Play well and earn big bucks
Yeoh Guan Jin 
THERE’s a lot of glory in sport, particularly for those who perform marvellously in the arena. And there’re loads of money, too – not just for the athlete but for those who have invested in him as well.

In fact, the who’s who in sport may well read like the who’s who in the rich list. Just last month, Forbes magazine named Cristiano Ronaldo as the world’s most highly-paid athlete.

The Portuguese footballer, who won the FIFA player of the year title for the fourth time last year, took home in excess of US$93 mil in the year to June 1. That is the equivalent of RM397 mil, or RM33 mil a month. Not bad for kicking a ball around most of the day.

That also means that Ronaldo keeps his title as the most well-paid sports personality for the second year running.

The footballer, who currently scores for Real Madrid, earned US$58 mil and salary and bonuses for winnings. The remaining US$35 mil was from endorsements.

Apart from Ronaldo, the other footballer who also took a spot in the list of 10 most well-paid sports personalities is Lionel Messi. The Argentine player, who now wears the Spanish club Barcelona jersey, came in third with US$80 mil.

But it is basketball that has taken the most spots in the list – four. Among them is LeBron James, who came in with US$86.2 mil – just behind Ronaldo.

As is obvious from Ronaldo’s case, a large portion of the top earners’ takings in sports come through endorsements.

It’s only natural that businesses fight to get the stars to use their products. People love winners and like to be associated with them or, at the very least, be seen using the same products.

If Ronaldo endorses a certain brand of football boots, chances are the football fans would want those boots as well. Perhaps, it’s the herd mentality – the only difference is that the leader of the herd is someone famous. That probably lends more credence to the endorsement.

Roger Federer is still the star among sports personalities who make money from endorsements. Last year, he took home US$60 mil just for being associated with a range of products.

Companies that have paid to have him validate the quality of their products include Mercedes-Benz, Nike and Gillette.

As one can see from Federer’s list of endorsements, the products need not necessarily be something associated with his chosen sport. It’s almost like if Roger Federer uses Gillette I should use Gillette to shave too.

James, who plays for Cleveland Cavaliers, is another star in the endorsement game. According to, which connects marketers with athletes to build social media campaigns, companies including Coca-Cola, Nike, McDonald’s and Samsung paid him a total of US$54 mil last year to be seen using their products.

Choice of products
Apparently, James does not mind being associated with unhealthy food and drinks if the money is good enough. He probably burns away the sugar and fat quickly enough bouncing a ball around, but many McDonald’s burger consumers and Coca-Cola drinkers end up overweight and perhaps with diabetes.

But it’s okay to use a Samsung smartphone. It is not usually detrimental to your well-being if you don’t use it while driving.

Other sports personalities are more discerning with the choice of products they are prepared to endorse.

Track star Usain Bolt, who earned US$30 mil from endorsements last year, has avoided the unhealthy stuff. He has struck deals with Gatorade, the sports-themed beverage company. Others on his list are carmaker Nissan, luxury watch maker Hublot, All Nippon Airways and sports shoes and apparel maker Puma.

Tennis greats Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, who made US$20 mil each through endorsements, are also careful to avoid the bad stuff. Sharapova uses Avon cosmetics, drives a Porsche and drinks Evian water. Williams lends her name to promote Wilson, Hewlett-Packard and Beats by Dre, the Apple subsidiary that makes wireless headphones, earphones and speakers.

There is no doubt that an endorsement has a positive impact on sales. You are more likely to pick one brand over another if it has been recommended to you by someone you know.

An endorsement by a celebrity certainly carries more weight. But how much more can it do?

In a July 2016 article in Forbes Steve Olenski, who writes about advertising, marketing and media, sees it as simple logic. According to him, “people idolise celebrities, so when famous people are seen in advertisements promoting a new product, audiences are prompted to buy that product, either subliminally or directly”.

He cites a MarketWatch claim that just one endorsement can boost sales by at least 4% almost immediately. MarketWatch is published by Dow Jones & Co.

Among the companies that pay athletes to endorse their products, Nike is the top scorer. In the last 15 years, it has spent upwards of US$8 bil, says a CNNMoney analysis. It is also the top brand in the sports shoes market. (Latest market reports say that German brands Adidas and Puma are gaining ground, but that’s a story for another day.)

Sport is no longer just about winning on the field or in the court. It’s no longer just about glory for the team or country.

It has become one of the best marketing tools for businesses and not necessarily just for sports goods. Your product does not even have to be remotely associated with tennis or basketball to get such endorsements.

For instance, what association do cosmetics and smartphones have with football and the 100m sprint? It’s the money.

FastestgrowingC.pdfRonaldo, Federer and others will attest to that.

Yeoh Guan Jin is a veteran journalist. Comments:

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 240.