It has been a sports year for the ages with epic Olympic performances, historic championship comebacks and the end of the longest title drought in pro sports. It was also the end of the road for several of the most dominant athletes of the past two decades as Kobe Bryant,
But who were the most marketable athletes in 2016? For that we turned to Nielsen which rates more than 3,800 celebrities on their proprietary “N-Score” to measure marketability based on awareness, likability and 10 other attributes like “influential,” “trendsetter,” and “stylish.”
The top N-Score among active athletes in 2016 belongs to Manning, who barely qualifies as he announced his retirement in March. It was a storybook ending for the five-time NFL MVP, who led the Denver Broncos to a 24-10 Super Bowl win over the Carolina Panthers in February. Manning’s N-Score ranked No. 75 overall out of nearly 4,000 celebs. His awareness level ranked in the top 2% of all celebrities, while his likability is in the top 7%. No wonder he continues to be a constant presence on TV ads this fall pitching for brands like DirecTV, Nationwide and Papa John’s. Manning’s off-field earnings were $15 million and tops in the NFL during the 12 months ending in June.
A pair of Olympic heroes rank as the second and third most marketable athletes in 2016, according to Nielsen. Michael Phelps ranks directly behind Manning among all celebrities at No. 76. His likability scores are on par with Manning and his awareness is only a notch lower.
The 28-time Olympic medalist, who appeared in five Summer Games, is on his second act focused on his own MP swimwear brand, his foundation and potential investments in several Silicon Valley startups. Intel and Beats both nabbed Phelps for commercial spots after Rio, and he still endorses Under Armour, Omega and a handful of smaller brands. His 90-second Under Armour “Rule Yourself” video has been viewed 11.7 million times on YouTube.
Simone Biles is third with an N-Score that ranks No. 84 among all celebs. The Olympic gymnast was a relative unknown at the start of the year, but her five Olympic medals, including the all-around gold made her a star. Her awareness score is the lowest of any athlete in the top 10, but her likability tally is off the charts and ranks among the top 1% of all celebrities. The 19-year-old inked endorsement deals with Nike, Hershey, Procter & Gamble and Hershey.
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Serena Williams and LeBron James round out the top five. Williams unseated Maria Sharapova as the highest-paid female athlete in the world this year after 11 years of Sharapova on top. Williams banked $28.9 million during the 12 months ending in June thanks to partnerships with more than a dozen brands like Nike, Wilson, IBM, Beats, Burlei and Gatorade. Williams’ awareness scores are in the top 5%, but her likability is middle of the road among celebs.
James’ whirlwind 12 months included a new $1 billion lifetime Nike deal, ending Cleveland’s 52-year spots title drought, a new $100 million contract with the Cavaliers and a nod as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year for a second time. James’ likability ranks among the bottom 25% of celebrities, but he over-indexes on other attributes like influential, successful, role model and trendsetter. James made the cut in Forbes 40 Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40 with a net worth of $275 million. In addition to $200 million in NBA salary, he’s made more than $400 million in endorsements from companies like Nike, Coca-Cola. Samsung and Kia Motors.
There are seven athletes active in at least part of 2016 who rank among the top 500 celebrities by Nielsen’s N-Score. Amazingly enough, there are a pair of siblings in that group with the NFL’s Mannings and the Williams sisters. Retired and dead athletes like Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, David Beckham, Shaquille O’Neal also rank in the top 500 as well.
The Most Marketable Athletes Of 2016
|Rank||Athlete||N-Score||Awareness Score||Likeability Score||Overall N-Score Rank*|
|8||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||74||68||57||531|
|*Overall N-Score is from a universe of more than 3,800 celebrities. Source: Nielsen.|