Frozen out: Why no NHL players made the World Fame 100 list

Sidney Crosby (No. 157) and Alex Ovechkin (No. 133) were the highest-ranked hockey players on ESPN's list of the world's most famous athletes. Dave Sandford/NHLI/Getty Images

For ESPN's third annual World Fame 100 list, we calculated the most famous athletes in sports. For the second year in a row, no hockey players cracked the top 100.

Here's why. First off, to create the list, we started with more than 600 of the biggest names in sports, drawn from 68 countries, then had ESPN's director of analytics, Ben Alamar, rank them based on a formula that took into account three fame factors: endorsement dollars; Google Trend score, which measures how often a name is searched, using Cristiano Ronaldo's score of 100 as a baseline (the higher the better); and social media following. (Since not all athletes are on every platform, we used only the number from their most popular account.)

Remember, this is a global ranking of fame. While hockey is an international sport, other sports have a much larger worldwide footprint. Thus, the most players on the World Fame 100 -- including No. 1 Ronaldo -- come from soccer, the biggest game in the world. Even though the NHL is the most popular league in Canada, that country's population is minuscule compared with, say, India (more than 1.3 billion) -- which helps explain why 10 cricket players from the Indian Premier League, which has a viewership of 316 million, made the top 100, while no NHL or Major League Baseball players did.

The two highest-ranked hockey players on the full list were who most people would suspect, but No. 3 was a bit of a surprise:

Alex Ovechkin (No. 133 overall)

The Washington Capitals winger is one of the main faces of the NHL. He commands $4.5 million in endorsement money, according to Forbes, and is one of the NHL's most marketable players thanks to his international popularity in the United States, Canada and his native Russia.

Ovechkin -- one of the most Googled NHL players, and one of the most talked about on social media -- is also a frequent topic of discussion in the NHL, especially during the playoffs. His healthy social media following, including more than 1 million on Instagram and 2.7 million on Twitter, gives him an edge over the next player on the list -- his frequent foil and (until this postseason) longtime nemesis.

Sidney Crosby (No. 157)

Crosby, the other face of the NHL, has no social media presence and is a very private person who is rarely in the news for anything besides what he does on the ice. The Pittsburgh Penguins captain makes up for it by being the most marketable player in the NHL -- he has the league's highest endorsement income, at $4.8 million annually, according to Forbes -- and by being heavily searched. In fact, after he and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2017, Crosby ended up as the most Googled NHL player in our search pool by an overwhelming margin.

Crosby's fame is the result of his play, rather than his personality. He has no verified social media accounts, a sharp contrast to social-media-savvy stars like Taylor Hall and Roberto Luongo. Crosby is so widely known because he's arguably the best player of his generation, and because his team has won the last two Stanley Cups, giving him more opportunities to be seen and discussed.

Ilya Kovalchuk (No. 193)

Remember that part about this being a global list that highlights who is being followed, discussed and seen around the world? To that end, Kovalchuk -- the former Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils winger who retired from the NHL in 2013 and returned home to Russia to play in the KHL -- was a person of interest within the hockey community at two peaks during the past year, including the free agency, "will he, won't he return to the NHL?" speculation and during the Olympics. In addition to being a star in the KHL for SKA St. Petersburg, Kovalchuk was a heavily discussed topic by a North American audience last summer when rumors surfaced that he could return to NHL. He also won a gold medal with the Olympic Athletes from Russia -- scoring two goals against Team USA along the way -- which made him a hot topic once again among the worldwide hockey audience.

Could any hockey players crack the Top 100 next year?

NHL players still have a few issues to overcome. Many of the commercial and sponsorship opportunities go to veterans, who have built up their brands over years of exposure. While young stars like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have burst onto the scene, their endorsement opportunities have yet to catch up.

A few things jump out when you look at Google search trends. Athletes who are often in the news for off-the-field stories, are in trade or free-agency rumors, or are the best players on championship-level teams get searched for the most.

Next year could bring a bump for several NHL players -- and teams -- however. The upstart Vegas Golden Knights already had measurable data in 76 countries as the most-searched NHL team in the world. Players like Hall and Nathan MacKinnon emerged as MVP candidates, and will certainly garner more discussion. Unrestricted free agent John Tavares and the Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson, one of the league's best players and the focus of rampant trade rumors, will be heavily Googled and tweeted about this offseason. And maybe some player's Twitch stream will become a sensation.