This summer, we released the Top 100 Highest-Earning Athlete Endorsers in professional sports. Familiar names littered the leaderboard: Federer, Woods, James, et al. While the superstars were expected, we found that a little digging could provide further insight into the sports marketing industry. With that in mind, we began to investigate the opendorse Top 100 and analyze the data within. Here’s what we found.
A Melting Pot of Athlete Endorsers
The Top 100 is made up of athletes from around the world. With 56 athletes represented, the United States leads the pack by shear number. While there are only 44 international athletes represented, athletes outside the U.S. own 51 percent of the endorsement pie at $468 million.
With a quick glance of the top five, that may be surprising, as American athletes make up four of the top five athlete endorsement earners in the world. But when you evaluate a larger sample size, it becomes clear. There is only one additional American in the top 15, meaning ten of the top 15 highest-earning endorsers come from outside the U.S.
Another thing that sticks out when evaluating the Top 100 is its parity. Of the seven major sports, six have ten or more representatives. The only sport missing is golf. But with just seven representatives, golf makes its presence known by ranking no. 3 in total earnings.
In women’s sports, parity is scarce. Female athletes make up ten percent of the Top 100 and only bring in 8.1 percent of the total earnings. Women’s sports have taken a step forward in the last decade with the rise of women’s soccer and tennis, as well as the rise of individuals including Ronda Rousey and Danica Patrick. Even with the added exposure, there is more work to be done in order to bring female athletes the endorsement earnings they deserve.
2015: A Record-Breaking Year
As contracts and salaries in sports continue to soar, endorsement earnings have also been on the rise. In three of the last four years, athlete endorsement earnings have surpassed the previous year’s total. After a slight dip in 2014, brands dished out over $175 million more towards athlete influencers in 2015 than in 2014. There are many possibilities for the sudden surge in spending, but the answer may lie with the emergence of up-and-coming stars Steph Curry, Jordan Spieth, and Ronda Rousey.
Each athlete has taken over their respective sport in 2015. The undersized Curry led the Golden State Warriors to an NBA championship over LeBron James. Jordan Spieth took the golfing world by storm after winning two of golf’s four major championships. Ronda Rousey has brought UFC to prominence for even the most casual fans. Each year, new athletes come into the fold and make an impact, but rarely do we see an athlete who can transform the sport they play. In 2015, we witnessed three athletes complete that very feat.
Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova are two of the most recognized athletes in the world. Together, they earned over $80 million from brands in 2015. Both hold the title as the top male and female endorsers in the world. With that in mind, it is no wonder why tennis claims the largest piece of the endorsement pie. The only surprise is that Serena Williams became the only American tennis player to crack the Top 100. The lack of an American male tennis star has resulted in the U.S. seemingly missing out on the most endorsement-rich sport in the world.
In addition to owning the largest piece of the endorsement pie, tennis also places the most female endorsers in the Top 100. Of the ten female athletes represented, seven swing a racket. With every other sport being dominated by males, tennis has handed the reigns to the women. Led by Sharapova and Williams, tennis has shown that top female athletes can compete with their male counterparts in the sports marketing industry.