According to researchers at the London School of Marketing, when it comes to sponsorship endorsements during 2016, Roger Federer tops the sports marketing power list with £50 million—almost twice as much as Forbes’ top-earning athlete Cristiano Ronaldo. And this in a season during which the Swiss star played only 28 matches, seven tournaments, and six months, winning just £1.25 million in prize money.
American basketball player LeBron James—third on the Forbes list—was second to Federer with £44.3 million in endorsements, with golfer Phil Mickelson third on £41 million.
Tennis players, though, feature strongly throughout the list, boosted no doubt by the strength of name and personality built via an individual sport, along with the truly global reach of tennis.
Novak Djokovic is at No7 following a dominant stretch at the top of the rankings, with Rafael Nadal at No10. Japan’s Kei Nishikori has become a superstar in the relatively new tennis markets of the Far East, and that is reflected in his No15 position with £16.6 million in endorsements for 2016.
And while the inferior marketing earnings of women athletes are writ large here, the only two who do make the power list’s top 30 are also tennis stars: At Nos 17 and 18, each with £16.4 million in endorsements, are Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, who were Nos 40 and 88 respectively on the Forbes list.
That Sharapova has maintained such a high commercial profile through the last 12 months is all the more remarkable given that she was serving a ban from the tennis tour throughout for taking a banned substance. A sign, perhaps, of just how successful her own Sugarpova candy business has proved to be.
Golfer Rory McIlroy is the only British entry in the top 10, with the researchers putting his sponsorship earnings at just under £29 million for the year. The two other Britons who make the top 30 are Andy Murray, with just under £12 million in deals, and footballer Gareth Bale, who earned around £9 million from sponsors last year.
It is no surprise that clothing brands are in strong evidence alongside all these top names. Nike, for example, is associated with six of the top 10, including Federer and Nadal, plus both Williams and Sharapova.
But image clearly plays a strong role, and Federer’s portfolio reflects the kind of profile that has seen him win the ATP’s Fans’ Favourite and Sportsmanship Awards year after year from fans and colleagues. He benefits, too, from an elegant style—in his tennis but also sartorially—and a cosmopolitan personality. As a result, he has been backed by luxury brands almost from the start of what has proved to be an enviably long and successful career: Rolex, Mercedes Benz, Lindt, Credit Suisse, Moet and Chandon.
That he has earned close to £81 million in prize money along the way only makes the Federer brand more impressive.
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