In today’s day and age, being an athlete is more than just being great at whatever sport you’re involved in. As an athlete, you’re basically a public figure, and you’ve got to have the whole package to have even a chance of getting an endorsement deal or two. If your personality’s lacking, if you’re a dour-faced, pretty boring person who sends people to sleep when you give interviews, if you’re not the best looking man or woman out there, all of this could make it incredibly hard to get some extra cash through endorsements, no matter how good an athlete you are.
Provided they have this complete package, or at least a great deal of it, prominent athletes can look forward to earning huge amounts of cash through endorsements and sponsorship deals. For some, it’s what they strive to achieve, to land that big deal which will mean their money worries become a thing of the past. Others don’t really need the money, but aren’t going to say no to the huge sums of cash these companies are prepared to offer to get them on board, advertising their products, and services.
But it’s pretty staggering that athletes can earn more through endorsement deals than by actually playing the sports they love. Look down this list, read some of the names, and you could end up being quite surprised. There are some of the wealthiest athletes and sportspeople on the planet on this list, but they’ve acquired the vast majority of their wealth through endorsements, even though their sporting salaries are pretty huge to begin with. Here it is, these are 15 athletes who earn more cash by way of endorsement deals than their salaries.
15 Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods was once one of the richest sportsmen in the world due to his achievements on the golf course, but his fall from grace has been pretty drastic. He’s a shadow of his former self after injuries have taken their toll, and of course, after that whole sex scandal which essentially ruined him and rubbished his public image for good. It therefore might surprise a lot of people that Tiger’s on this list. He once earned millions in prize money, and earned even more through his various sponsorship deals with some of the world’s most major brands, but a lot of these companies pulled the plug on their association with Tiger following the sex scandal. But he’s since bounced back and a load of new companies have him on board – he’s still a household name after all. It’s just as well there are still companies willing to give him endorsement deals, because he’s not earning much on the tour at the moment.
14 Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose is one of the best players in the NBA – pity his career’s been blighted by injuries, otherwise he could have easily become one of the greats. For anyone else, any mediocre athlete out there, if they had the type of injuries Rose has been plagued with, they’d have probably called it quits a long time ago. But Rose has battled on through all those injuries and has always come back, because he loves the game and loves doing what he does, but there’s also an incentive for him to do so: the minute he calls time on his player career, he’ll no longer be receiving his hefty salary, but the millions in endorsements he earns will slowly go away too, so Rose is going to stretch it out and carry on playing, despite his knee injuries, for as long as he can.
From 2012, Rose has missed a ton of games, which has included missing the entire 2012-13 season. But despite not getting on the basketball court, he still managed to pocket a cool $21m through endorsements, and his $16m salary – not bad for someone who spent the year with his feet up, resting and chilling on the side-lines.
13 Jessica Ennis-Hill
Jessica Ennis-Hill is one of Great Britain’s most decorated Olympic athletes, having competed in track and field events as a heptathlete, winning the world championship three times, and having won a gold and silver at the two Olympics she competed in.
Athletics is a pretty hard sport to try and earn any money from. Growing up, trying to attend events, train, and making it on the Olympic team is a real struggle, because unlike professional sports such as soccer, you don’t get paid for your troubles. Many athletes have had to juggle several jobs and do their training on top of that in order to make it to the Olympics, and Jess’ progression through the ranks wasn’t any different.
Luckily for her, being a British athlete and all, Jess got some funding and prize money when she did well, but aside from these earnings, she’s earned way more than that by getting sponsorship and endorsement deals, and with her being the face of British athletics, the darling of the track, there’ve been tons of companies over the years eager to acquire her to be the face of their brands. She’s one of the hottest athletes out there too, which of course helps, and just has a really sweet personality, someone who the British public can relate to.
12 Dame Kelly Holmes
Here’s another British Olympian who rose to fame as a result of her exploits at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Kelly Holmes won gold in both the 800 metres and 1500 metres events, and smashed records in a number of other events, over a number of other distances too. She rode on the back of the success of her accomplishments and decided to call it a day a year after all of those record-breaking feats. In the year following her Olympic glory, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a highly prestigious honor, so there wasn’t really much more Kelly could achieve.
She got Olympic funding and must have earned some cash through bonuses, but her Olympic success opened plenty of doors for Kelly, meaning it wasn’t really a tough transition to life off the athletics track. She’s kept herself busy getting involved in various different projects, but because of her gold medals, provided she’s been shrewd with her investments, she won’t need to worry about cash ever again. She received a ton of sponsorship deals, and even today, various companies organizing events pay her good money to make appearances, which she’s only too happy to accept.
11 Sania Mirza
Sania Mirza might not be the biggest name in the world of tennis, but when it comes to doubles competitions, she’s right up there as one of the best, and one of the most popular players due to her tremendous fan following in her native India. She’s a huge deal back home, is frequently seen hanging with the stars, attending lavish parties, massive events, and is a celebrity figure in her own right.
Due to her success on the double’s tour, she’s earned quite a bit of cash over the years, but this money is pocket change in comparison to what she earns through endorsements. Step out on the streets of India and you won’t go far without seeing Sania’s face beaming down at you from a billboard, you won’t be able to turn on the TV without seeing her advertising something or other. She’s a megastar in every sense of the word, and this stardom’s certainly reflected through her bank balance and the numerous companies that are always clambering to get her on board.
10 Phil Mickelson
It seems as if Phil Mickelson’s been around on the golf tour for absolutely ages, and that’s because he has. He’s been around since 1992 when he turned pro, and during this time he’s had 51 professional wins, earning him millions in prize money in the process. With the amount he’s earned on tour, he’d have had to have had a hell of a lot of endorsements over the years to earn more than his prize money, and he certainly has. He’s one of the most recognizable figures on the golf circuit, and he’s a likeable guy too, so there’s no shortage of companies and prominent brands queuing up to get him to represent their services.
Take last year for instance; Phil earned approximately $4m on the golf tour, which was eclipsed by his earnings through endorsements - $44m! Callaway, KPMG, ExxonMobil, Rolex, Barclay’s, and Amgen/Pfizer are just some of the companies willing to pay a hefty sum to Phil to get him to endorse their products, which he’s only too happy to do.
9 Kei Nishikori
Japanese tennis player, Kei Nishikori, has always been around on the fringes of the so-called Big Five in tennis. He’s what people call the best of the rest, and is always going to provide a challenge to those above him. Although he hasn’t won a Grand Slam, he’s won 11 tour titles and is regularly a name at the back end of Grand Slam tournaments, all of which has contributed to him rising up to number seven in the world rankings.
Consequently, due to all the success he’s had on court, his career prize money stands at $16,695,635; not as much as some of the other top names who could probably earn double this in a year, but not many earn as much as Kei does through endorsement deals. Being from Japan, Kei’s a massive name in Asia, and is the face of a ton of stuff, equipment, clothes, watches, and more that people just snap up in his home country, purely because Kei’s associated with the product. He’s a megastar in Japan, making him one of the top earners in tennis. This just demonstrates how big he really is, and how much companies want him on board; last year, he signed a $50m extension deal with the clothing brand Uniqlo. Novak Djokovic, who was world number one at the time and was also associated with the clothing giant, was paid less than Kei to wear Uniqlo. It was a record-breaking deal that meant Kei’s now reported be earning, on average, $20m a year through endorsements, which is more than his career earnings put together.
8 LeBron James
LeBron James is without a doubt one of the greatest and most recognized players in the NBA at the moment. His career’s just gone from strength to strength over the years, and he’s certainly the king of the court. Being king, he can do things his own way and expect everything to fall into place, which it inevitably has. He loves basketball but approaches his playing career as a business – this is one guy who’s got money on his mind and isn’t afraid to let people know it. LeBron signs short term deals so he can maximize earning potential, and is very shrewd about it, which led to him becoming the highest paid player in the NBA last year. Inevitably, some massive companies have wanted to get him on board over the years, and being the business-minded individual that he is, he’s always signed the most lucrative contracts. In fact, it was right out of high school that companies began trying to get him on board, and big companies too. Nike, Reebok, and Adidas had a three-way bidding war, and LeBron eventually signed for Nike for $90m – right out of high school! The money’s just continued to roll in over the years, and at the moment he’s said to be earning around $50m a year just through endorsements. LeBron is certainly king!
7 Roger Federer
From the king of the basketball court to the king of the tennis court, Roger Federer is one of the biggest names in sporting history, recognized throughout the world for his accomplishments, his amazing feats, and the way he goes about decimating opponents – it’s all style and gracefulness with Federer.
Federer is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to have ever played the game, and at the age of 35, he’s still going strong and is winning Grand Slams. He’s therefore one of the highest-earners in the sport, just due to his prize money alone, and then add all the money he’s earned through endorsement deals over the years, and he’s one of the wealthiest athletes on the planet. He’s actually fifth on the list of the "World's Highest Paid Athletes" and that’s not much of a surprise when you consider some of the companies he’s been associated with over the years: Gillette, Nike, and Moët & Chandon to name a few.
6 Michael Phelps
As the world’s most decorated Olympian, Michael Phelps has earned a ton of dough due to his feats in the pool, through bonuses and what not. He’s one of the highest-paid Olympic athletes, and considering all he’s done and all he’s achieved for himself, the sport, and team America, deservedly so. The U.S. Olympic Committee have shelled out now and again to pay their favorite star, but what he received from them is pocket change in comparison to what he earns through endorsement deals.
Phelps began getting endorsements at a young age, and has been with some prominent brands, including Speedo, Louis Vuitton, Under Armour, and Visa. It’s these companies that have made him super wealthy, paying him not only for endorsing their products and services, but paying him bonuses too; Speedo gave Phelps a million dollar bonus when he surpassed Mark Spitz’s medal tally, which he put to good use and used to form his charitable organization, the Michael Phelps Foundation.
5 Paula Radcliffe
Women marathon world record holder, Paula Radcliffe, was the face of British athletics for a hell of a long time. During her running days, she won a ton of accolades, gold medals, marathon wins around the world, and is certainly one of Great Britain’s most decorated Olympians. Today, she’s a regular on TV, as a pundit and commentator at athletic events, and is regularly seen and heard talking about athletics and the sport she dominated for such a long time.
As the sport’s biggest female star, and with results to justify that title too, Paula was raking it in throughout her career. Firstly, there were bonuses and the money she earned from the Olympics. But she also doesn’t just run in races around the world for fun. Directors and organizers of various races pay Paula just to show up, to tempt her to run in their races; she demanded hefty appearance fees, and then when she won, there’s of course the prize money. But her endorsement deals were what kept Paula’s finances ticking. She’s been with some big names over the years, including Nike, a company that certainly looked after her well, paying her million dollar contracts and then shelling out even more and paying her bonuses when she competed in events and won races, which she did a hell of a lot.
4 Maria Sharapova
At one point, not too long ago actually, Maria Sharapova was the highest-paid female athlete on the planet. She’s a shrewd businesswoman, has plenty of side ventures, is more than a tad decent on the tennis court, but it’s her endorsement deals that have resulted in her becoming a multimillionaire. She’s just a company’s dream woman; she’s successful, stunningly beautiful, and is always in the limelight, meaning over the years some big brands have been queuing up to get Maria on board.
But last year, after that failed drugs test and subsequent doping ban, the decorated tennis player’s fall from grace was pretty rapid. She lost millions in sponsorships deals, with companies such as Avon and Tag Heuer cancelling their contracts with the star, not wanting to be associated with someone who’s essentially been found to be a drugs cheat. But amazingly, Nike, Head, and Evian have backed the Russian, after it was ruled at the verdict she didn’t take the drugs intentionally. This has meant that although Maria’s been out of action over the past year while serving her ban, not earning a single cent through tennis, she’s continued earning millions through endorsement deals; luckily for her she’s associated with some very forgiving companies who can still see the value of having a woman like Maria on board.
3 Usain Bolt
As the fastest man on the planet, people thought that lightening doesn’t strike twice, but amazingly it struck three times, with Usain Bolt earning gold in the 200m and 100m events at three consecutive Olympics, smashing records along the way. His personality and what he brings to the sport has gained athletics a whole new fan base; he’s solely responsible for keeping athletics in the spotlight for all the good reasons over the past decade, and it’s going to be a sad day when he calls it quits later this year.
Usain Bolt, being the fastest man on the planet, and one of the most charismatic athletes in the world too, loved and adored by millions worldwide, is understandably loaded. That’s all due to his sponsorship deals and advertising work. His deals with Puma and Virgin Media are his most lucrative by a fair distance, but he’s also been associated with brands such as Gatorade, who used to pay him, not only to endorse their drink, but to travel the world and make appearances at various events; getting paid to sit in first class, travel to exciting destinations and drink Gatorade – it’s a nice gig if you can get it!
2 Lionel Messi
It might surprise a lot of you that Lionel Messi, the most gifted footballer on the planet, is on this list. That’s because he already earns a ton of cash though his salary with his club, Barcelona, and add on various bonuses and incentives that are inevitably going to make up part of his contract, and Messi’s one of the wealthiest footballers in the world.
He might be one of the best, but let’s face it, he’s not the most charismatic. He’s a diminutive figure, isn’t your stereotypical flashy, loud-mouthed footballer, and isn’t the best-looking guy around either. But that hasn't hindered him when it’s come to getting endorsement deals. The name Messi, that’s all brands want, to say that Messi’s endorsing their products and services. Pepsi, Adidas, EA Sports, and Turkish Airlines are some of the huge companies that have acquired Messi’s services over the years, and the endorsement deals have just continued coming over the years, meaning even though his footballing salary is huge, he earns even more through endorsements.
1 Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi have been involved in a tussle over the past decade as to who’s earned the right to be called the greatest footballer on the planet. There are plenty in Messi’s camp, but a ton in Ronaldo’s too – he’s the world’s best and most marketable footballer.
Unlike Messi, Ronaldo is all about flaunting his cash and leading a glamorous lifestyle, just as well since he’s earning megabucks then. In 2016, he signed a new deal with his club side, Real Madrid, worth £43m a year, including various cash incentives and bonuses, and that’s not even taking into account all the other little clauses that he’s certainly put in there that we don’t know about. But when you add to that the tens of millions he makes every year from modelling, sponsorship deals, and endorsements, he becomes not only one of the wealthiest footballers, but wealthiest sportspeople in the world. Tag Heuer, Sacoor Brothers suits, and Monster headphones are just some of the brands he’s currently associated with, meaning he earns more each year through endorsements than his salary with Real Madrid – even though that might seem inconceivable! – and that’s not even taking into account his flourishing business empire, which when all combined, means he’s well and truly minted.