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Ever since Bruce Jenner appeared on a Wheaties box in 1977, companies have used endorsements by top athletes to boost their sales. As a result, major sports stars routinely receive multimillion-dollar paydays for lending their names to products, and the practice has become so competitive that a player’s endorsement income can sometimes dwarf his or her salary or winnings.
Click ahead to see top athletes who supplement their income with lucrative endorsement deals.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 14 June 2011
The NBA’s LeBron James plays for the Miami Heat, after abandoning the Cleveland Cavaliers amidst great public outcry. “King James” was picked by Cleveland in the 2003 NBA Draft, and he was so savvy with securing endorsement deals that he had already negotiated one with Nike before even setting foot on the professional court.
Today, James' endorsement contracts include the still-active Nike deal, as well as agreements with Glaceau, McDonald’s, Sprite, State Farm and Upper Deck. However, his continued viability as an endorser has been called into question due to his perceived churlish behavior, combined with his team’s June 2011 NBA finals loss.
Last year was a tough one for golfer Tiger Woods. Aside from losing his No. 1 ranking to Lee Westwood, Woods also lost a slew of sponsors in the wake of news of an extramarital affair. The drop in endorsement income cost his management company IMG $4.6 million in fees. Assuming IMG charges its clients the standard 15 percent to 20 percent on endorsement deals, then Woods most likely lost between $23 million and $30 million in sponsorship money.
Still, Woods continues to have some of the most lucrative endorsement deals in professional sports. While Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade all jumped ship when news of his scandal broke, many other sponsors stood by him, and today he has endorsement agreements with EA Sports, NetJets, Nike Golf, TagHeuer and Upper Deck.
Professional golfer Phil Mickelson has won four championships and 39 PGA Tour events since joining the professional circuit. Mickelson’s right-handed in every respect but his golf swing; as a child he would watch his father swing a golf club and mirror the movements exactly, earning him the nickname "Lefty."
In 2007, Mickelson earned almost $53 million. Of that amount, less than $6 million came from his actual pay. The remaining $47 million came from endorsements. Today, Mickelson's sponsors include Barclays, ExxonMobil, Grayhawk, KPMG and Rolex, but the largest portion of his sponsorship money comes from Callaway Golf, the company that makes the ball, putter and clubs that he uses.
Dwight Howard plays for the Orlando Magic basketball team. Aaron Goodwin, his agent, said that Howard "has more corporate partnerships than any other NBA player," and The Orlando Sentinelestimated that he earns $20 million from endorsement deals with such sponsors as Gatorade, McDonald's, T-Mobile and VitaminWater.
Howard was chosen during the 2004 NBA Draft, but before that he already planned to use his future celebrity status to promote his Christian faith. Howard kept his word, and in 2009 he became one of 10 finalists for the Jefferson Awards for Public Service, which recognizes charity work performed by athletes. In 2010, he founded the Dwight Howard Fund, a charity for Haitian earthquake relief.
In a 2010 article in Sports Business Daily, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was named the most marketable player in baseball. With that kind of praise, Jeter could easily shop his services to the team with the highest bid. Instead, he has bucked convention and remained loyal to his team, playing for the Yankees and no one but the Yankees for his entire professional career.
In 2006, Forbes magazine named Jeter the second highest paid endorser in baseball, thanks to deals with Ford, Gatorade and Nike. Since then, he’s also added Discover Card, Fleet Bank and VISA to his long list of sponsors.
Along with Shaquille O’Neal, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant is credited with leading the team to the championships three consecutive times, in 2000, 2001 and 2002. His career trajectory seemed unstoppable until he was accused of sexual assault in 2003. The case was ultimately dropped, but Bryant’s public image suffered significant damage.
Bryant went about the business of rebuilding his brand and, by 2007, he had come far enough that his endorsement income totaled $16 million. The rehabilitation of Bryant's image has been so successful that when he signed a contract extension for the 2013-2014 season, it was worth $30 million, making him and Michael Jordan the only NBA players ever to receive such a sum for one season. Bryant is currently sponsored by Coca-Cola, Nike, Nubeo and Turkish Airlines.
Dwyane Wade, also known as “Flash” and “D-Wade,” plays basketball for the Miami Heat. In 2006, he won Sports Illustrated's sportsman of the year award, and according to ESPN, he had the highest-selling jersey in 2005 and 2006.
Wade has multiple endorsement deals, and the revenue put him on Forbes magazine’s 2007 list of top earners under the age of 25. Among his sponsors are Gatorade, Sean John, Staples, T-Mobile and Topps. He also has his own line of T-Mobile Sidekick phones, known as the D-Wade Edition.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is part of a family that made its name in professional sports. Manning's younger brother, Eli Manning, is quarterback for the New York Giants and his father, Archie Manning, was a quarterback as well. Peyton holds four NFL most valuable player awards, a league record, and he also holds records for consecutive seasons with 4,000 or more yards passing.
In 2009, The Sporting News named Manning the No. 1 player in the NFL, and in that same year Fox Sports named him player of the decade. Manning has attracted such sponsors as DirecTV, Gatorade, H.H. Gregg, Sony and Sprint, and served as spokesman for Xbox’s NFL Fever games.
NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is the son of the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr., a legendary driver and NASCAR Hall of Famer in his own right. In the Sprint Cup Series, Dale Jr. drives the U.S. National Guard Chevrolet Impala for Hendrick Motorsports, and in the Nationwide Series he drives the Unilever Chevrolet Impalas for JR Motorsports, his own team.
Earnhardt has appeared in cameos in the movies Cars and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and he has no shortage of sponsors. According to Earnhardt's official website, he has endorsement deals with American Racing Equipment, AMP Energy, Nationwide Insurance, Ragu, Spy Optic, Suave Men and TaxSlayer.com.
NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon is a four-time winner of the Sprint Cup, three-time winner of the Daytona 500, and the first driver to attain $100 million in career winnings for the entire Cup series. Gordon currently sits at the No. 5 spot on the all-time victory list, and he has raised more than $1 million for children’s cancer research.
Gordon is the co-owner of the Lowe’s sponsored team, which features Jimmie Johnson as its driver. He also has a wide range of sponsors. According to Gordon's official website, he has endorsement deals with such companies as AARP, General Motors, Pepsi, Quaker State and Time Warner.