Messi Instagram Followers Hit 500M, Second Ever After Ronaldo

The MLS season kicked off Wednesday night with Inter Miami defeating Real Salt Lake, 2-0. All eyes were on Lionel Messi, who joined Miami last summer and sent MLS revenue and team valuations soaring. Messi appeared to be in prime form, involved in both of Miami’s goals.

The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner notched another accolade on his decorated resume Sunday when his Instagram account reached 500 million followers. He’s just the second person on the planet to hit the half-billion mark, joining longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who currently sits at 622 million. Musician and actress Selena Gomez ranks third with 429 million followers, followed by Kylie Jenner (400 million) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (397 million).

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Messi is now followed by 20% of the 2.5 billion monthly active Instagram user base. He has more followers than all NFL players combined, according to brand data platform KORE. He also has more followers than the cumulative total of the 154 teams in the five major U.S. sports leagues.

His status as a global icon has always made Messi popular on Instagram, but his posts exploded during the 2022 World Cup. “It was definitely an inflection point for him on social media,” RJ Kraus, head of sponsorship intelligence at KORE, said in an interview. His World Cup posts included three of the five most popular in the history of the platform, including the top one of him celebrating Argentina’s win that has 76 million engagements. He added 49 million new followers in November and December of 2022 and passed 400 million followers on Instagram.

Messi’s Instagram following is predominantly male (72%) and young (85% under 34 years old). Brazil is his top country for followers at 12%, followed by India (8.1%), Argentina (6.5%) and the United States (6.2%), while 30% are English speakers, per KORE.

The 36-year-old Argentine ranked third in Sportico’s tally of the 100 highest-paid athletes of 2023 with $130 million, including $65 million from sponsors. He has earned nearly $1.4 billion during his career from salaries, bonuses and endorsements, and his legacy as the world’s greatest soccer player will keep Messi as a popular pitchman when he does hang up his cleats for good, thanks in part to those 500 million followers.

KORE estimates that 45% of all brand value generated on social media occurs on Instagram, based on the 500,000 accounts in sports and entertainment that they track. “With stories and reels, fans prefer raw and point-of-view content, making it the go-to format for athletes as it is much easier to produce,” Kraus said. “And despite challenges from Snapchat and TikTok more recently, Instagram remains the 800-pound gorilla of social media.”

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