Professional athletes are known for more than what they accomplish during competitions and tournaments. The top athletes in the world become international superstars who are featured in television shows, movie roles and other entertainment outlets during their off-seasons. These individuals, males and females, have more to worry about than just winning and losing in front of crowds and TV viewers. They must also be concerned with their “brands” that help make them money, small fortunes in some cases, when they are not playing on fields, courts, ice or other surfaces. It is through such brands that athletes launch business endeavors during and after their careers.
It should come as no shock that the majority of the names making the most money from endorsements in 2015 as reported by Forbes on August 21 of this year are recognizable names to even casual sports fans. What may be a surprise to some is that soccer/football, the beautiful game and the world’s game, is only represented a single time in the top-ten spots of the list. Golf and tennis dominate over half the rankings, eating up three places each. Two National Basketball Associations players finish off the bottom half of the top-five, although the amount of money that one of those individuals makes seems to be low considering what he has meant to the game he plays.
Cristiano Ronaldo. Rory McIlroy. LeBron James. All three of these men are icons of their sports and arguably the best in their businesses. Each of them have another thing in common: They are all behind one man as it pertains to athletes making money off of endorsements in 2015. The individual who tops the list is widely perceived as one of the greatest players in the history of his sport, a man who is physically in the twilight of his career and who will, sooner rather than later, ride off into the sunset. He may still have one final big win left in him before he chooses to call time on his playing days.
10. Mahendra Singh Dhoni: $27 Million
Odds are that some sports fans who live in the United States are unfamiliar with the name Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Dhoni serves as the captain of the India national cricket team in limited-overs formats, and he is widely regarded as one of the greatest captains that India has ever had. That is high praise when you consider India’s deep cricket history. Along with the awards and other honors that Dhoni has earned during his illustrious playing career, he has also ventured into other endeavors. Dhoni completed his first parachute jump for the Indian Air Force in August of 2015. Such activities will likely only help his marketability in the future.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo: $27 Million
Logic would suggest that the best player in the world’s most-watched and most-beloved sport would be highest on the list of the athletes making money off of endorsements. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most well-known athletes on the planet who is involved in multiple international advertising campaigns, and he also happens to make a fortune playing for Spanish giants Real Madrid. $27 million is nothing to toss into the garbage, of course, but Ronaldo would probably be worth that and much more for companies that would be be willing to work with the tremendous footballer.
8. Rafael Nadal: $28 Million
Several words have been used to describe the summer being had by tennis superstar Rafael Nadal: “Terrible,” “awful,” and “nightmare” are just three examples. Nadal is just 29 years old, but he has, throughout 2015, shown signs of a player who is declining and even plummeting at an alarming rate. It is now being suggested by more than a few knowledgeable individuals that Nadal may never again win a major. Yes, that is how poorly he has looked when out on the courts. Nadal may, at this rate, struggle to again make such massive amounts of money off of endorsements.
7. Novak Djokovic: $31 Million
The best athletes in sports, even all-time greats, eventually have to make way for others who ascend to the mountaintop. That has been the case with men’s tennis over the past couple of years, as Novak Djokovic has replaced all others as the lone king of the sport. Djokovic may not win every tournament, but it is a safe bet that he will hang around and contend up through the closing rounds of competitions. While Djokovic has emerged as the best player in the world, he has yet to match a man in his sport regarding money made off of endorsements. One has to wonder if Djokovic will ever get to that level
6. Rory McIlroy: $32 Million
Rory McIlroy is, by all accounts, a likeable individual for fans of the sport of golf, and McIlroy also has maybe the best overall swing in the game. There is, however, one problem that will be an obstacle that stands between McIlroy and the athletes who make the most money off of endorsements. That issue is that McIlroy is not Tiger Woods, and he is never going to be Woods. Woods was, in his day, nearly unbeatable when he wanted to be, and his status as a solo athlete was, when at its peak, unparalleled. McIlroy cannot attempt to be the next Woods. He instead has to carve out his own place in the sport.
5. Kevin Durant: $35 Million
Kevin Durant has made noise and headlines with the endorsements that he has picked up during his NBA career. Sonic. Nike. 2K Sports. Skullcandy. These are just some of the companies that have happily sent endorsement checks to Durant over the years, and there is more money coming to him down the road. His deal with Nike could, when all is said and done, make Durant up to $300 million, and that does not include his other endorsements and also the large amounts of cash delivered to him off of NBA salaries. Durant will be a wealthy man even if he fails to win another NBA award.
4. LeBron James: $44 Million
Along with being the best basketball player of his generation and a man who already has a wing waiting for him in the Hall of Fame, LeBron James is respected among players and analysts for his business mind. James has followed in the footsteps of Michael Jordan by growing an international brand for himself via companies such as Nike, and the player who heroically returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2014 has also entered the entertainment world. He has gotten involved in the television show Survivor’s Remorse as a producer, and James has also dabbled in acting. See you in Space Jam 2, LeBron.
3. Phil Mickelson: $44 Million
Phil Mickelson is a marketing dream come true for companies that offer endorsements to professional athletes. Mickelson may no longer be among the best golfers in the world, but he remains popular among groups of fans who tune in to watch him play on weekends. Mickelson is, by all accounts, a family man who is as liked as anybody on the PGA Tour today. Depending on how long he wants to continue battling it out against younger players, fans may see Mickelson in commercials for arthritis medications for years to come. Mickelson is, simply stated, an easy guy to root for at tournaments.
2. Tiger Woods: $50 Million
There are some very young golf fans out there who have not lived in a world in which Tiger Woods was the best golfer in the game. Downfalls of famous people such as athletes sometimes occur in the blink of an eye. Woods will be one of the most recognized pro athletes in the world until he stops playing, and thus he is going to land plenty of endorsements from companies that want to be associated with him because of his past successes. With that said, it is not a crazy notion to suggest that Woods should consider walking away from the pro game for at least some time. Woods doesn’t need the money, and he may find that he doesn’t want the stress of always being “on.”
1. Roger Federer: $58 Million
Every pro athlete, even LeBron James, could learn a thing or two from Roger Federer. Federer has, because of endorsements, become like the Michael Jordan of tennis in the advertising world. It is no coincidence that Federer has a deal with Nike, and that the tennis icon has had MJ as his guest at events such as the US Open. Don’t look now, but Federer has managed to climb up the tennis rankings during 2015. What an incredible ending to a historic career it would be if Federer were to have one more monumental run that ended with him winning a major tournament. Make it so, Roger.