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Riyadh All-Star's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (R) gestures as Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian forward Neymar (C) and Paris Saint-Germain's Argentine forward Lionel Messi (L) look on during the Riyadh Season Cup football match between the Riyadh All-Stars and Paris Saint-Germain at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh on January 19, 2023. (Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

It's no surprise that the global game dominated news agencies worldwide – but would Neymar or Lionel Messi unseat Cristiano Ronaldo as the most talked-about athlete of 2023? And which athletes are the newest additions to the list? James Bisson takes a deep dive here.

When your Instagram follower count exceeds 600 million, you're a bit of a big deal.

It should come, then, as little shock to learn that Cristiano Ronaldo has retained his title as the year's most talked-about athlete based on analysis of more than 2.4 million articles from notable publications around the world.

Ronaldo, who plays for Al Nassr of the Saudi Pro League, appeared in more than 440,000 articles over the course of the year – an incredible feat for any athlete, but particularly impressive when you consider that the Portuguese legend will turn 39 in February. Clearly, Ronaldo is aging like a fine Quinta de Raza.

Here's a look at the 10 most talked about athletes of 2023 (entrants must have been active at any point within the calendar year):

Most Talked About Athletes of 2023, Nos. 1-10

AthleteSport# of Articles2022 Rank
Cristiano RonaldoSoccer440,8171
Lionel MessiSoccer208,9453
Max VerstappenFormula 1150,7879 🔺
Novak DjokovicTennis136,1595
LeBron JamesBasketball123,1827 🔺
Kylian MbappeSoccer112,52611 🔺
Erling HaalandSoccer106,06414 🔺
Canelo AlvarezBoxing94,41822 🔺
Tom BradyFootball89,6804 🔻

Neymar is a distant No. 2 for the second year in a row, but remains a worthy foil. The Brazilian superstar scored 13 goals in 20 appearances (18 starts) for Paris Saint-Germain in 2022-23, and now toils for Ronaldo rival Al-Hilal of the KSA (though he has been shelved until the second half of 2024 after suffering an ACL injury in a World Cup qualifier in October).

It's a minor surprise that Lionel Messi didn't finish ahead of Neymar in the rankings, given how much ink was spilled over his triumphant arrival in America. The global phenomenon's heavily-publicized move to Inter Miami coincided with the best run in that franchise's history – and he's about to have some notable company amid word the team has added Luis Suarez.

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Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates with the trophy on the podium after winning the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit in the Emirati city on November 26, 2023. Giuseppe CACACE / AFP

The first non-footballer on the list is also the only new entrant in the top five. Max Verstappen has taken Formula 1 by storm, having won three consecutive world championships; he's a hefty favorite to repeat at our best F1 betting sites. Verstappen's climb up the rankings is almost certainly due in part to the growing popularity of the sport, particularly in North America. 

It wouldn't be a list of notable athletes without including one of the greatest tennis players in history – and as Novak Djokovic continues to roll along off the court, his popularity away from competition hasn't waned. Fans have long marveled at Djokovic's elite skills – and now they can add longevity to the list, with the Serbian star still a world-class talent at 36.

The first North American athlete is a familiar name to NBA hoops fans. LeBron James (38) moves up one spot (thanks, TB12 ... more on him in a bit) and is the fifth athlete aged 35 or older to earn a top-six spot. Stunningly, James is in his 20th season in the Association – and is still competing with the youngsters, averaging 24.7 points and 6.6 assists as of this writing.

The first of soccer's new wave of talent occupies the No. 7 spot. Kylian Mbappe is well on his way to another dominant season in France's top domestic league, having scored 15 goals in 13 games for PSG. The 24-year-old is one of three athletes new to the top 10 in 2023, and based on his quality of play, we'll be seeing plenty more of him in the years to come.

Seeing Erling Haaland jump six spots to No. 8 is nice – but we thought he would have been higher. The England-born, Norwegian-raised wunderkind is only 23, but has already established himself as a global powerhouse by breaking the English Premier League record for goals in a single season (36). Another season like that, and he might rise even higher - just like his odds at soccer betting sites.

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 30: Canelo Alvarez (C), flanked by rappers Tornillo Vazquez (L) and Santa Fe Klan (R), waits to enter the ring for his super middleweight title fight against Jermell Charlo at T-Mobile Arena on September 30, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Alvarez won by unanimous decision. Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

Boxing might not carry the same profile as it did before the emergence of mixed martial arts, but the sport still features still plenty of star power. At the top of the list for 2023: Canelo Alvarez, who was the ninth-most written about athlete of the year thanks to a pair of successful title defenses against John Ryder and Jermell Charlo (and his Creed III cameo didn't hurt).

Rounding out the top 10 is the only athlete on this list to drop in popularity – and it's easy to understand why. Tom Brady finally hung up his No. 12 jersey for good on Feb. 1 and has been largely out of the public eye ever since (save for the odd bit of hilarity, capped by his appearance in a commercial for the Monday Night Football Manningcast).

Most Talked About Athletes of 2023, Nos. 11-20

AthleteSport# of Articles2022 Rank
Virat KohliCricket86,8796 🔻
Karim BenzemaSoccer73,67825 🔺
Rohit SharmaCricket48,65916 🔺
Travis KelceFootball48,492--
Aaron RodgersFootball46,08424 🔺
Lewis HamiltonFormula 144,38510 🔻
Patrick MahomesFootball42,749--
Stephen CurryBasketball34,29013 🔻
Connor McGregorMMA33,75527 🔺
Jake PaulMMA33,67219 🔻
  • The gap between two of the greatest Indian cricketers in history has closed. Ex-national team captain Virat Kohli slipped five spots in the 2023 rankings, while current captain Rohit Sharma jumped three positions (but is still well behind in total articles).
  • Travis Kelce is the new King of the NFL – at least, where article appearances are concerned. The Kansas City Chiefs tight end (and Taylor Swift's current beau) saw his profile grow considerably in 2023 – and a full year with Tay-Tay could see him rocket up the board.
  • In a stunning bit of symmetry, former MMA champion Connor McGregor (who is very much on the comeback trail) earned a nearly identical amount of press in 2023 as social wizard-turned-pugilist Jake Paul. We would love to see these two guys square off in 2024.
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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 24: Victor Wembanyama #1 of the San Antonio Spurs dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the first quarter of the NBA In-Season Tournament game at Chase Center on November 24, 2023 in San Francisco, California. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images/AFP

Most Talked About Athletes of 2023, Nos. 21-30

AthleteSport# of Articles2022 Rank
Victor WembanyamaBasketball30,660--
Shohei OhtaniBaseball29,995--
Nikola JokicBasketball27,281--
Tiger WoodsGolf22,70123 🔻
Luka DoncicBasketball22,690--
Rafael NadalTennis21,6708 🔻
Kevin DurantBasketball21,61418 🔻
Kevin De BruyneSoccer20,994--
Kyrie IrvingBasketball20,75117 🔻
Giannis AntetokounmpoBasketball18,489--
  • A trio of global sports icons head up the 20s, and it's a little shocking that none of them were on this list a year ago. If we were to count articles through the end of 2023, it's a virtual certainty that Shohei Ohtani would top the triumvirate given the buzz around his free agency.
  • Tiger Woods has proven repeatedly that he doesn't need to be a full-time player to be a media focal point – but how much longer will "Tiger Watch" go on? That could depend entirely on whether he's fit enough to become a fixture on golf's Champions Tour down the road.
  • Is this the end for Rafael Nadal? The 37-year-old has entered the twilight of an historic career, and while he's confident in a 2024 comeback, you have to wonder how much longer his body will hold up. He is, however, taking part in an exhibition vs. Carlos Alcaraz on Netflix in March.

Most Talked About Athletes of 2023 by Sport

SportTop 30Articles
Formula 12195,172
  • No sport does it better than soccer, which is featured in nearly half of the 2.4 million total articles we canvassed for this analysis. Basketball is a (very) distant second.
  • Ronaldo, Neymar and Messi have actually finished first, second and third, respectively, in each of the previous three years.
  • Notable athletes to drop out of the top 30 in 2023 include tennis legend Serena Williams (12th in 2022, and the highest-ranking female athlete this year at No. 32) and international soccer stars Mohamed Salah (26th) and Paul Pogba (29th).

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