A team marketing exec asked me recently how sponsors value athletes. I told her that not long ago, everything was about Q Scores. Not anymore. Today, the meaningful metrics that measure athlete marketability are all web based. Sponsors not only want to know about how many Facebook fans and Twitter followers an athlete has, they also want to know the age demos and locations of those fans. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Facebook fan counts are the 21st century Q Scores.

Today, Yahoo released their annual top 10 lists. Some interesting tidbits in the world of sports marketing:

Top Searched Events on Yahoo! in 2010:

  1. World Cup
  2. Winter Olympics
  3. Super Bowl
  4. NFL Draft
  5. US Open Tennis
  6. NBA Playoffs
  7. World Series
  8. Masters 2010
  9. Wimbeldon
  10. March Madness

What? NBA playoffs are #6? Behind US Open Tennis? But I work in the world of basketball! Surely there must be a mistake.

But there isn’t a mistake. This is accurate, useful information. Especially to those of us who work in one particular sport. Basketball is not the center of the universe. Neither apparently is baseball, which didn’t make the list. The biggest events of the year were World Cup soccer and the Winter Olympics. Those of us who are myopic enough to think only about our own sport need to remember that we have a core group of fans who need to be maintained, but also that there is a larger group of fans out there who can be converted. Keep the circle big, but try to make it bigger as well. There’s plenty of room for growth.

Another interesting list:

Top Searched Sports Stars on Yahoo! in 2010:

  1. Manny Pacquiao
  2. Tiger Woods
  3. Anna Kournikova
  4. Brett Favre
  5. LeBron James
  6. Danica Patrick
  7. Lindsey Vonn
  8. Maria Sharpova
  9. Cristiano Ronaldo
  10. Serena Williams

An interesting list. A boxer at #1. Tiger, LeBron and Favre (in their years of controversy). Several attractive female athletes. Goes to show you that sex and controversy rule the search engines in the world of athlete icons. Also interesting to note that no athletes broke the Top 10 list of overall celebrities (Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga and Megan Fox rule that world), demonstrating once again that celebrity models, actors and musicians still draw a great deal more attention than athletes do.

What to learn from all of this? First off that search engines are just one metric for measuring athlete popularity. Important to note that searches are clearly dominated by a younger, likely male audience. Second lesson is that controversy  and sex appeal generates searches. Lastly, it is important to keep these lists in perspective. They’re interesting and clearly demonstrate what the hot topics are. But they don’t measure fan loyalty, the most critical element of athlete marketability.