Most Loved Sports Stars

Updated: 8026 Other

Discover who the most popular athletes in the world are, based on Google search data, Instagram followers, and media sentiment. From Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar to Minjee Lee and Coco Gauff, we've analyzed the figures to reveal the sport stars that hold the spotlight.

Most Loved Sports Stars
In this article: Googled
Steve Madgwick Editor-In-Chief

Editor-In-Chief with 20 years experience covering the betting angles to breaking news stories. Daily slots player, Portsmouth fan and League Snooker Player

Cristiano Ronaldo was the most Googled athlete over the last year, with almost 200 million searches

We’ve analysed Google search data to find the athletes with the most searches between September 2022 and August 2023. Here’s what we found across Football, Basketball, Cricket, Tennis and more

Cristiano Ronaldo

Rank Athlete Annual searches
1 Cristiano Ronaldo 199.4m
2 Neymar 140.9m
3 Lionel Messi 104.4m
4 LeBron James 72.1m
5 Virat Kohli 68.0m
6 Kylian Mbappé 63.7m
7 Carlos Alcaraz 60.0m
8 Novak Djokovic 58.4m
9 Erling Haaland 43.4m
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Cristiano Ronaldo - 199.4 million Google searches since September 2022

Taking the top spot is Cristiano Ronaldo, with almost 200 million Google searches in just the last year. At the end of 2022, the 38-year-old joined Al Nassr after being released by Manchester United. The switch from England to Saudi Arabia maintained his status as one of the highest-paid football players in the world. 

Neymar - 140.9 million Google searches since September 2022

Neymar takes second place with just over 140 million Google searches in the last 12 months. Like many in the 2023 summer transfer window, the Brazilian moved to Saudi Arabia, swapping Paris Saint-Germain for Al Hilal. Neymar is Brazil’s top goalscorer, with 79 goals, overtaking Pele, who has held the record since 1971. 

Lionel Messi - 104.4 million searches since September 2022

Our top three is completed by none other than Lionel Messi, who has over 100 million Google searches since September 2022. The Argentine’s status as one of the greatest football players ever was reaffirmed in 2022, as his country won the Qatar World Cup. Messi played a crucial role throughout the tournament, scoring seven goals, two of which came in the final against France. 

Cristiano Ronaldo was the most searched athlete in 11 countries, more than any other athlete

Cristiano Ronaldo

Seeing athletes who represent your nation succeed at the highest level can fill you with pride. That’s why we used search data to find the most searched athlete in each country represented by the athletes in our seeding list. 

Country Most Searched Athlete Total Searches
Algeria Riyad Mahrez 1.6m
Argentina Lionel Messi 4.6m
Australia Sam Kerr 2.4m
Belgium Cristiano Ronaldo 1.2m
Brazil Neymar 33.8m
Cameroon Cristiano Ronaldo 0.4m
Canada Cristiano Ronaldo 3.1m
Chile Alexis Sanchez 5.5m
Colombia Cristiano Ronaldo 5.4m
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Cristiano Ronaldo - 11 countries

Cristiano Ronaldo takes the top spot again as the most searched athlete in 11 countries. Ronaldo was, of course, the most searched athlete in Portugal. However, he was also the most searched athlete in Egypt, Canada, and Mexico, beating Mohamed Salah, Alphonso Davies, and Canelo Alvarez in their home countries, respectively.

Neymar - 4 countries

In second place is Neymar, who was the most searched athlete in four different countries. The 31-year-old came out on top in France, Norway, Greece, and his home country, Brazil. Neymar’s transfer to the French capital remains the most expensive transfer in history, at over €200 million.

Lebron James - 2 countries

Our top three is completed by Lebron James, the most searched athlete in two countries, the United States and the Dominican Republic. James is the all-time leading scorer in the NBA and is considered one of the greatest basketball players ever. NBA

Cristiano Ronaldo is the most-followed athlete on Instagram, with more than 600 million followers

Cristiano Ronaldo

Instagram is an excellent way for fans to connect with their favourite athletes. That’s why we’ve revealed the most-followed athletes in the world. 

Rank Athlete Sport Nationality Instagram Followers
1 Cristiano Ronaldo Soccer Portugal 606.0m
2 Lionel Messi Soccer Argentina 488.0m
3 Virat Kohli Cricket India 259.0m
4 Neymar Soccer Brazil 215.0m
5 LeBron James Basketball United States 158.0m
6 Kylian Mbappé Soccer France 108.0m
7 Karim Benzema Soccer France 75.2m
8 Mohamed Salah Soccer Egypt 62.6m
9 Paul Pogba Soccer France 61.0m
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Cristiano Ronaldo - 606 million Instagram followers

Cristiano Ronaldo has over 600 million Instagram followers and again takes the top spot. Not only is Ronaldo the most-followed athlete, but he is also the most-followed person on Instagram, taking the crown from Selena Gomez in 2018. 

Lionel Messi - 488 million Instagram followers

In second place is Lionel Messi, with 488 million Instagram followers. Lionel Messi is also the second most-followed account on Instagram. Despite having fewer followers than Ronaldo, Messi holds the record for the most-liked photo on the social media platform. Messi’s post celebrating his World Cup victory received over 75 million likes, overtaking a picture of an egg. 

Virat Kohli - 259 million Instagram followers

Our top three is completed by Virat Kohli, who has 259 million Instagram followers. The Indian cricketer is widely regarded as one of the best batters of all time. Kohli earned himself the nickname ‘The King’ after breaking multiple records during his decorated career.

Minjee Lee receives the most love in response to articles about her, with 91% of reactions being love reactions

Minjee Lee

Article sentiment is a great way to see how an athlete is perceived in the media. That’s why we used Buzzsumo to find what percentage of reactions to coverage of each athlete are love reactions.

Rank Athlete Sport Nationality Article Sentiment (love reactions)
1 Minjee Lee Golf Australia 91%
2 Leylah Fernandez Tennis Canada 87%
3 Coco Gauff Tennis United States 86%
3 Chun In-Gee Golf South Korea 86%
5 Candace Parker Basketball United States 85%
6 Lydia Ko Golf New Zealand 82%
7 Sam Kerr Soccer Australia 81%
8 Miguel Cabrera Baseball Venezuela 78%
8 T.J. Watt NFL United States 78%
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Minjee Lee - 91% love reactions

Taking the top spot is Minjee Lee, with fans reacting with the love reaction 91% of the time. Lee is a nine-time LPGA tour winner and a two-time LPGA major championship winner, having won the Evian Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open in 2021 and 2022 respectively. In 2023, the Australian golfer was ranked as the sixth-best in the world, dropping two places from her 2022 ranking. 

Leylah Fernandez - 87% love reactions

In second place is Leylah Fernandez, with 87% of reactions she receives being love reactions. The 21-year-old made her professional debut in 2019, and reached the final of the U.S. Open two years later. Unfortunately, the Canadian lost to Emma Raducanu in straight sets. However, her victories against Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber in that tournament made her one of the most exciting prospects in tennis. 

Coco Gauff/Chun In-Gee - 86% love reactions

Our top three is completed by two athletes, Coco Gauff and Chun In-Gee, with 86% of reactions being love. 

Coco Gauff turned professional in 2018 at the age of 14-years-old. It was at this age when she won her first professional match, playing in the ITF Women’s Circuit earning herself a wild card into qualifying for the US Open, a tournament she would win five years later.

Chun In-Gee is a record-breaking golfer, who has won four LPGA tours. She was the first player in history to win three different tours in the same calendar year, winning in Japan, Korea, and the United States in 2015. One year later, Chun won the Evian Championship with a score of 21 under par, the lowest winning score in a major tournament.

Searches for Coco Gauff have risen by 509%, more than any other female athlete

Coco Gauff

We’ve looked at the year-on-year increases for each female athlete in our list, to find out which athletes have risen the most in popularity. 

Rank Athlete Sport Nationality YoY Increase
1 Coco Gauff Tennis United States 509%
2 Alexia Putellas Soccer Spain 174%
3 Minjee Lee Golf Australia 124%
3 Simone Biles Gymnastics United States 124%
5 Leylah Fernandez Tennis Canada 83%
5 Megan Rapinoe Soccer United States 83%
7 Asisat Oshoala Soccer Nigeria 50%
8 Alex Morgan Soccer United States 22%
9 Naomi Osaka Tennis Japan 0%
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Coco Gauff - 509% year-on-year increase in Google searches

Taking the top spot is Coco Gauff, with a whopping 509% increase in Google searches in the last year. Many performances contributed to Gauff’s meteoric rise in tennis, but her start to the 2020 Australian Open particularly stood out. In the first round, she defeated tennis legend Venus Williams in straight sets, before progressing to the third round where she defeated Naomi Osaka, who was the defending champion. 

Alexia Putellas - 174% year-on-year increase in Google searches

In second place is Alexia Putellas, with a year-on-year increase of 174% in Google searches. Putellas is a two-time Ballon d’Or winner, with consecutive wins in 2021 and 2022. After missing most of the 2022/23 season recovering from an ACL injury, Putellas has not made the shortlist for the 2023 award. Putellas was part of the Spain squad that won the World Cup, defeating England 1-0 in the final. However, her involvement was limited as she was brought on in the 90th minute of the game. 

Minjee Lee/Simone Biles - 124% year-on-year increase in Google searches

Minjee Lee and Simone Biles complete our top three, sharing a year-on-year increase of 124%. 

Minjee Lee’s amateur career was certainly an indication of her potential. As a year 9 student at college, Lee became the youngest winner of the WA Amateur Open. Four years later, in 2010, she became the number one ranked amateur golfer, holding the title until turning professional. 

Simone Biles is the most decorated gymnast in history, with seven Olympic medals, and 30 World Championship medals. She is tied with Shannon Miller for the most Olympic medals won by an American Gymnast, and at 26 years of age, it’s expected that she will make this record her own. She also just fell short of winning a Laureus World Sport Award in 2022

These are the most searched athletes across each of their major sports, with up to 200 million

There were 12 different sports which made our seeding list, and we’ve found out the most searched athlete for each one. Below are the faces of each sport.

Athlete - total searches graphic

Soccer had the athlete with the most Google searches, as Cristiano Ronaldo accumulated 200 million in the last 12 months. Basketball and Cricket had the second and third highest number of searches, with Lebron James and Virat Kohli taking the top spot in those sports. After his Wimbledon win, Carlos Alcaraz takes the top spot, beating Novak Djokovic as he did in the final. Jake Paul coming out on top in the boxing list is one of the most surprising selections in our list, beating Canelo Alvarez and Tyson Fury. 

Methodology

We used Sportico and Forbes’ list of the highest-paid athletes in the world. We then removed any retired athletes and included some of our own additions. 

We then used Google’s Keyword Planner to find the athletes with the most searches, and the female athletes with the biggest year-on-year increase. 

Using our seeding list, we created another list of countries based on the nationalities of the players who made our original seeding list. We then used Google’s Keyword Planner again to find the most searched athletes in each country. 

We then used Instagram to see the athletes with the most followers. 

Finally, we used BuzzSumo to find the article sentiment for each player, taking the percentage of reactions that are love reactions. 

Data is accurate as of 02/10/2023. 

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