Athlete endorsements deals have become much more important to a sportsperson now more than ever. The sportsmen and women of the 70s and 80s barely had any personal endorsements deals and with its introduction it paid minimally. Each brand scouts their athlete based on how they would they would fit in with the company philosophy. Every athlete has a distinct personality which resonates to the ideologies of the brand and each athlete represents multiple brands simultaneously.
Nike, Adidas and Under Armour are always competing for the best athletes with a client list including: Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Serena Williams and Roger Federer. The first major deal was completed by Nike by signing on Michael Jordan 30 years ago in a deal worth $500,000. Today, he still retains his status as a Nike ambassador with his own sneaker line called ‘Air Jordan’ which nets him $60m. Other brands such as Gatorade, Gillette, HP, Emirates Airline, Monster, Mercedes Benz and Rolex have a vested interest in trying to sign on the very best personalities with the biggest exposure. Each of these athletes are exposed to thousands of people, sometimes millions. Many of these popular sports personalities have such an influential fan following, where fan’s try to emulate their heroes based on the cultural decisions they take through what they wear, say and do.
Endorsements are not always tied to a tangible product or service. Athlete’s can influence more than just the products we buy or the cultural decisions we make, they can influence and put an entire sport on the world stage by becoming a very marketable individual. The athlete becomes the endorsement for the sport making them the cornerstone and foundation of a sports rise in popularity. We have the obvious examples with Michael Jordan and basketball, David Beckham & Cristiano Ronaldo for Soccer and Michael Schumacher for Formula 1. These 4 global superstars have taken their respective sports to the next level and allowed it to become a household name and peak many interests.
MMA x Gina Carano
One example that should be elaborated upon is the transformation of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) over the past 5 years for both men and women. It is incredible how a sport has transformed itself in a short space of time with no notable legacy or history behind it. Major personalities have given MMA and championships such as the UFC a lifeline and turned it into a multi million-dollar sport. Arguably one of the biggest names to rise from the UFC was Gina Carano, who undoubtedly laid the foundations for WMMA and gave them a place on the grand stage of world sporting events. Similar to the effect Beckham had on football, Gina Carano has had an comparative effect on WMMA. Her career in StrikeForce with Cristine ‘Cyborg’ Santos who were two headline fighters for the organization. Carano led the way future generation of superstars with her gritty personality, look and presence in the octagon which has made her one of the most marketable figures in women’s mixed martial arts (WMMA) even if she wasn’t part of UFC. There weren’t many notable MMA fighters prior to her arrival but it allowed other organisations such as the UFC to build upon the talent they signed. Ronda Rousey could be considered the next Gina Carano because of her exceptional marketability – confidence, style and champion status. Like Gina Carano, Ronda Rousey has now moved into acting and has taken her name to a global level through her newly established acting career.
We have seen how a negative event or decision can affect an endorsement deal and change an athletes career. The recent events surrounding Maria Sharapova has really changed the publics perception of her. Many athletes should be more aware of the decisions they make and realise the long term consequences that can have a disastrous affect on their careers and lives. Sponsors immediately start disassociating themselves from the celebrity/player in question to avoid any backlash to their business but each event should be reviewed individually. In the case of the former world number one Maria Sharapova immediately admitted to taking the drug but says she was given it by her family doctor for the past 10 years under an alternative name – mildronate. The World Anti-Dopi
g Agency (WADA) banned a substance known as meldonium as of 1 January 2016. The failure of Sharapova and her staff to keep tabs on the changing rules has proved to be a major oversight on their part and could have been easily avoided but in this case the Russian superstar should be sympathized with because of the transparency and speed she revealed the failed drug tests. Nike and Porsche have distanced themselves away from Maria Sharapova till investigations have been concluded. Tag Heuer have terminated ties with the Russian completely. Whilst being one of the most paid female athletes with earnings over $30m in 2015 from endorsements and winnings and relationships with these companies stretching back as far as she was11 it is not surprising that brands have taken this decision rather quickly. Brands have become very self conscience about their image and if this situation were to repeat itself 5 or 7 years ago they might have reacted so quickly. Compared to the Manny Pacquiao and Lance Armstrong who were both dropped by Nike based on derogatory comments and proved drug test failures, Sharapova’s case is milder and has taken the right steps to rebuilding her personal image.
Is It Worth It?
Endorsements have become increasingly popular and a go-to marketing technique. The positives and negatives can make or break athlete careers transforming them into global superstars and brand ambassadors giving them an income beyond their playing careers. Some athletes have become a maverick for their brands and have become synonymous with the name. Although negative press can have an adverse effect on their image and persona and both the athlete and brands should be wary of who they sign and decisions they make on and off the field because every move is scrutinized by the media and fans alike. At the end of the day, the fans dictate the outcome of every business and every personality which makes it vitally important that brands send out the right message and athletes make decisions that solidify their persona rather than damage it.