IBM has developed a leaderboard that tracks player popularity and fan engagement/emotion for the French Open. It’s called the Social Leaderboard and it runs in a sort of parallel world to the real leaderboard. As the French Open kicks off, according to the Social Leaderboard, positive sentiment for Novak Djokovic is at 81%. French Open king Rafa Nadal clocks in at 85% positive–with almost three times as many tweets about him. Maria Sharapova tops all players with 96% positive sentiment rating — despite screaming on every shot!
Unlike in the arts, where popularity rules, in sports the winners are still determined not by popularity but by winning. Of course, that all depends on how you measure winning: a very popular mediocre player might earn far more endorsing products (Anna Kournikova?) than a successful but less popular player could. And if money is how you track winning, then popularity may determine winners after all: in 2013 the top ten earners in tennis banked $61 million in prize money, but over $200 million in endorsements.