The marquee names joined Lionel Messi, Neymar and Conor McGregor in the top five of ESPN's World Fame 100, but the list saw only three women rank in the top hundred.
ESPN later released a separate list of the 25 most famous women in sports, including Indian badminton champion Saina Newhal, tennis players Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Simone Halep and snowboarder Chloe Kim.
The list determines the fame level of athletes by combining their Google Trends score, social media following and endorsement money.
For Ronaldo, it was his fourth successive year atop the list. He has a social media following of 148 million and the ability to consistently make headlines outside of sport. He faced rape allegations during the year and in January 2019, police issued a warrant for his DNA. Somehow, his fame and commercial appeal have not been diminished by the claims. Ronaldo has denied any wrongdoing.
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) May 30, 2017
Trends in the ESPN Fame 100
The list was dominated by a handful of sports; namely soccer (football) with 36 of the top 100, basketball 16 (including 15 NBA players), cricket (11) and tennis (nine). Cricket was entirely represented by players from India (eight) and the fast-rising nation of Bangladesh (three).
In some cases, the fame level of the athletes seemed to lag a couple of years behind their sporting feats. Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo only placed 85th despite being one of the three leading contenders to be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player this season.
On the other hand, some stars hung on to their fame despite having done little of note in a sporting sense over the past year. Former NBA player Carmelo Anthony was at 65th place on the list despite no team being interested in signing him after he was waived by the Houston Rockets. Dwight Howard and the retiring Dwayne Wade have also faded in relevance as NBA game-winners but they remain household names and still made the list.
— Forbes (@Forbes) March 13, 2018
An e-sports star has made the ESPN Fame 100
Another interesting inclusion in the list was Ninja, an e-sports star. He was ranked 41st. The 27-year-old (real name: Richard Tyler Blevins) has 13.7 million followers on the live streaming video platform Twitch and averages around 30,000 viewers per week.
He was the first e-sports competitor to feature on the cover of ESPN magazine but has not been without controversy. He refuses to appear on a live stream with any women gamers, claiming that doing so would disrespect his wife and create rumours. There was a backlash against his stance on the issue, but it found support in some quarters.