of the transfer money that will be tabled for him, he has retained ownership to half the rights for these fees. And to get some of that money now, he has actually sold shares for anyone interested in getting a percentage of those rights.
9 Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – Golf
The epic collapse in the 2011 Masters is now behind him. As a matter of fact, Rory McIlroy did not take a long time to recover. Just a couple of months after shooting one of the worst final rounds in major golf history, the kid from Northern Ireland picked himself up and won the US Open. Still only 23, he won a second major earlier this year when he bagged the US PGA crown. He has endorsements with Nike, Jumeirah Estates, Oakley, Audemars Piguet and Santander. He is dating the hot and popular tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki. The kid is certainly doing all right.
8 Lionel Messi, Argentina – Soccer
Time Magazine once hailed him as King Leo. He has sublime skills on the football field, and he is the most talented player for one of the most talented football teams ever assembled in history in Barcelona. Quiet and unassuming off the pitch, Messi is a dynamo and unstoppable scoring machine on it. He has won the Ballon d’Or as the World Player of the Year three times. On the team front, name it and his club team probably has more than one copy of it – the Champions’ League, European Super Cup, Club World Cup, La Liga, Copa del Rey, Spanish Super Cup. He is now more focused in helping out his native Argentina’s national team as well, having been appointed as team captain in their drive to qualify for the World Cup in 2014. Companies have recognized Messi’s appeal, and Pepsi, EA Sports, Audemars Piguet, Dolce & Gabanna and Herbalife have all signed him up. He only stands 5’7”, but this small package has definitely yielded some huge things.
7 Usain Bolt, Jamaica – Athletics
The man with the appropriate name, Bolt makes sprinting look easy, often slowing down before the finish line but still breaking world records by a comfortable margin. He will then strike his lightning bolt pose for the world to see. Bolt is fast, and Puma moved the fastest in signing up the sprinter.
6 Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal – Soccer
Manchester United snapped him up from Sporting Clube when he was 18. Real Madrid snapped him up for $130 million dollars. And he has not disappointed, snapping goals with such regularity as the lynchpin of Real’s ouster of Barcelona as the kings of Spain. He is the athlete with the most number of Facebook followers. Nike and Castrol are ardent admirers as well.
5 Blake Griffin, USA – Basketball
He makes video game moves come to life. Yes, Griffin’s dunks are so amazing that he can fill up his own top ten dunks. He has made the Clippers respectable, and Kia, AT&T and Subway have all taken notice.
4 Novak Djokovic, Serbia – Tennis
The guy who broke the Federer-Nadal duopoly, Djokovic is already considered as one of the all-time best. He has five majors, and he has broken into the endorsement business as well, signing up with Adidas, Audemars-Piguet and Mercedes Benz.
3 Sebastian Vettel, Germany – F1
At 25 years old, he is the youngest champion of F1. And the youngest double champion. This year, he is on track to be the youngest triple champion. All those Red Bull must be energizing him to keep breaking new records.
2 Tim Tebow, USA – Football
He shot to fame as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, winning constantly and guiding them to a playoff win despite being seemingly over his head. The team didn’t have faith in him, however, and sent him to the New York Jets. Through it all, he has made Tebow-ing part of our lexicon, as it reflects his faith in God. Nike and Jockey have kept their faith in him.
1 Yani Tseng, Taiwan - Golf
The Taiwanese on the list is not Jeremy Lin, but Yani Tseng. Tseng has won already won five majors. She has been Player of the Year twice, and it’s safe to say she’ll win many more, as she is still only 23. This augurs well for Acer and Taiwan Mobile, who both have signed her up for lucrative deals.