SMALLWOOD: Fame list doesn't include many U.S. stars

Philadelphia Daily News (TNS)

Sometimes as Americans we tend to forget that things extend beyond the boundaries of the 48 contiguous states.

The world, however, is a big place. The American view often does not jibe with the international view – including when it comes to sports.

LeBron James is No. 2 on ESPN's World Fame 100 list of most famous athletes. He is the highest-ranked American athlete.

This week, ESPN released its second annual World Fame 100, a list of what it considers the most famous athletes on the planet.

As with any list like this there is room for debate, but it has some grounding in honest statistics. ESPN director of analytics Ben Alamar comprised a formula combining endorsements with social media following and searches on the internet.

It has a decidedly un-American feel in terms of sports that we find popular here, particularly the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League.

Because soccer is the most popular sport in the world, it would only figure that the world’s most popular athlete is a soccer player.

For the second straight time the top honor goes to Real Madrid and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo.

According to Forbes, Ronaldo was the highest paid athlete in 2016 at $88 million, including $32 million worth of endorsements.

A social media darling, he has 50.4 million followers on Twitter, 93 million on Instagram and a whopping 118.1 on Facebook. As of this past September, his 238 combined million followers were second only to singer Taylor Swift (246 million). By mid-April, Ronaldo’s number had grown to 261 million.

Soccer is the only sport with three athletes in the Top 10, as Barcelona's Lionel Messi (No. 3) and Neymar (No. 6) join the star of their team's arch-rival.

Two tennis players – Roger Federer (No. 4) of Switzerland and Rafael Nadal (No. 9) of Spain – make the Top 10, as do two American golfers Phil Mickelson (No. 5) and Tiger Woods (No. 10).

Track star Usain Bolt of Jamaica is No. 7.

The National Basketball Association is the only one of America's "Big Four" sports leagues with any players in the Top 20. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is No. 2; Golden State's Kevin Durant is No. 8; and fellow Warrior Steph Curry, the NBA's reigning Most Valuable Player, is No. 11.

Cricket players rank higher than Tom Brady: How out of touch is the United States with the rest of the world? The National Football League may be king in America, but the first NFL player doesn’t make the list until New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady checks in at No. 21.

Athletes who rank higher on the Most Famous list include two cricket players from India, Virat Kohli (No. 13) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (No. 15). Both have endorsement deals worth more than $16 million, far greater than Brady's total of $8 million.

Others ranked ahead of "Tom Terrific" include golfers Rory McIlroy (No. 14) and Jordan Spieth (No. 17), tennis players Novak Djokovic (No. 12) and Serena Williams (No. 19), MMA fighter Ronda Rousey (No. 16), and Brazil-born Major League Soccer star Kaká (No. 18).

A stunning example of the unpredictability of fame is the athlete ranked just ahead of Brady at No. 20: tennis player Kei Nishikori of Japan.

While Brady has led the Patriots to five Super Bowl wins, Nishikori, who was ranked 47th last year, has never won a Grand Slam event. Still, he became the first Asian male to reach the singles final of one when he played for the 2014 U.S. Open.

Reaching as high as No. 4 in the men's tennis global rankings, Nishikori is the highest-ranked Japanese male player in the sport's history. That has translated into endorsement deals worth $30 million.

"Futbol" more popular than football: How much more popular is “futbol” than football?

Before Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton checks in as the second-highest-ranked NFL player at 47, there are 13 more soccer players on the list.

All in all, there are 38 soccer players in Top 100, while there are just eight NFL players. There are 10 golfers and 10 tennis players.

The legacy of “The Dream Team,” which launched the NBA into a global sport second only to soccer, lives on. Nine basketball players are in the Top 50 and 13 are in the Top 100.

Baseball, NHL players don't make list: Baseball may be the “Great American Pastime,” but there is not a single player from Major League Baseball on the list. There are none from the National Hockey League, either.

The list, however, does include 10 golfers, 10 tennis players, four cricket players, four auto racers; MMA stars Connor McGregor (No. 25) and Anderson Silva (No. 39); gymnasts Simone Biles (No. 48) and Aly Raisman (No. 99); and Chinese table tennis star Ma Long (No. 71) and badminton great Lin Dan (No. 88).

Perhaps if an MLB player or NHL star embarrasses the USA with boorish behavior during an Olympic Games, they could rank in the World Fame 100 like disgraced swimmer Ryan Lochte (No. 67) and soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo (No. 75) do.

Considering that MLB, NFL and NHL players have some of the highest salaries in global sports, the lack of worldwide fame may be tied to a lack of popularity on social media. That in turn may affect their endorsements, or lack of them.

Federer had just $7.8 in winnings in 2016, but led all athletes in endorsements of $60 million. Mickelson, who had just $2.8 million, earned $50 million in endorsements.

In 2016, retired Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was the first baseball player on the list of top endorsed athletes, coming at No. 42 with $6 million worth of deals.

The Top 10 highest paid players in the NHL combined for a total of $16 million in endorsements?.