The Most Influential Athletes with Athletic Apparel Endorsement Deals

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We’ve all heard about being the “Face of the Franchise” from any of the major sports, but for more than a couple of decades, athletes have become the public faces for brands. With the likes of Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour, there’s a constant arms race for superiority. 

While the contracts have grown larger than an athlete’s team contract, there’s no denying the exposure someone with hundreds of millions of followers has on a company. More recently, certain soccer stars in Europe have even had their apparel partner help with a major transfer.

Lewis Hamilton | Puma

32.9M Total Social Followers

6.1M Twitter Followers

 5.3M Facebook Followers

 21.5M Instagram Followers

Hamilton has been a part of the Puma family since 2013 and became the face of the brand as an ambassador for performance in 2017. Lewis became the face of the brand through activations on social media, at live events, television, and outdoor campaigns.

Usain Bolt | Puma

36M Total Social Followers

 4.9M Twitter Followers

 21.2M Facebook Followers

 9.9M Instagram Followers

Before becoming the face of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Bolt signed the largest deal at the time in Puma history. The sprinter has reported been paid $4 million as a Puma ambassador since retiring from competition.

Antoine Griezmann | Puma

55.1M Total Social Followers

 7.5M Twitter Followers

 15.8M Facebook Followers

 31.8M Instagram Followers

In 2015, Griezmann extended his deal with Puma to the tune of $5 million per year. To celebrate Griezmann’s 10-year anniversary with Puma, they released his special boot – a limited edition Future 4.1 NETFIT Grizi.

Virat Kohli | Puma

172.1M Total Social Followers

 39.9M Twitter Followers

 43.4M Facebook Followers

 88.8M Instagram Followers

One of the world’s most recognizable athletes was added to Puma’s roster in 2017 with an 8-year contract with about $2 million per year. It was reported as the most lucrative endorsement deal for any Indian sportsman.

Neymar | Puma

256M Total Social Followers

 51M Twitter Followers

 60M Facebook Followers

 145M Instagram Followers

Paris Saint-Germain’s star made a big move in 2020, ending his 11-year, $105 million contract earlier than expected, and landed with Puma. It wasn’t just big … it was the biggest individual sponsorship contract in any sport, at a whopping $30 million per year. Neymar launched the King Platinum Neymar Jr. cleat back in October 2020.

Gareth Bale | Adidas

90M Total Social Followers

 18.6M Twitter Followers

 27.7M Facebook Followers

 43.7M Instagram Followers

Adidas has been part of Bale’s career since he was 16, and his latest contract with them for about $27 million a year was signed in 2014.

James Rodriguez | Adidas

102.5M Total Social Followers

 19M Twitter Followers

 36.9M Facebook Followers

 46.6M Instagram Followers

Rodriguez has been featured by Adidas since before his 2014 breakout at the World Cup, but the two made noise when it’s been reported that the company tried to help facilitate his move to La Liga from Real Madrid. So then one might ask, why would Adidas do this? Adidas believed James’ brand was still unexploited in Italy, where they would like to expand it even more. It didn’t happen … and he’s now with Everton in the Premier League, expanding his profile in another European country.

Lionel Messi | Adidas

281.3M Total Social Followers

 2.9M Twitter Followers

 101.8M Facebook Followers

 176.6M Instagram Followers

Nike handed Messi a contract when he was only 14 years old, but that didn’t turn into a lifetime deal. It was Adidas who nabbed Messi and handed him a contract for the rest of his life that will reportedly pay $12 million a year.

Bryce Harper | Under Armour

3.1M Total Social Followers

 1M Twitter Followers

 429K Facebook Followers

 1.7M Instagram Followers

While still a member of the Washington Nationals, Harper signed what was believed to be the most lucrative sponsorship contract for any MLB player. The 10-year deal was an extension signed in 2016, and he’s been with the company since 2010.

Michael Phelps | Under Armour

13.3M Total Social Followers

 2M Twitter Followers

 8MM Facebook Followers

 3.3M Instagram Followers

Sometimes having the best Olympic athlete of all time as a partner pays off … well, it really, really did in 2016 when Phelps was featured in the company’s Olympic TV commercial “Rule Yourself.” The moving ad was the most-shared of any during the Olympic Games.

Steph Curry | Under Armour

151.2M Total Social Followers

 48.7M Twitter Followers

 25.5M Facebook Followers

 77M Instagram Followers

As mentioned earlier with Ronaldo, James received one of the other lifetime Nike contracts in 2015. While the exact terms still aren’t known, it’s suggested the contract will be worth $1 billion by the time James is 64 years old. James is known to drastically change his signature Nike sneaker each year, including the most recent Lebron 16 version.

LeBron James | Nike

57.7M Total Social Followers

 14.8M Twitter Followers

 10.6M Facebook Followers

 32.3M Instagram Followers

Curry has been a long-time partner with Under Armour, and took the relationship a step further in late 2020 with the announcement of the Curry Brand. The new line will include footwear, apparel and accessories and extends the relationship beyond his original 2013 basketball sneaker deal to include golf, other sports and a women’s line.

Cristiano Ronaldo | Nike

472.3M Total Social Followers

 90.3M Twitter Followers

 146.5M Facebook Followers

 235.5M Instagram Followers

We could probably spend a whole article on the world’s most popular athlete. Here’s all you need to know: Ronaldo signed a $1 billion lifetime contract with Nike back in 2016 to become the third athlete to receive one, along with Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Ronaldo has been sponsored by Nike since 2003, and has worn more than 60 different versions of Nike’s Mercurial soccer cleats.

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