Edmonton soccer darling Alphonso Davies has been crowned the most influential Canadian sport star, based on Instagram statistics, including number of followers and engagement.
Davies plays for Bayern Munich and the Canadian national team.
Davies, 22, has over 5.4 million Instagram followers, a 3.2 per cent engagement rate and 173,000 average likes per post.
“Phonsie, especially, is a wonderful news story, both in terms of his upbringing — coming in as a refugee — growing, in terms of the Canadian soccer community, and going and playing for Bayern, is awesome,” said Gilles Prefontaine, a marketing instructor at NAIT’s JR Shaw School of Business.
“His success draws in a whole bunch of young athletes that want to share in that and be part of that with him.”
Prefontaine says soccer has a more global reach than some other sports.
“Being Canadian, we often think of hockey, and that’s because it’s part of our culture, it’s part of our DNA. But we also have to remember that many of these athletes are going to draw from international groups. And so many of the sports that have much larger international volumes will naturally have a bigger impact in terms of that number of followers.”
The study estimates Davies also has the highest potential earnings per sponsored post — an estimated $87,176 per post and $113,424 per reel.
With that power, Prefontaine says, comes responsibility.
“When someone with that kind of notoriety can change behaviour and turn around and influence potentially whole generations of individuals to consume something or do something very different, there is a certain amount of accountability,” he said.
Retired MMA fighter Georges St-Pierre, 42, is ranked second, with over 4.4 million followers, but a lower — 0.6 per cent — engagement rate.
In third place is Ontario’s Tristan Thompson, who has played 12 seasons in the NBA. Thompson has over 3.9 million followers and gets an average of 170,000 likes per post.
Rounding out the top 10 are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (basketball), Genie Bouchard (tennis), Andrew Wiggins (basketball), Adam Copeland (WWE), Jamal Murray (basketball), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (baseball) and RJ Barrett (basketball).
Davies’ story is well known. Born in a refugee camp in Ghana to parents who had fled the civil war in Liberia, Davies came to Canada when he was five.
In July 2016, a 15-year-old Davies left his home in Edmonton to pursue a professional soccer career.
He signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps, becoming the third-youngest in history to sign an MLS deal. Two years later, the Whitecaps agreed to sell Davies to Bayern Munich in a then-record MLS deal, worth possibly in excess of US$22 million.
Davies, then 17, finished out the season with Vancouver before officially joining Bayern in January 2019.
When it comes to Team Canada, he was just 16 when he made his senior debut for the country in June 2017 against Curacao, becoming the youngest men’s player in Canadian team history. He had obtained his Canadian citizenship the week before.
Davies has since become the face of Canadian men’s soccer, on and off the field. In June 2018, he opened Canada’s presentation to the FIFA Council in Moscow as part the joint North American bid, along with the U.S. and Mexico, to host the 2026 World Cup.
His social media accounts are followed by a legion of fans. He has 6.6 million followers on TikTok, 5.1 million on Instagram and 472,800 on Twitter.
“If we’re really thinking about a social media influencer, we’re thinking about someone who is using their platform, their notoriety to change other people’s behaviour,” Prefontaine said.
“A lot of deals with — or should, at least, deal with — the athlete’s or the person’s values.”
He says a successful influencer draws back the curtain of their life and creates a sense of belonging.
“We think about the realms of influence,” Prefontaine said. “Having someone, like a phenom like Phonsie, come from Edmonton, has already done amazing things — for example, for the Edmonton soccer community, where others look at this Edmonton area and realize we’re not a wasteland.
“Because in Canada, we have the Whitecaps and Toronto FC and it’s kind of feeling like everything in between, there’s nothing.”
Davies has endeared himself to many off the field as well. He serves as a global goodwill ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
“He’s also been very genuine in terms of sharing some of that influence with his local community,” Prefontaine said.
“I’ve seen him flipping burgers and doing a variety of things to promote some local businesses, some different outreach with soccer clubs and soccer communities and that creates a sense of authenticity, but brings Edmonton and what’s going on in Edmonton, to a much higher level at the global stage.”