World Cup: Ronaldo Leads List of Most Marketable Soccer Players

Cristiano Ronaldo

The Portugal star is also the only athlete in the top 20 most-followed on Twitter, with 26.6 million followers.

LONDON – Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo is the world's most marketable soccer player, ahead of Argentina's Lionel Messi.

They rank highest on the latest Celebrity Davie-Brown Index (DBI), an index for brand marketers that quantifies perceptions of famous entertainment industry, sports and other personalities. Managed by The Marketing Arm and Repucom and updated before the World Cup, it measures such things as people's awareness of a celebrity, their reputation for setting trends and their endorsement value.

Spain’s Gerard Pique, whose partner is Shakira, ranks third on the index of soccer stars.

"The world’s gaze is firmly on the competing teams and players," said Repucom CEO Paul Smith. "The World Cup is the most watched sporting event in the world and as such, big brands, official partners or otherwise, are using its global appeal to drive sales."

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He added: "Soccer stars can raise awareness and create a buzz for brands and products at a time when breaking through the marketing clutter that surrounds such huge events is critical for commercial success."

Ronaldo is also the soccer star with the most Twitter followers out of all players in the World Cup, which kicks off in Brazil on Thursday. As of Wednesday, he had 26.6 million followers, ahead of Brazil's Neymar Jr. with 10.8 million and England's Wayne Rooney with more than 8.8 million.

They are followed by Andres Iniesta and Pique of Spain with 8.7 million and 8.5 million, respectively.

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Here is a closer look at the top 8 soccer stars on the Celebrity Davie-Brown Index - all of them set to play in the World Cup and beating out ninth-ranked Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose national team didn't qualify for the tournament, and France's Thierry Henry, who plays for New York Red Bulls but isn't on the French national team anymore.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo
The Real Madrid star recently won his second FIFA Golden Ball for player of the year, becoming the first-ever Portuguese player to get that honor twice.

The DBI results show that he is the best-known soccer player in the world today, with 83.9 percent of people knowing of him. In such markets as Italy, Spain, Germany, Turkey and Argentina, this figure is above 95 percent.

He also ranks as the most "trend-setting" World Cup star, with 82.5 percent of people saying he reflects today’s trends in society.

Ronaldo has had endorsement deals with the likes of Armani, Nike, Coca-Cola and others.

"Ronaldo is an endorser’s dream," said Smith. "His value is as important to the teams he plays for as they are for the companies that endorse him. Global awareness of Ronaldo is what drives his commercial power, and with over 82 million Facebook likes and 26 million Twitter followers, he is also one of the most liked in the business."

2. Lionel Messi
The four-time Golden Ball winner, who plays his club soccer at Spanish powerhouse Barcelona, is considered the world’s best-paid player, with an estimated income of around $27.5 million per year.

The Argentine star gets high endorsement and likability scores on the DBI.

Among his endorsement and ad deals are ones with Gillette, Turkish Airlines and WeChat.

3. Gerard Pique
The Spain and Barcelona defender has won three UEFA Champions League trophies and the World Cup in 2010. His relationship with Shakira has boosted his level of global public awareness.

More than 58 percent of people know of Pique globally, with more than three quarters of them saying they like him, according to the DBI data.

Along with fellow Barcelona stars Cesc Fabregas, Neymar, Dani Alves and Iniesta, he has been a face of denim designer Replay, which early this year signed a four-year sponsorship deal with the club.

4. Fernando Torres
Fellow Spanish star Torres is somewhat of a surprise inclusion this high up in the ranking. The DBI team notes his "global notoriety, especially in markets like China" as having contributed to making him the third-most-recognized player globally and No. 4 overall.

El Nino, as his fans call him, has worked with such sponsors as Pepsi and insurance company Aviva.

5. Wayne Rooney
The English striker has had problems with injuries and his temper, but he is the highest-ranking English national team player in the Celebrity DBI ranking.

Earlier this year, he signed a four-year contract extension with English club Manchester United. The deal is worth nearly $26 million a year, the biggest annual salary in the history of the English Premier League.

His sponsorship deals are with the likes of Nike and Samsung, but his endorsement earnings in 2013 were estimated at only $3 million, compared to the more than $20 million that Messi and Ronaldo were believed to have made.

6. Andres Iniesta
The Spanish midfielder, who scored the deciding goal that won his country its first-ever World Cup trophy four years ago in the final against the Netherlands in the 116th minute, is well liked at home and abroad.

He has sponsorship deals with the likes of Nike and EA Sports.

Last year, the shy and soft-spoken Iniesta made his film debut with a cameo in Santi Amodeo's comedy Who Killed Bambi? The film, distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing Spain, tells the story of two friends who must find a way to return the president of their company to his home safe and sound after discovering him half-naked in the trunk of their car.

7. Neymar Jr.
The 22-year-old is his country's biggest soccer star of this age and is considered one of the favorites to score the most goals at the World Cup.

Fans, media commentators and players have been drawing comparisons between the Barcelona player and Brazil great Pele. The youngster with the recognizable hairdo also appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 2013, becoming the first Brazilian athlete to be featured in that way. The cover story was entitled "The Next Pele."

Nike, Panasonic, Volkswagen, Unilever and Santander are among the companies that have signed endorsement deals with him.

8. Iker Casillas
The Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper has a sponsorship deal with Adidas after a previous relationship with Reebok.

Known for his looks, leadership and skills on the pitch, he was the captain of the Spanish team that in 2008 won the country's first European Championship in 44 years. With the team, he also won the World Cup in 2010 and another European Championship in 2012.

Twitter: @georgszalai