It takes years of dedication, hard work, sweat and sacrifice to become a professional athlete. Yet a career at the top of any sport is typically short, and the time to make an impact—not to mention the skills needed to ink million-dollar contracts—is even shorter. But for a select group of elite athletes, the big paychecks go on well into retirement. In the years spent perfecting the three-point shot or powerhouse backhand, they've also paid attention to building their brand.
As a result, these athletes have managed to leverage their physical prowess into lucrative endorsement deals and successful business ventures. Here, we look at athletes who have been winners both on and off the field.
—By Susan Caminiti
Posted 05 August 2015
Every athlete who inks a lucrative endorsement deal these days should thank Mike. He completely changed the game back in the 1980s and 1990s with his sneaker deals with Nike, and the world of sports marketing has never been the same.
Being a trailblazer has its privileges. Jordan makes a reported $100 million a year—the highest amount for any athlete, retired or active. The lion's share comes from the royalties he receives from his Jordan Brand of footwear owned by Nike, which, according to SportsScanInfo, rang up U.S. sales of $2.6 billion last year. Jordan also has deals with Hanes, Gatorade and Upper Deck, to name a few.
Then there's his 90 percent ownership stake in the Charlotte Hornets, an NBA team valued at close to $700 million.
Perhaps more than any other athlete, Earvin "Magic" Johnson has transformed from a talented athlete into a widely successful business owner. His company—Magic Johnson Enterprises—was started in 1987 while he was still playing for the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, but it really took off after his retirement from the game in 1996.
The conglomerate—valued at $1 billion—owns a television network; schools in Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia to help high school dropouts get diplomas; and a health-care alliance for HIV/AIDS patients—a disease that Johnson was diagnosed with in 1991.
Along the way, Johnson has also owned more than 100 Starbucks, a chain of movie theaters, Burger Kings and health clubs. In 2012 he was part of the investment group that paid $2.15 billion for MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers.
She is the most dominant female tennis player on the planet, ranked No. 1 in the world, with 20 Grand Slams, six U.S. Opens and five Wimbledon victories to her name. That garnered Serena Williams close to $12 million in winnings last year. That talent also enabled her to parlay her success on the court into a reported $13 million in endorsements, including deals with Nike, Gatorade, Wilson and OPI nail polish.
Williams has also inked partnership deals with the Home Shopping Network, Sleep sheets, a sleeping aid and, along with her sister Venus, is a limited partner in the Miami Dolphins.
At 7'1", Shaquille "Shaq" O'Neal cut an imposing and impressive figure during 19 seasons in the NBA.
In retirement, Shaq is still quite visible—and not just because he's an analyst on TNT's post-game show, "Inside the NBA." He takes in more than $20 million a year in endorsements from deals with Gold Bond, Buick, Icy Hot, Arizona Beverages, Monster electronics and a line of men's suits at Macy's. There's also his signature collection of stainless-steel jewelry at Zales and, of course, the requisite sneaker line produced by Reebok, from which he receives hefty royalties.
As if unmatched soccer skills and supermodel good looks aren't enough, David Beckham has sailed into retirement making more money now than he did when he was playing for the world's best-known soccer teams—Real Madrid and Manchester United.
In his first full year of retirement, Beckham made a reported $75 million from deals with Adidas, Breitling, beverage giant Diageo and a slew of deals in China that will spread the Beckham name there. Among them: He's the new ambassador for China's soccer association. Then there's his take from a line of Beckham fragrances produced by Coty, and his deal with retailer H&M for a line of bodywear, swimsuits and, later this year, a line of menswear.
He may be ranked No. 2 in the world of men's tennis (Novak Djorkovic is No. 1) with seven Wimbledon wins, but Roger Federer still comes out on top when it comes to prize money and endorsements. While his tennis earnings last year amounted to $9 million, Federer collected a reported $58 million from sponsors such as Rolex, Nike, Net Jets, Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz, Wilson and Lindt chocolates.
He also recently signed a multimillion-dollar deal to star in commercials promoting Sunrise, Switzerland's biggest telecommunications company.
While this NBA giant is testing out his acting chops in director Judd Apatow's latest summer comedy "Trainwreck," LeBron James is better known for his exceptional skills as a small forward on the basketball court—most recently for the Cleveland Cavaliers. His two-year contract with the Cavs nets him $42.1 million, but he stands to make significantly more than that when he becomes a free agent next year.
In the meantime, he makes a reported $44 million in endorsement deals with the likes of Kia Motors, Coca-Cola, Samsung, Piguet and Beats by Dre. His signature Nike sneakers do over $300 million a year in sales, more than any other active player, according to research firm SportsOneSource.
She may be ranked No. 4 in the world in women's tennis, but Russian-born Maria Sharapova is the highest-paid female athlete around, with reported earnings of nearly $30 million last year. The bulk of that sum came from endorsement deals—she made $6.7 million in winnings—with companies such as Nike, Head tennis rackets, Samsung, watchmaker Tag Heuer and Evian.
She launched Sugarpova, her own candy line, in August 2012, and it's now sold in more than 30 countries. And last June, Sharapova became the face of Avon's new fragrance, Luck.