ESPN has released their second annual top 100 most famous athletes in the world from every sport. To no surprise, the majority of athletes are footballers (38) hailing primarily from the Premier League and La Liga.
Cristiano Ronaldo is crowned the king, ranked #1 while his Barcelona rivals Lionel Messi (#3) and Neymar (#6) are the other two footballers cracking the top 10.
According to ESPN, this is an attempt to rank the 100 most famous athletes on the planet through statistical analysis. Retired athletes are not included. It combines an athlete’s endorsements (which reflect ability to draw attention – salary not factored in because some leagues have salary caps making comparisons inadequate), social media following (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and Google search popularity, to produce a comparative ranking system.
From the footballers only list, the Premier League has 14/38 (37%), La Liga 11/38 (29%), Bundesliga 6/38 (16%), while Serie A, Ligue 1 and MLS each have 2/38 (5%).
The two Serie A footballers making the top 100 are 34 year-old defender Dani Alves (Juventus) ranked #57 and 24 year-old forward Mohamed Salah (Roma) ranked #100.
While there is no exact science behind these rankings and the methodology can be questionned for it’s lack of mathematical rigour, it nonetheless confirms how irrelevant Serie A is from a global perspective.
The steady decline of the Serie A is well documented, in the past the best players would play in Italy and now they are in England or Spain, with Germany and France also attracting top players.
While an argument can be made financials have a significant role in the rankings, it’s not like Serie A doesn’t spend money on its players. What the rankings reveal is the inadequate marketing of the league and its players. There are some well established Serie A top players such as Gigi Buffon, Gonzalo Higuain, Mauro Icardi or Paulo Dybala for example that would be starters in England or Spain – yet because they play in Italy they are marginalized from a marketing perspective.
The same argument can be made about Serie A’s next generation. There are some great young players already becoming stars such as Gigio Donnarumma and Andrea Belotti. Serie A may not be able to compete from a TV revenue side but it can do something to market it’s star players.
It is ironic how the country that produces the best coaches, who this year won the Premier League (Antonio Conte), Bundesliga (Carlo Ancelotti), Serie A (Massimiliano Allegri), and Russian Premier League (Massimo Carrera) – is unable to raise the profile of it’s league and teams on the world stage.