The Star Athlete’s Ace in the Hole

Professional athletes are some of the world’s strongest influencers.  With unparalleled media exposure, these athletes have a reputation akin to that of a celebrity. Even at the top of their sport, an athlete’s time in the limelight is relatively limited (3-10 years on average), as younger, stronger players enter the game to replace them.  Building long-term financial stability becomes critical.

Athletes like Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, LeBron James, Michael Phelps, and Maria Sharapova have seemingly figured out how to leverage status to endorse consumer products, champion for causes, and spread a sphere of influence far beyond athletic competition.

The Fortunate 50, published by Sports Illustrated, compares the salaries of the top 50 highest-earning athletes to the winnings, endorsements, and appearance fees earned. Tiger Woods maintains his number 1 ranking for the 8th consecutive year, despite his personal controversy with the state of his marital affairs.  Tiger earned only $2.3M in winnings, but tops the list with nearly $60M in endorsement deals.

The New York Times highlighted tennis star Sharapova for her success in establishing a financially beneficial brand. Her earnings, largely from off-court endorsement deals, are estimated at $25M annually, making her the undisputed highest-earning female athlete. The 24 year old Russian has developed a brand with an international appeal that resonates not only with tennis fans, but women all over the world. Even though she isn’t dominating the pro tennis tour as she once did, her appearance in print and film advertisements and product endorsement has catapulted her brand into the global market place.

The value of a brand doesn’t stop when the competition ends.   Businesses and individuals alike can learn from the success of these athletes.  Businesses may never attain $60M in endorsement deals, but leveraging a unique brand and positive reputation to generate long-term success can make even the rookies (new businesses) the most powerful.

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