Sports stars are no longer just athletes who play sports. Far from it. They are celebrities. Gods. People we aspire to be. So of course it’s no wonder brands are lining up to get some of the world’s best as ambassadors.
From soccer, to NFL, to MLB and even poker, we’re seeing more and more of our heroes representing brands in commercials, at events, and even on social media.
It’s an extremely important technique for brands today, although it’s hardly a new concept. In fact you can trace it back to the 1940s when Hollywood stars were advertising for cigarette companies. Forming a partnership can be lucrative for both parties. In fact, following the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, he lost over $30 million in endorsements.
However, it wasn’t until the likes of Armstrong, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods came along that brands took things to a completely new level, and today almost every major brand, particularly sports brands, has a star at the very forefront of the brand.
We take a look at some of the most marketable people in sports, and just what teases us into buying their product.
It seems to make sense with Tiger Woods, a man who has experienced the rise and fall of both power in sports and marketability.
In the first decade of his career, Tiger Woods was unstoppable. On the greens he was the greatest of his generation, even of all-time, and with that the endorsements came rolling in. General Motors, TAG Heuer, Gillette, and Nike all signed huge deals with the star and Electronic Arts had him as the face of their golf game for 16 years, until Rory McIlroy took over this year.
Today, all that remains from those is Nike, and even there he’s been overtaken as the leading figure of the brand by the Northern Irish World Number One.
He has since signed with Rolex, as it’s undeniable that Woods is one of the true greats and still one of the most recognizable faces in sports.
At the peak of his powers, David Beckham was the most recognizable face on the planet and in 2011 was earning $37 million in endorsements. Despite retiring in 2013, he’s still hugely marketable in both the eastern and western worlds. In 2014, he made a staggering $75 million ranking second behind only Michael Jordan as the highest-paid retired athletes.
He still has a long-standing deal with Adidas, which saw him through much of his playing career with the man being synonymous with the Predator boot, and counts Belstaff, SkySports, and Breitling amongst his many other endorsements.
But it’s perhaps his work in soccer which has seen him do his best ambassadorial role.
Many in Britain criticized the former England captain for his move to LA back in 2007 but what he did to heighten the profile of the MLS was incredible. It allowed LA Galaxy to sign lucrative sponsorship deals of their own and shirt sales reached record figures. It had a huge impact on the league today with the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Kaka all moving to the US for the current season.
But he’s had a big impact in China too when it comes to soccer. In February 2013, he signed a multi-million deal to be an ambassador for the Chinese Super League. Attendances in the league jumped by 2.2% last year and Beckham has helped promote the sport by visiting clubs across the country.
To many of you, the name Jason Somerville will leave you scratching your heads, but for the millions of poker fans around the world, he’s just about one of the most exciting prospects in the sport.
The 27-year-old is PokerStars’ latest signing, and while he may not be Ronaldo or Rafael Nadal, what he could do for the brand in the poker community is quite phenomenal.
You see, not only is he a fine poker player – the man has almost $4 million in winnings – but he’s very active in the online media.
In fact, so much so that PokerStars heavyweight Daniel Negreanu said at the American Poker Awards during his Poker’s Best Ambassador Award acceptance speech, “What he’s done beyond mine or I believe even Mike’s [Sexton] realm of possibility is that he’s taken online poker and made it fun and exciting, and where he’s engaging a totally new spectrum of poker players, more so than anyone else in the world today.”
Which is perfect for a brand like PokerStars, which is constantly thriving to reach new audiences. Using the likes of YouTube and Twitch, Somerville has developed a huge audience with people watching him play poker. Of course now he’s playing on PokerStars, which is unrivalled.
Which is perfect for a brand like PokerStars, which is constantly thriving to reach new audiences. Using the likes of YouTube and Twitch, Somerville has developed a huge audience with people watching him play poker. Of course now he’s playing on PokerStars, which is unrivalled advertising from a top pro in the game, showing that ambassadors don’t necessarily have to be as recognizable as Becks to achieve big things.
When Lewis Hamilton crossed the line in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he not only picked up his second Formula One World Championship but also became the most marketable athlete in the world.
Currently his endorsements only net him $2.78 million per year from deals with Bombardier and IWC Schaffhausen, but in the past he has had high-earning deals with Santander, TAG Heuer, and Reebok. That will undoubtedly rise should Hamilton have another good season, with experts predicting he could even exceed David Beckham in the wealth stakes should more brands seek him in an ambassadorial role.
He’s certainly one to keep an eye on. And let’s face it: plenty will be buying products in an attempt to become as cool as him.