Forbes Names Michael Phelps 5th Most Influential Athlete

In it’s annual list of the most influential athletes, Forbes Magazine has listed Michael Phelps at No. 5 based on its latest survey contucted by Nielsen/E-Poll N-Score.

Their survey reported that 21% of 1,000 adult respondents found Phelps to be influential. 49% were aware of Phelps, 47% liked him or liked him a lot, and only 4% reported that they disliked the 14-time Olympic gold medalist. These numbers are quite interesting, and show how quickly the public forgets about past transgressions. After not cracking the top 10 in 2010, and as the world begins its approach towards the 2012 London Olympics, people have forgiven or forgotten about Phelps’ marijuana photos from shortly after the 2008 Olympics.

Another interesting metric that Forbes used is Nielsen’s “N-Score” that shows an athletes endorsement potential. Phelps’ score rates 214 on this scale, as compared to a national professional-athlete average of 14. Only 4% of professional athletes achieve a score in excess of 200, and at the end of the day, this marketability is the ultimate measure of where an athlete, and our sport in general, is going.

Think its bad that swimming’s most influential athlete has an awareness score for less than half the population? Think again: Out of the top 10 athletes on the list, only No. 4 Shaquille O’neal (71%) had a higher awareness level (and Shaq is a HUGE Phelps fan, literally and figuratively).

Here are the top 10 most influential athletes and their N-Scores, for comparison. As you can see, swimming’s best matches up very favorably to the best in many other sports:

  1. Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR)) – 72
  2. Tom Brady (NFL) – 131
  3. Dale Earndhardt, Jr. (NASCAR) – 217
  4. Shaquille O’Neal (NBA) – 314
  5. Michael Phelps (Swimming) – 214
  6. Troy Polamalu (NFL) – 165
  7. Peyton Manning (NFL) – 262
  8. Jeff Gordon (NASCAR) – 144
  9. Lebron James (NBA) – 131
  10. Tim Tebow (NFL) – 41

The numbers bear out how incredibly important winning is. Lebron James and Tim Tebow had the highest-selling jerseys in their respective sports last year, but pale in comparison in terms of marketability and influence to other athletes like Tom Brady, Troy Polamalu, and Michael Phelps, who have loads of Championships to their names.

The last time Michael Phelps ranked this high on the list of most influential athletes was when he ascended to number 5 in December of 2008, following his record-setting 8 Olympic Gold Medal performance in Beijing. Everyone on the list moved up significantly this year after falls from the two athletes who have long been fixtures at the top. Previous years’ number 1, Tiger Woods, and his well-publicized fall from grace (and subsequent longest losing streak of his career) did not crack the top 10 for the first time in years. Lance Armstrong, who finished second last year, retired again, which also dropped him off of the list.

Overall, athlete influence numbers (per Forbes’ survey at least) are on a severe downward trend: this year’s most influential athlete received only a 25% acknowledgement, whereas it usually takes over 30% to rank that high. It seems as though former NBA great Charles Barkley’s motto that “I am not paid to be a role-model” is beginning to ring true with Americans.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

1 Comment threads
1 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
2 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted

You are very, very correct to say that the public has a short memory. That’s true when it comes to sports stars, politicians, pop stars, etc. As soon as Tiger wins a couple straight major championships he will skyrocket back on this list. I really do not like the fact that there are three NASCAR drivers in the top 10. I don’t know much about auto racing, but is that really supposed to be considered a sport? As much as a sport as swimming or even football are sports? On a related note, I think many Americans are more familiar with Danica Patrick than with any of the three NASCAR drivers on this list. And yet not only is she… Read more »

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

Read More »

Want to take your swimfandom to the next level?

Subscribe to SwimSwam Magazine!