Endorsement Battle Royale: Comparing the Top 5 Earners Per Sport


Athletes like LeBron, Ronaldo, and Federer stand above their counterparts in the field of play and in endorsement marketing success. They get the biggest deals, the biggest brands, and the most exposure. But we wanted to find out which sport has the most marketable stars beyond just the biggest name. So, we decided to look at a larger sample size. We analyzed the 2015 endorsement prosperity of the five highest-earning athlete endorsers from seven major sports.

Average brand endorsement sponsorship earnings sports
Example: Golf
+ $30.6 million— The average 2015 endorsement earnings of the sport’s top five earners — Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth.
+ 33.4 the athletes’ average age.
+ $6.4 thousand — The average price per Tweet of golf’s highest-valued athletes on Twitter.

Golf Reigns Supreme

With average annual earnings of over $30 million, Golf’s top five endorsers are on top by a comfortable margin. However, golf’s reign as champ could be short lived. Phil Mickelson’s years on tour are waning, and Tiger Woods’ return to the game appears uncertain. The loss of its two highest earners would mean a drop off of nearly $100M in annual endorsement earnings.

Even with this uncertainty, golf has reason for optimism. The sport’s young guns exceeded expectations in the past two years, with Rory McIlroy (26) and Jordan Spieth (22) winning four of the last eight major championships. Each have lucrative deals with Nike and Under Armour, respectively. As the new era of McIlroy, Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Rickie Fowler continues to rise, the question may not be if they will be able to fill the void left from Mickelson and Woods, but when. The top contenders to take over the golf’s no. 1 spot appear to be basketball and soccer. Basketball and its global icon, LeBron James, are already nipping at golf’s heels. Soccer has only half the endorsement earnings needed to claim the top spot, but it boasts the youngest top five of all included sports. With soccer’s global popularity and a promising group of young stars, it could very well see a boost in the coming years.

Soccer Dominates Twitter

It would make sense that the sport with the youngest group of stars would also see the most success on social media. Soccer, as a global brand, has a wide audience who loves their athletes, and it shows. Cristiano Ronaldo is not only the most followed soccer player on Twitter, he is the most followed athlete in the world. A sponsored tweet from the Real Madrid star will set you back over $260,000. A distant second is LeBron James at around $140,000 per tweet. To further soccer’s case of dominance, in our breakdown of top athlete Twitter prices in the world, soccer  holds seven of the top ten positions. To pay all seven players to tweet about your brand, you can expect a price-tag of over $700,000.

Baseball Needs a Boost

America’s pastime comes in dead last in both categories — endorsements and price per Tweet — and its not even close. Since Derek Jeter’s retirement, baseball has missed his presence and the $9 million in endorsements he earned in 2015. If losing Jeter wasn’t bad enough, David Ortiz, MLB’s current leader in endorsements at $4 million, has announced that next season will be his last.

Replacing a sport’s top endorser won’t be easy, but much like golf and soccer, baseball has a talented young group of athletes that will look to raise baseball from the endorsement cellar. Led by the Cubs’ Kris Bryant (23), the MLB’s 2015 jersey sales were dominated by youngsters. The MLB All-Star game was the same story. 19 of the All-Star selections were 25-years-old or younger. Not only is there a surplus of young talent but fans are wanting to spend money on them. Although the sport seems to be lacking in premiere athletes that brands want to work with, this new crop gives baseball a lot of hope.

Related Content

The State of Sponsored Social

Get the full breakdown on 36,000 branded Instagram posts published on behalf of more than 3,200 sponsors in sports