In 2012, Subway crowned itself, “the official training restaurant of athletics everywhere”. The ad included NFL player Robert Griffin III, boxer Laila Ali, NBA All-star Blake Griffin and Olympians Apolo Ohno and Michael Phelps. Since 1978, McDonald’s, the leader of endorsements, has hosted an annual basketball tournament where top high school graduates are invited to hang with superstar athletes like LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant. And Serena and Venus Williams battled the Manning brothers in a sibling duel of ‘lick and dip’ for Oreo which brought in a youthful audience. In turn, according to the journal, Pediatrics, it was found that the NBA has the most athletic endorsers in food followed by the NFL and the MLB and we aren’t talking the most healthy foods either. It just so happens, the companies who sell the most unhealthy foods have the largest budgets for marketing their brand. To break it down even further, sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are the largest category of athletic endorsements, in front of soft drinks and fast food. Speaking of fast food, Burger King at one time tried to be ‘smooth’ with its failed attempt at its delicious and ‘nutritious’ smoothies (310 calories and 60 grams of sugar) by showcasing soccer stud David Beckham on the advertisement with him slurping what appeared to be a strawberry or berry smoothie.
The irony is, we have some of the most prominent athletes endorsing the most unhealthy brands. Even at an unconscious level, the brain tells us that since healthy icons are associated with the brand, it’s a better choice. There are parents out there who actually believe, Oreo, is a healthy choice because Serena Williams and Peyton Manning appear on the ads. Not only that, but kids are idolizing these superstars and if those superstars eat it, they want it. It’s a sly tactic but someone has to do the dirty work. After all, it’s business. These athletes are making millions off endorsements alone. And the companies like Pepsi, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola increase revenue by as much as 20% when attaching a celebrity athlete to their brand. So who is to say anyone is wrong in the situation?
The soon to be retired Yankee, Derek Jeter, makes $9,000,000 from Gatorade; and NASCAR’S Speedy González, Dale Earnhardt Jr. endorses Mountain Dew and Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. These big league companies spend ginormous amounts of money on celebrity athletes knowing the ‘positive’ results that follow. It’s win, win – the athlete makes bank and the company successfully markets their product/brand. The drawback is we are an ignorant society and these companies know it. Instead, there should be more affordable educational programs set up to teach us how to be health conscious individuals. We live in a democracy therefore we have choices. If you do not think an Oreo is good for you, don’t buy it. If McDonald’s is deemed unhealthy, don’t go get your kids a happy meal. That leads us to the 5 athletes who endorse the most unhealthy brands.
5. Peyton Manning Endorses Papa John’s, Gatorade and Wheaties
Peyton Manning is well endowed when it comes to endorsements. For food endorsements that is. In 2010, Manning was in more advertisements for food than any other athlete. He is by far the leader of the pack in the NFL, making $25,000,000. annually in endorsements alone. He is also one of the most influential athletes in the world which means the brands he endorses speaks volumes. Young adults, children and even adults fall prey to the triple stuffed Oreos, Papa John’s Pizza and zero nutrient sports drinks like Gatorade, actually believing they are a healthy choice. In 2012, when Manning signed with the Denver Broncos, he also bought 21 Papa John’s franchises in the Denver area. You can find him and founder John Shattner in almost every commercial, campaign and advertisement the company has going.
4. LeBron James Endorses McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Sprite, Etc.
Although Manning rises above in the NFL he is not the most prominent athlete all around. Another influential figure in the sports arena, LeBron James of the Miami Heat, signed a multi-year contract with McDonald’s (his earnings have not yet been revealed but his love for McNuggets has). Not only that but Sprite and Powerade, two sugar enriched, nutrient deficient drinks on the market, have him at top dollar. Estimated yearly earnings for endorsements alone? A whopping $42,000,000. In 2005, James signed a $5,000,000 deal with Bubblicious; LeBron’s Lightning Lemonade aired in the first commercial of Super Bowl XXXIX.
3. Serena Williams Endorses Oreo and Gatorade
The iconic tennis all-star turned vegan, but yet promotes some of the most unhealthy foods out there on the market – Kraft, Oreo, Gatorade and ‘Got Milk?’ At 32, Serena Williams is at the top of her game (no pun intended) and with her new found vegan lifestyle, inspired by her older sister Venus, she plans on staking the odds. As one of the oldest female tennis players out there, Venus has no plans to retire anytime soon. So not only is Miss Williams one of the healthiest and influential athletes in the world, she is also an athlete who is endorsing the most unhealthy brands. She is ranked number three in a study at Yale University. In 2010 (published in the journal, Pediatrics, 2012) researchers analyzed 100 athletes’ “prominence in sport and value of endorsements”, They based it on a weighted index scale, 1-100, where 1 has the most negative impact on society and its perception of health. Williams’ score reached 32.4, behind LeBron James at 42.7. The irony? There really isn’t any. After all, endorsements are the most lucrative form of income. These athletes make millions in one contract. Would they really sell out because of an epidemic they did not create?
2. Shaquille O’Neal Endorses “Soda Shaq”, Burger King, Taco Bell and Pepsi
The Miami and Phoenix Sun’s almost billionaire, Shaquille O’Neal is faced with hypocrisy when it comes to endorsing unhealthy brands and health. After all, he did sign onto Michelle Obama’s campaign, “Let’s Move,” yet he’s also signed contracts with brands like Pepsi, Taco Bell and Burger King. This, to say the least, is making headlines. Even worse, in 2013, Shaq merged with Arizona Beverage Co and together they came up with his own cream soda line, Soda Shaq. “A big can for a big man.” $292,000,000 later, he is one of the wealthiest athletes in the nation, with most of his assets coming from endorsements.
1. David Beckham Endorses Burger King, Pepsi and Diet Coke
Although his stint with Pepsi ended after non-renewal of his 10 year contract and $30,000,000, David Beckham remains in the limelight not only for his good looks and charm, but also for his endorsements with Burger King and Diet Coke. Especially Burger King, as the company sparked an interest in ‘health’ when they brought a new, ‘healthy’ smoothie to the market. ‘Healthy’ being used in the loosest of terms. The smoothie is packed with 310 calories and holds a whopping 60 grams of sugar. That’s 14 teaspoons of sugar in one drink! This is the ‘health’ David Beckham and Burger King are promoting. On the contrary, Beckham is a walking contradiction because he not only promotes the most unhealthy brands, but he also holds promotional deals with Sainsbury Active Kids which encourage kids to remain active and stay healthy.