25 Sports Celebrities Who Redefined Athletic Endorsements

By Trista
25 Sports Celebrities Who Redefined Athletic Endorsements

It’s far from a secret that advertisers regularly use celebrities to promote their products. If you remember the “Got Milk?” campaign a few decades back, you may recall commercials and opening magazines to see a celebrity sporting a milk mustache. Did you think about buying milk after seeing your favorite celebrity in one of those ads? If so, the marketing technique worked. Brands who feature the sports celebrities of the athletic world are no exception.

They commonly feature celebrity athletes with a high level of public visibility. If you’re not a golf enthusiast, you may not be aware of any golfer other than Tiger Woods. Nevertheless, golf enthusiasts who see Phil Mickelson immediately recognize him and may be drawn to the brand he is endorsing. Some of these athletes were the highest-paid celebrities last year. Read on to learn more about which athletes get paid handsomely for huge apparel endorsements according to Go Banking Rates and Hollywood Branded

25. LeBron James

The celebrated basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers is considered the best by many.  To some, he is the greatest of all-time. The media branded him as a future great when he was still a high school student in Akron, Ohio. He certainly has become that.

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Coca-Cola, Upper Deck, Samsung, McDonald’s, Microsoft, and Nike all endorse him. They’ve all hitched their wagons to James’ star. Why? These companies know that his face on their products will immediately boost their appeal. It’s true that the companies that have sought James’ sponsorship may have found some profit in his endorsement. However, the real winner is the basketball player who raked in untold millions from his varied endorsements.

Roger Federer has appeal to luxury brands. Shutterstock

24. Roger Federer

If you don’t play tennis or buy luxury goods, you may have never even heard of Roger Federer. He is a legendary Swiss tennis player and one of the best globally, holding a record 20 Grand Slam titles for men’s tennis.

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He was a Wimbledon junior champion in 1998 at the young age of 16, and his first Grand Slam win at Wimbledon came five years later. Those wins translated into high-paying endorsements of some of the most luxurious brands in the world, especially brands from his homeland of Switzerland. Federer has lent his credibility to Rolex, Mercedes Benz, clothing brand Uniqlo, Credit Suisse, Lindt Chocolate, Moet and Chandon, Procter and Gamble, Gillette, Sunrise, Jura, and Net Jets. His endorsements are worth an estimated $58 million.

This pro golfer has one of the most recognizable faces in sports endorsements. Shutterstock

23. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods is the quintessential celebrity athlete and probably one of the most readily recognized faces in the entire sports world. You don’t have to be a golf enthusiast to know who he is, especially since he has $37 million worth of endorsements. 

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Those endorsements are for a diverse array of brands, from Nike to the energy drink Monster Energy. His face is also used for advertising for Hero Motor Group. This company produces scooters and other two-wheeled vehicles. Woods receives endorsements for Kowa binoculars and lenses and Upper Deck trading cards. He holds many golf records and leads in the number of Professional Golf Association tour wins. His celebrity in golf was compounded by personal scandals several years ago. Yet Woods still maintains a broad public appeal.

Phil Mickelson, another golf player, has more endorsements than Tiger Woods. Shutterstock

22. Phil Mickelson

Mickelson is less of a celebrity than Tiger Woods but is only slightly less of an accomplished golfer. He is one of only 12 other golfers to win three of the four majors. In the fourth, the US Open, he has been runner-up six times.

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His endorsements are worth $40 million, and they include the elite Callaway Golf Company. He can often be seen wearing a shirt for Barclays, the multinational bank headquartered in London. He has also lent his face to the KPMG accounting service.

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most well-recognized athletes in the world. Shutterstock

21. Cristiano Ronaldo

Soccer, or football outside of the United States, is the world’s most popular sport. One of the most famous and greatest soccer players is the Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. He made his professional debut at the age of 18, and in the time since, has become the highest-scoring soccer player in Portugal.

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Ronaldo has endorsed Nike and can often be seen wearing the gear. Additionally, he’s endorsed fast-food brand KFC, Samsung, Toyota, health-food brand Herbalife, luxury jewelry brand Jacob and Co., the Swiss luxury watch brand TAG Heuer, and gaming company Konami. Altogether, Ronaldo’s endorsements are worth $35 million. Not bad for an athlete who brings in more than half a million dollars a week just for playing professional soccer.

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20. Stephen Curry

Curry is a record-breaking point guard for the Golden State Warriors. Several players and analysts have named him the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA. He has been named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player two times in addition to carrying his team to the NBA championship three times.

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With such a prestigious resume, there’s little wonder that Curry has garnered $35 million in endorsement contracts. He has endorsed Under Armour, the athletic brand known for wicking sweat and moisture to keep players dry and cool while practicing. Kia Motors, Samsung Electronics, and Coca-Cola are the non-sports brands that have also sought to use Curry’s brand to promote their own sales.

Here is another golf player with high-profile endorsements. Shutterstock

19. Rory McIlroy

McIlroy is a professional golfer from Northern Ireland, a country that has long been plagued by flare-ups of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics. But McIlroy’s success does not hint at the troubles that threatened to destroy his country while growing up; he spent over 100 weeks as the world’s number one player in the Official World Golf Rankings.

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Like many other athletes, McIlroy has endorsed Nike, and he regularly wears their clothes and shoes. He has also endorsed the golf brand Taylor Made and uses its gear also. For non-sports brands, he has supported luxury watch brand Omega. Altogether, McIlroy’s endorsements are worth $34 million, an amount to match a golfer who won all four majors by the age of 25. He’s almost the European version of Tiger Woods.

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18. Kevin Durant

This pro baller now plays for the Brooklyn Nets. He signed with them after playing alongside Stephen Curry with the Golden State Warriors for several seasons. At the University of Texas, he played just one season of college basketball. 

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Durant is also one of the world’s highest-earning basketball players. He earns $34 million in endorsement contracts for both sports brands and non-sports brands. Durant has been featured by Nike, EA Sports, and Gatorade, the iconic sports drink. He also has an endorsement from Panini America (a sports card company, not a sandwich company).

Durant has supported the deodorant Degree Men. Other endorsements come from the beverage Sparkling Ice. You might also know him from the telecommunications company Sprint. And yes, Durant even has endorsements with fast-food franchise Sonic.

This Olympian has tens of millions of dollars in endorsement contracts. Shutterstock

17. Usain Bolt

Bolt is a Jamaican sprinter who became the first to win the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints at three Olympic games in a row, in 2008 in Beijing, 2012 in London, and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. With his victories, he became seen as the greatest sprinter of all-time.

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Besides having such a prominent resume, he has a name that lends itself well to product endorsement. Slogans featuring his name include Gatorade’s “Bolt pushes past the sweat.” In addition to Gatorade and athletic brand Puma, Bolt has endorsed Hublot and the Virgin Media entertainment brand. His endorsement contracts are worth $32 million.

Jordan Spieth is another golfer who has raked in endorsement dollars. Shutterstock

16. Jordan Spieth

Getting the notoriety of Tiger Woods is close to impossible for professional golf players. However, plenty of them have still brought in significant dollars in endorsement contracts, sometimes more in endorsements than from playing the game. Jordan Spieth is a professional golfer who won the 2015 FedEx Cup playoffs, the 2015 Masters Tournament, the 2015 US Open, and the 2017 Open championship. At the 2015 Masters Tournament, he tied the record that Tiger Woods set there in 1997 and, behind Woods, became the second-youngest golfer to take him the championship.

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While getting your face on a box of Wheaties cereal may no longer be the thing that says “I made it” for an athlete, Spieth has very proudly lent his face to the iconic cereal brand. He has also endorsed Under Armour’s athletic apparel, the telecommunications company AT&T, Coca Cola, the luxury watch brand Rolex, and Titleist. His endorsement contracts are worth a whopping $29 million.

Lionel Messi is the second-highest-paid athlete in the world. Shutterstock

15. Lionel Messi

Coming in only behind the boxer Floyd Mayweather, Lionel Messi makes $80 million a year playing soccer. Shutterstock 

In 2017, he signed a lifetime deal with the athletic apparel brand Adidas, but the size of that contract has not yet been made publicly available. Besides Adidas, he has been prominently featured by Pepsi and Gatorade’s beverage brands, along with the technology brand Huawei.

David Beckham may be retired, but he still gets endorsement contracts. Shutterstock

14. David Beckham

Most endorsement contracts stop coming once an athlete retires, but Beckham’s star power has not stopped shining since he retired from professional soccer in 2013. In fact, Beckham earned more in 2014, the year after he stopped playing professionally than he had in any year prior.

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Beckham retained his contract with Adidas following his retirement, and he has since signed on with several other companies to promote their brands. He has endorsed Armani’s luxury clothing brand and fast-fashion brand H&M along with Pepsi, Gillette razors, Diageo alcohol, Haig Club Whiskey, and Tudor watches.

This boxer’s nickname is Money, and not only because of the money he makes from boxing. Shutterstock

13. Floyd Mayweather

Mayweather is the premier boxing champion of the modern era, and every fight that he attends attracts millions of viewers. Furthermore, what happens when millions of viewers watch his matches? The companies that organize them make millions of dollars. And he has earned over one billion dollars by playing this game well. 

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Mayweather makes more than enough money in his fights, but he still endorses several brands, most notably Swiss luxury watchmaker Hublot. Getting him to support a brand has a high barrier to entry given that his price is far too high for most companies to afford.

Neymar Junior earns one-third of his salary through endorsements. Shutterstock

12. Neymar Junior

Neymar is a celebrity soccer player in Brazil. What does that mean for endorsements? They are going to keep coming as his star continues rising throughout the athletic world.

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In 2019, Neymar earned over $100 million, and one-third of that came from endorsement deals that he signed. Nike signed him as one of the brand’s highest-paid athlete endorsers, and EA Sports pays him handsomely to keep his face on their advertisements. In addition to endorsing athletic brands, Neymar has signed contracts with fast-food giant McDonald’s, financial giant MasterCard, razor company Gillette, and headphones mogul Beats by Dre.

Conor McGregor makes $15 million a year from endorsements alone. Shutterstock

11. Conor McGregor

Irish fighter McGregor is a star in the world of mixed martial arts. Much of his earnings have come from fighting matches. “The Notorious” has reportedly brought in over a hundred million dollars in prizes. Networks love him because he attracts many viewers.

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McGregor’s prolific resume in the MMA world has translated into lucrative endorsements for brands that many people, including those outside of boxing and martial arts, see regularly. He has endorsed Bud Light beer, fast-food giant Burger King, Monster Energy drinks, Beats by Dre, and Reebok.

Novak Djokovic makes money just by wearing crocodile shirts to his tennis matches. Shutterstock

10. Novak Djokovic

One of the best tennis players in the world and of all-time, Djokovic makes $10 million a year from the Lacoste clothing company just by wearing its shirts. He formerly played endorsed Adidas, Uniqlo, and Sergio Tacchini outfits, but Lacoste decided that Djokovic was their man when those contracts ended.

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He also has endorsement deals with Asics shoes and Head tennis rackets and non-sports brands Ultimate Software Group, Seiko, and NetJets. Expect to watch his star continue to rise along with his endorsement deals. You’ll probably see his face a lot more often.

This football player makes six million dollars a year in endorsements. Shutterstock

9. Tom Brady

Brady is more than a professional football player, he is an NFL legend. He spent 20 seasons playing quarterback for the New England Patriots, during which his team played in nine Super Bowls and won six of them. He later moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has won three MVP awards in the NFL.

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Brady does not have as many endorsements as other athletes who have a similar resume, but six million dollars a year from lending your face to advertising is nothing to sneer at. Most notably, he endorses Ugg shoes, TAG Heuer watches, and Under Armour athletic apparel.

Rafael Nadal makes an estimated 10 million dollars a year from Nike. Shutterstock

8. Rafael Nadal

Along with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, Nadal is one of the “big three” in men’s tennis worldwide. The Spanish professional tennis player is considered number two globally, and he has been playing professionally since 2001. His winning streak of 81 matches is unprecedented, not only for tennis but for any sports.

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Nobody knows how much Nike has paid Nadal for his endorsement, but the amount is rumored to be around 10 million dollars a year. In addition to Nike’s high-profile endorsement, he also has contracts with Kia Motors and Spanish brands Telefonica, Banco Santander, and Babolat.

Many people regard her as perhaps the greatest female tennis player ever. Shutterstock

7. Serena Williams

Serena’s name is ubiquitous with women’s tennis. Since going pro, she has won 23 grand slams, making her the dominant name in the sport. 

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So plenty of companies have been eager to use her name and face to promote their brands. She signed with Nike back in 2003 for a five-year contract worth 40 million dollars and has stayed with them ever since. Besides that, she has deals with financial giant JP Morgan, the Wilson tennis brand, and Beats by Dre. She brings home an estimated 10 to 20 million dollars a year through endorsements.

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6. Odell Beckham Junior

Beckham was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2014, becoming the first rookie to run 1100 yards, score 10 touchdowns, and catch 75 receptions. Two years later, he caught 100 receptions in one season. 

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In addition to being the highest-paid wide receiver in NFL history, in 2017, Beckham signed a contract with Nike that was several times larger than his salary. He also endorses United Sports Brands.

Virat Kohli has $20 million in endorsement contracts. Shutterstock

5. Virat Kohli

Have you ever heard of Kohli? If not, you must not be a fan of professional cricket. While the game is not very common in the United States, outside of some cricket enthusiasts, it is big business in countries such as South Africa, Australia, India, and the United Kingdom.

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One of the cricket world stars is Indian batsman Kohli, who has endorsement contracts worth $20 million. They come from Audi cars, Puma athletic apparel, Pepsi beverages, and Oakley eyewear. The money he makes from endorsements is several times the amount he earns from playing professional cricket.

If you can get a big apparel endorsement from Nike, your salary will increase significantly. Shutterstock

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo 

The “Greek Freak” of the NBA was born in Greece to parents who immigrated from Nigeria. He was spotted by NBA recruiters while playing for youth teams in Athens and entered the NBA draft in 2013. In the 2016-2017 season, playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, he became the first basketball player in the NBA’s history to finish in the top 20 for statistics in all five areas of rebounds, total points, blocks, assists, and scores.

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The Greek Freak has an impressive array of endorsements that have added 28 million dollars to his salary. Those endorsements are for the sports brands Nike and 2K Sports, along with internet TV company Hulu. Nearly 60% of his salary comes from endorsements.

3. Zion Williamson

Williamson played one season at Duke University, in 2018-2019, before being drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA draft. At Duke, he was the ACC Rookie of the Year, ACC Athlete of the Year, and ACC Player of the year, and in January of 2019, he set the scoring record for first-year students in a single game and claimed the Wayman Tisdale Award. His newly begun career in the NBA seems to be just as promising as his college basketball career was.

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Despite being new to professional sports, having only been picked up in 2019, Zion has an estimated $20 million in endorsement contracts. They are mainly sports companies, including 2K Sports, Nike, Fanatics, and Panini. Gatorade has also picked him up along with Mountain Dew.

She brings home 90% of her earnings from endorsements. Shutterstock

2. Naomi Osaka

Osaka’s name may not be as well-known as her counterpart Serena Williams’, but she brings home enough money from endorsement contracts to make up for any difference. She has won three Grand Slam singles championships, and the Women’s Tennis Association considers her to be number one.

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Osaka has an impressive portfolio of endorsements that go well beyond the tennis world. Companies that pay to use her face in advertising include Bodyarmor, All Nippo Airways, Mastercard, Nissan Motors, Nike, Nissin Food Holdings, Yonex, Shiseido, and Procter and Gamble.

Number one will always be Michael Jordan. Shutterstock

1. Michael Jordan 

The man whose name is ubiquitous with endorsements, Michael Jordan’s name is a brand in itself. The professional basketball player is the man behind Nike’s iconic Air Jordans. Before athletes were endorsing brands the way they are today, in 1991, Gatorade signed a deal with Michael Jordan worth $13.5 million, making him the only celebrity spokesman for the sports drink at the moment. This endorsement set the standard for just about every celebrity athlete endorsement to come.

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He had already been featured by Hanes underwear since 1989. However, he remains an ambassador of the underwear company to this day. 

Even though MJ has never had much hair, in 1988, Ultra Star Hair Products signed MJ on to sing in a commercial. His hair was not the point. His celebrity with the Chicago Bulls was. There’s also been Upper Deck trading cards, Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Chevrolet, and General Mills, with their Wheaties box featuring him.  No athlete will ever top MJ. Even those who bring in more dollars from celebrity endorsements will always have to thank him for setting the standard for athletes endorsing brands. 

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