Aside from being rich and talented, what do many on the list of our best-paid athletes have in common?
Of the 25 athletes on our list, who earned a collective $702.4 million in just one year according to Forbes' annual listing of the World's Most Powerful Celebrities, 12 have a deal with the Beaverton, Ore.-based company.
"Nike is perhaps the most ubiquitous and sophisticated marketer in the sports world today," says Dean Bonham, chief executive of the Bonham Group, a Greenwood Village, Colo.-based sports marketing consulting firm. "[The company has] not only been able to attach themselves with athletes who have become celebrities, they've actually been able to create celebrities."
The Nike roster is the envy of all other sports brands. Who's on it? Tiger Woods, Maria Sharapova, LeBron James, Derek Jeter and Ronaldo, among others. The company won't say exactly what it pays for names like these, but obviously it isn't cheap.
Thanks in large part to his relationship with Nike, Woods is the world's highest-paid athlete, earning $87 million in just 12 months. He has what it takes to be marketable. He is not only articulate, but also attractive, clean-cut and scandal-free. "Ultimately, it boils down to whether an athlete has charisma, believability and the ability to communicate," says David Carter, professor of sports business at the University of Southern California. "And Tiger Woods has all of these things."
Sharapova is another solid Nike investment. She's safe and likable — and beautiful. And she's in the top five of women's tennis this year. After winning Wimbledon in 2004, she signed multimillion-dollar endorsement deals with Canon and Motorola. Add all that to her deal with Nike and Sharapova earned more than $18 million in one year, making her the world's best-compensated female athlete.
Another top earner and Nike superstar: Michael Vick, the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. Adored by fans — his number seven jersey has become one of the best-selling pieces of NFL apparel. With earnings totaling $37.5 million over the course of a year, he's also the best paid. In addition to the landmark ten-year, $130 million contract he signed in late 2004, he has a large — and lucrative — endorsement portfolio, which also includes a deal with Coca-Cola.
But not everyone on our list has a Swoosh on their shirt. After over ten years with Nike, tennis great Andre Agassi signed a multi-year endorsement deal with rival Adidas in July 2005.
The best paid non-Nike athlete? Formula One driver Michael Schumacher. The racing legend earned $60 million, thanks to his talent — and a sizable check from sponsor Ferrari.
"At the end of the day, it's the athletes that reach the highest percentage of the masses that are going to be the most appealing to corporate America, from the perspective that they reach the largest segment of their consumers," says Bonham.
To determine which of the world's athletes were raking in the most, we turned to the 2005 edition of Forbes' Celebrity 100, which ranks the most powerful actors, models, athletes and directors based on their media exposure (magazine covers, TV and radio mentions), Web presence (number of Google hits) and earnings.