There are billions of sports fans around the world and as over one billion of us actively use Instagram every month, there is a huge opportunity for fans to get closer to their favourite athletes.
At PledgeSports, we work with athletes to raise money, but also raise their online profile and make them more attractive to sponsors and endorsements. However, the list of what started out as 10 athletes (now 13) below is on a whole other level to every other athlete when it comes to social media presence. Note we are not including former athletes who have become movie stars, this list is purely for either retired or current professional athletes.
Most of this list are soccer players but cricketers and basketball also feature, while F1 driver Lewis Hamilton missed the cut with 27.3 million followers. Top of the baseball list is Alex Rodriguez at 3.9 million while Odell Beckham Jr tops the NFL list by a long lead with 14.3 million, Tom Brady is a distant second with 8.2 million followers.
Here’s a countdown of the 13 Most Followed Athletes On Instagram as of March 2022.
13. Gareth Bale – 45.4 million
Whoever could have predicted a Welshman would be one of the most followed athletes on Instagram?!
With over 30 million followers, Bale is an example of what it means to be a great pro in today’s game. He was worthy of his big-money move to Madrid back in 2013 and his hard work has continued to boost his profile worldwide.
12. James Rodriguez – 47.5 million
Like Ronaldinho, James Rodriguez’s entry at No.6 on our list of most followed athletes on Instagram may raise a few eyebrows, but believe us, it’s true.
Rodriguez has been the topic of transfer speculation after being left out of Real Madrid’s squad for the 2017 Champions League final, but at least he has nearly 35 million fans to console him.
11. Paul Pogba – 50.1 million
French professional footballer who plays for Manchester United and the France national team is a new addition to the list.
10. Marcelo Vieira Jr – 50.2 million
Marcelo Vieira da Silva Júnior, known as Marcelo, is a Brazilian professional footballer for Spanish club Real Madrid and the Brazil national team. The 31-year old superstar is sponsored by Adidas.
9. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 51.2 million
The man. The myth. The legend. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Zlatan The Great has given a boost to every league he has played in.
A fan favourite at each of his past clubs, it’s no surprise the big Swede has made our most-followed athletes on Instagram list. Here’s hoping the 35-year-old’s career isn’t over just yet.
8. Kylian Mbappe – 60 million
This French star who plays as a forward for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and his home country of France is the biggest riser on the ‘most popular athlete’ list. As his performance on the pitch excels, so, in turn, will his stardom.
7. Ronaldinho – 61 million
The former Ballon d’Or winner’s popularity will never die.
The enigma that is Ronaldinho is perhaps one of the more surprising entries on our list of most-followed athletes on Instagram, but just like in his prime, the tricky Brazilian has a habit of sneaking into spaces many others could not.
6. David Beckham – 69.4 million
I guess relatively new to the Instagram scene is a man we all know for both is footballing skills and his iconic personal brand, it’s of course, David Beckham. With nearly 70 million active followers and one of the few athletes with incredibly high post engagements, Beckham is a man that will be forever popular amongst men and women alike.
Becks has recently invested in an eSports business that should boost his following among gamers. His wife Victoria has an additional 29 million followers!
5. LeBron James – 119 million
King James, is he the greatest of all time or second after Michael Jordan? Either way, he has earned a place among the most followed athletes on Instagram.
Since his days as a high school internet sensation, LeBron has been insanely popular and that trend has continued right through his career. James has been selected to the All-NBA First Team a record 13 times, made the All-Defensive First Team five times, and has been named an All-Star 17 times, including three All-Star MVP selections.
He’s the third most followed athlete on Twitter with over 50 million fans.
4. Neymar Jr. – 173 million
Similar to LeBron James in that his rise to fame came during his teens, Neymar’s fanbase has been rapidly expanding ever since he left Brazilian outfit Santos for the bright lights of Camp Nou and more recent french side PSG, he grew his brand with the companionship of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez at his side. A nailed-on future Ballon d’Or winner, we don’t expect Neymar’s ranking on our list of most-followed athletes on Instagram to drop anytime soon.
3. Virat Kohli – 200 million
Virat Kohli is an Indian superstar cricketer who currently captains the India national team. Kohli is regarded as the best batsmen in the world today. He plays for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League and has been the team’s captain since 2013.
Sports business publication SportsPro featured Kohli as its highest-ranked cricketer in its annual list of the world’s most marketable athletes; it positions him four places ahead of Neymar, 20 ahead of Lewis Hamilton, and 22 ahead of Mo Salah. The most followed man or woman in India is also armed with over 47 million twitter followers, and is rapidly rising through the ranks of this list and now in reach of the biggest football stars.
Two other Indian cricketers are following in Kohli’s footsteps. Sachin Tendulkar has a massive following too and now has 33.4 million followers on Instagram, while Rohit Sharma has amassed 23.1 million.
2. Lionel Messi – 334 million
Probably one of the few times, if only time, Messi has finished 3rd during his illustrious Barcelona career. The Argentine is a world-renowned footballing legend and a very charismatic character on and off the pitch. It’s no wonder he ranks so highly on our list. Like all sports stars, a move to a new club brings in a legion of new fans, Messi’s move to Paris Saint-Germain has increased his following by nearly 40 million new fans.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo – 451 million
There are no words to describe Cristiano Ronaldo’s career, his talent, his work ethic, or his popularity. Ronaldo coming in on top of the most followed athletes on Instagram list is the least shocking piece of news you’re likely to hear today. In the same way that the grass is green and the sky is blue, Cristian Ronaldo sits pretty on top of the sporting world, and his recent move to Manchester United has only fuelled, adding another 50 million followers in 2021 and is heading for the half a billion mark!
His use of NFTs will also help grow his following and of course wealth. Oh and he’s also the most followed athlete on twitter with 99.5 million followers!
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