Largest Endorsement Deals In Sports History

By Ellen Kershner on May 27 2020 in Sports

Image credit: actionnetwork.com
Image credit: actionnetwork.com
  • Sports endorsements are known for earning athletes especially lucrative paydays
  • Sports endorsements are known for earning athletes especially lucrative paydays
  • Sports endorsements are known for earning athletes especially lucrative paydays
  • Ronaldo is the third highest-paid athlete in the world,
  • His Adidas lifetime endorsement contract earns him an additional $27 million a year.

Product endorsements can translate into soaring sales figures, whether the messages are communicated by a famous actor, well-known politician, respected businessperson, or other celebrity. Sports endorsements are known for earning athletes especially lucrative paydays, and some of the monies paid out to them are the stuff of legend.

Exceptionally talented athletes are often courted after big wins, including Olympic medals and other major tournaments. Companies reach out, hoping to use the athletes’ stellar reputations to promote their products and services. These endorsements deals can include high compensation, royalties, free products, and other incentives. Here are some of the highest ever paid out:

LeBron James

Nike reportedly paid LeBron James $1 billion for a lifetime endorsement deal. Image credit: YouTube

At the end of 2015, Cleveland Cavaliers basketball pro LeBron James snagged the biggest deal in sports history when he signed a lifetime contract with Nike. Although the exact terms of this deal were not revealed, a source told GQ that James got over $1 billion. Before this, it was estimated that he had gotten $90 million via a Nike deal that lasted from 2003 to 2010, plus an additional $100 million from 2011 to 2015.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods has earned far more from endorsement deals than from golf tournaments. Image credit: sportsnaut.com

Tiger Woods has had his ups and downs and has been one of the best-paid athletes on the planet. Before his 2009 scandal hit, he had almost earned $1 billion and had a Nike deal that was the biggest deal for a professional athlete at the time. Even though he lost steam that year, Nike stood behind him. Woods has since restored his reputation, and his wealth in 2018 exceeded $1.5 billion. Just 10% of this is attributed to his prize money!

Kobe Bryant

Kobe's signature Nike shoe earned $105 million in 2014.

The late and great Kobe Bryant had earned close to $680 million by November of 2015. Approximately $350 million of that was earned through endorsement deals with McDonald’s, Nintendo, Mercedes-Benz, and Sony. His big payday came with Nike, when he signed his four-year, $40 million deal in June of 2003. He had a signature Nike shoe, which earned $105 million in 2014.

David Beckham

Beckham earned over $21 million with Armani. Image credit: asiatatler.com

Former professional footballer and model David Beckham also had deals with different companies. From 2008 to 2011, he earned over $21 million as Armani’s global ambassador. Although Beckham retired in 2013, he still has deals with Diageo and Breitling. His biggest cash cow, though, is Adidas. In 2003, he signed a lifetime endorsement deal; in 2015, Forbes claimed that Beckham earned $75 million back in 2014.

Cristiano Ronaldo  

Ronaldo has deals with EA and Nike. Image credit: goal.com

Ronaldo is the third highest-paid athlete in the world and has endorsements with EA Sports, Herbalife, and American Tourister. He also has a lifetime endorsement, with Nike. This is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion.

Steph Curry  

Steph Curry earns more from Under Armor than his NBA salary. Image credit: YouTube

Golden State Warriors basketball player Stephen (Steph) Curry hit the jackpot with his Under Armour (UA) contract, one of the highest-ever global sports endorsement deals. Curry’s annual contract with his team earns him $34.9 million, but his UA deal nets him an additional $42 million.

Roger Federer

Federer switched from Nike to Uniqlo. Image credit: essentiallysports.com

Tennis pro and 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer has also been on the Nike brand team and has enjoyed some of its top sponsorship deals. Then in 2018, he switched over to the Japanese clothing designer Uniqlo for a deal that is possibly worth $300 million over 10 years.

Lionel Messi  

Messi's Adidas lifetime endorsement contract earns him $27 million a year. Image credit: goal.com

This young Argentinian professional soccer player is considered to be the best in the world and thought by many to be the greatest of all time. He plays on the Barcelona club and Argentina national team, and is the second-highest paid athlete on the planet, earning $80 million a year. His Adidas lifetime endorsement contract earns him an additional $27 million a year.

Michael Jordan

Jordan's Nike contract changed sports and sneaker culture forever.

Michael Jordan’s famous contract with Nike was signed over 30 years ago and is probably the biggest contributor to his $1.9 billion estimated net worth. When he originally signed, it was $500,000 a year for five years, along with stock options. Nike managed to sell $70 million in Air Jordan sneakers during the first two months of sale in 1985. As of 2016, the Jordan brand was earning over $2.5 billion in Nike sales every year.

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