Sun Yang Is the Only Swimmer on ESPN’s 2019 World Fame 100 List

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang,has been named to the ESPN World Fame 100. He checks in at #43 on the list, which is a decline from his rank of 17th on the 2018 list.

Sun is currently the subject of a WADA appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for punishment from his actions toward an anti-doping test conducted earlier this year after a FINA dodping panel declined to sanction the swimmer.

Last year, 3 swimmers (all Chinese) made the list; this year, Sun is the only aquatic sport athlete among the top 100, with recently-retired Ning Zetao and Fu Yuanhui dropping out of the top 100.

ESPN estimates Sun as having $2.46 million in endorsements annually and a total social media following of 32.6 million on the Chinese social media site Weibo.

ESPN uses a number of factors to determine an athlete’s “fame,” which does not focus exclusively on positive references:

  • “Search score,” which measures how often an athlete’s name is Googled. Based on a weighted average of an athlete’s Google Trends peak score (how much that athlete spiked on their most searched day) and their average score (how much they were searched throughout 2018, on average). Weibo was used in China, because Google is blocked there.
  • Endorsement dollars, utilizing a range of sources like Darren Rovell and Forbes to estimate athletes’ endorsements.
  • Social media followers, utilizing only the number from their most popular account.

Soccer players hold down 3 of the top 4 spots, with basketball player LeBron James checking in at #2. The top 4 remained the same, with MMA fighter Conor McGregor vaulting into the top 5 on this year’s list.

Sun is the only Chinese athlete on the list. He is given a search score of 1, and while his endorsements are far below most of those around him on the list, he is buoyed by his massive social media following.

On the initial list in 2016, Michael Phelps was the only swimmer included, checking in at #46. In 2017, China’s Ning Zetao ranked 66th and American swimmer Ryan Lochte was ranked 67th.

The 27-year old Sun has 6 Olympic medals, including 3 golds: the 400 free in 2012, the 1500 free in 2012, and the 200 free in 2016. He also has 9 World Championships in long course, and 9 Asian Games gold medals.

2019 ESPN World Fame Top 10 (Search Score/Endorsements/Social Following):

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo, soccer, Portugal (100/$37mm/148mm)
  2. LeBron James, basketball, United States (47/$52mm/45.3mm)
  3. Lionel Messi, soccer, Argentina (54/$28mm/103.1mm)
  4. Neymar, soccer, Brazil (55/$19mm/107.2mm)
  5. Conor McGregor, MMA, Ireland (100/$15mm/29.7mm)
  6. Roger Federer, tennis, Switzerland (23/$41.5mm/14.5mm)
  7. Virat Kohli, cricket, India (25/$20mm/37.1mm)
  8. Rafael Nadal, tennis, Spain (12/$29.3mm/15.6mm)
  9. Steph Curry, basketball, United States (12/$42mm/23mm)
  10. Tiger Woods, golf, United States (20/$42mm/6.4mm)

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Surprised Ledecky isn’t up there


Seems like the way the list is compiled, given swimmers are never going to make the list based on the size of their endorsements alone (compared to football, basketball, golf, tennis etc) they are only likely to appear based on social media and search engine following. That’s probably why Ledecky’s not up there; based on the criteria you’d still expect someone like Michael Phelps to pop up in terms of random people searching for or following a usa swimmer online. Ledecky absolutely deserves to be up there in terms of fame amongst swimmers, but when you think about the way the list is compiled, Sun Yang’s fame in China is always going to give him a trump over USA following… Read more »


It looks like Fu Yuanhui is on the list at #89. She’s listed as a swimmer.

Juliet Austin

She is the most popular and famous female athlete active in Chinese sports circle

Small bird

Also seeing Ning Zetao there in the 80s

Small bird

Nevermind. But 2019 list is linking to 2018 list.

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, …

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