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Ronaldo v Messi: Which athlete was the most followed in 2022?

From Lionel Messi’s Argentina winning the World Cup to Cristiano Ronaldo’s shock transfer to Saudi based Al Nassr, the world’s sport superstars frequently graced the headlines in 2022. But with all that coverage and notoriety, which athlete saw the largest increase in their fanbase?

Intrigued to find out, the team at TouchCasino utilised social media analytics tool, Social Blade to compare 20 of the highest paid athletes around the globe and their primary Instagram accounts. Follower data from a year ago was taken and compared to the follower count at the end of 2022 to conclude the sport stars who gained the most followers in 2022.

The top 10 athletes who gained the most followers in 2022

Rank Name Profession 2021 Instagram follower count 2022 Instagram follower count Overall increase 2021-2022
1 Cristiano Ronaldo Footballer 382,556,277 518,542,472 135,986,195
2 Lionel Messi Footballer 293,193,175 398,265,263 105,072,088
3 Neymar Jr Footballer 144,579,559 181,093,569 36,514,010
4 LeBron James Basketball player 107,243,345 136,717,170 29,473,825
5 Stephen Curry Basketball player 32,215,946 47,013,352 14,797,406
6 Conor McGregor UFC fighter 38,066,554 46,223,374 8,156,820
7 Canelo Álvarez Boxer 6,394,415 14,088,943 7,694,528
8 Giannis Antetokounmpo Basketball player 8,704,304 13,705,010 5,000,706
9 Lewis Hamilton Formula One driver 26,495,368 30,315,409 3,820,041
10 Klay Thompson Basketball player 10,773,721 13,820,965 3,047,244

Who gained the most Instagram followers in 2022?

Cristiano Ronaldo gained the most followers in 2022, having attracted 135,986,195 followers. He’s now the most followed person on Instagram, taking his total to over 518 million – 120 million more than rival, Lionel Messi!

This year, Messi added 105,072,088 followers to his Instagram account, 30 million less than Ronaldo. However, Lionel Messi’s “Champions of the World” Instagram post is the most liked EVER on the platform, with 74.6 million likes and counting – dethroning the World Record Egg’s post that accumulated over 59 million likes.

Messi’s PSG team mate, Neymar Jr comes in third. Spellbinding performances in Ligue 1 were tempered by an upset in the World Cup quarter-finals to Croatia. A talented but controversial figure, he still received an impressive 36,514,010 followers in 2022 (over 9x more than honorary Brazilian, Lewis Hamilton) 

Basketball players LeBron James and Stephen Curry take fourth and fifth spots respectively. Whilst Uber-famous in the United States, basketball’s global brand isn’t as wide reaching as that of football, and so LeBron James taking on 29,473,825 followers in 2022 is hugely impressive. Curry took on 14,797,406 followers (11,750,162 more than his Golden State Warriors team mate, Klay Thompson, in 10th place)

Did anyone lose followers this year?

Talented tennis player Naomi Osaka has had an incredible 4 years, winning multiple Grand Slams as well as the Australian Open in 2021. However, due to health issues, she did not participate in Wimbledon this year, leading to more followers leaving her than joining her. In 2022, Osaka lost 89,488 followers, the only sports star within our seed list to lose followers.


  1. The team at TouchCasino sought to establish which famous sports star had grown the most on Instagram during 2022.
  2. To find this out, firstly a seed list was created. The top 20 sports stars to feature on Sportico’s Highest Paid Athletes list were taken, alongside relevant research statistics.
  3. Once the seed list was confirmed, TouchCasino then utilised social media scraping tool, comparing the Instagram follower count from December 2021 and December 2022 for all 20 sports stars that featured on the list.
  4. Due to Instagram data restrictions, both Tiger Woods and Matthew Stafford could not feature on this list.
  5. When the data collection was completed, the findings were ranked, with sections for both full follower count and percentage change calculated
  6.  Data was collected on 19/12/2022 and was correct as of then. 
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