Going for Gold: How Many Millions Do Your Favorite Athletes Make From Endorsement Deals?
Whether they’re raking in tournament winnings or letting the ink dry on multimillion-dollar deals, athletes who rise above the competition can usually expect a nice payday. But, no matter the sport, endorsements offer athletes a great way to make an extra buck (or million bucks), all while growing their fanbase.
From Serena Williams championing Chase Bank to Michael Phelps stamping his seal of approval on Subway sandwiches, athletes have become more than just friendly faces on our Wheaties boxes, thanks to these impressive endorsements.
Note: All athletes are ranked by net worth.
33. Sheryl Swoopes | $200 Thousand
Upon the WNBA’s conception in 1995, Sheryl Swoopes became the first woman to sign onto the league. The basketball legend would go on to win four WNBA Championships, three MVP Awards and three Olympic gold medals. But Swoopes made history off the court as well.
In 1995, she became the first woman with her own signature sneaker, the Air Swoopes, thanks to a deal with Nike. At the time, the only other basketball player to have their own signature shoe was, of course, Michael Jordan, whose Air Jordans debuted a decade earlier.
32. Megan Rapinoe | $3 Million
Without a doubt, Megan Rapinoe is one of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) biggest stars. And thanks to her performance in the 2019 World Cup and her advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights and equal pay off the field, the vet has hit a new level of fame.
The Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA World Cup champ has landed endorsements from Nike, Procter & Gamble, BodyArmor, Hulu and Samsung, just to name a few. Despite appearing in a Nike ad alongside Cristiano Ronaldo — who is worth half a billion dollars — Rapinoe has a mere fraction of that net worth, underscoring the need for her advocacy.
31. Alex Morgan | $3 Million
Soccer player Alex Morgan has co-captained the USWNT alongside Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe since 2018. The two-time FIFA World Cup champ skyrocketed to fame in 2012 at the London Summer Olympics when she scored the game-winning goal in the 123rd minute of the semi-final match.
Since then, the gold medalist has signed numerous lucrative endorsement deals with big-name brands, including Nike, Panasonic, McDonald’s, Chobani, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Ubisoft, Chapstick and more. All of these partnerships have made her the highest-paid woman in American soccer, rivaled only by teammates Rapinoe, Julie Ertz and Carli Lloyd.
30. Sue Bird | $5.3 Million
In her senior year at UConn, Sue Bird was part of an undefeated team and, alongside her fellow Huskies, won two NCAA Championships during her tenure. After college, the victory march continued: Bird has since won three WNBA championships with the Storm, four Olympic gold medals and four FIBA World Cups.
Needless to say, she’s one of the most decorated basketball players in history. In 2019, a viral Nike ad that spotlighted women in sports revealed the stark double standard in professional sports. After playing near year-round and nabbing big-name endorsements, Bird’s net worth is (sadly) nowhere near that of an NBA player of similar stature.
29. Naomi Osaka | Roughly $16 Million
Naomi Osaka skyrocketed to international fame in 2018 when she defeated 23-time Grand Slam singles champ Serena Williams in the final of the U.S. Open. That victory was history-making as the 21 year old became the first Japanese tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title.
In 2019, the shy-yet-candid internet darling won the Australian Open, becoming the first player since 2001 to win her first two Grand Slam titles back to back. Thanks to companies like Nike and Nissan, Osaka earned a whopping $16 million in endorsements alone, which makes her 2019 endorsement income second only to Williams’.
28. Kei Nishikori | $24 Million
Even though Kei Nishikori doesn’t have as many wins under his belt as some of the other tennis players on our list, he does have an impressive fanbase. Additionally, the bronze medalist defeated Rafael Nadal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, earning Japan its first Olympic tennis medal in over 90 years.
In the past, Nishikori played for almost 10 years in Adidas apparel, but, these days, he has an impressive endorsement deal with Japanese clothing store Uniqlo. His impressive $37.3 million annual earnings also have roots in sponsorships from EA Games, Japan Airlines, TAG Heuer and more. In Japan, he’s so popular that Wilson makes racquets exclusive to Nishikori’s home country.
27. Odell Beckham Jr. | $25 Million
In his freshman season with the New York Giants, Odell Beckham Jr. broke several NFL rookie receiving records. In 2018, he became the league’s highest-paid wide receiver, inking a five-year deal for $95 million with the Giants before moving to the Cleveland Browns.
Beckham’s annual income totals roughly $26.5 million, with about $5 million of that coming from impressive endorsement deals. In 2017, he signed the largest endorsement contract in NFL history with Nike — five years and $25 million. If Beckham hits all the incentives, the deal could net him $48 million when all is said and done.
26. Michael Phelps | $60 Million
Often called the greatest swimmer of all time, Michael Phelps is another prime candidate for the front of a Wheaties box. Currently, he holds the record for most Olympic gold medals at 23 and is the most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 28 medals.
The Street estimates that Phelps’ annual income reached $9.3 million at a time, thanks to deals with major brands like Speedo, Visa, Subway, Louis Vuitton, Under Armour and, yes, Wheaties. While Phelps has earned a couple million from swimming-based income, most of his money — an estimated $75 million — can be traced back to advertising spots and endorsement deals.
25. Bryce Harper | $70 Million
Outfielder Bryce Harper made a name for himself with the Washington Nationals, earning the National League’s (NL) Rookie of the Year Award in 2012. At just 23 years old, Harper became the youngest player to win the NL’s MVP award in 2015. Needless to say, he was on the right track to become a marketable name.
During the 2018–19 offseason, he signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies — the second-richest contract in the history of North American sports. But that’s not where Harper’s earnings stop. In addition to deals with Gatorade and MusclePharm, Harper signed a 10-year deal with Under Armour in 2011. Although the details weren’t disclosed, it’s speculated to be one of the biggest endorsement deals in MLB history.
24. Usain Bolt | $90 Million
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is largely considered the greatest of all time in his field and holds world records in the 100 meter, 200 meter and 4x100 meter relay. The 11-time world champ also has an impressive eight Olympic gold medals to his name. Needless to say, no one makes a better candidate for a Wheaties box than Bolt.
In the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Puma made a series of videos focused on Bolt to build excitement for their longtime brand ambassador. The tactic paid off with the Associated Press noting that "Almost single-handedly, Bolt has helped track transform itself from a dying sport to one with a singular, smiling, worldwide star." Bolt had the third-highest-earning social media income for sponsors among athletes in 2017, trailing just behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
23. Steph Curry | $100 Million
No one comes in clutch the way three-time NBA champ Steph Curry does. And you’d be hard-pressed to find someone as charming. Needless to say, the Golden State Warriors’ six-time NBA All-Star is among the world's highest-paid celebrities for his endorsements.
"No NBA athlete has a larger contingent of fans at every arena, lining up 20- and 30-deep hoping for a glimpse," said Monte Poole of NBC Sports. "This crazy popularity is why his jersey sales consistently rank No. 1." Thanks to deals with Under Armour, Brita and more, Curry raked in an estimated $42 million in endorsements in 2018.
22. Drew Brees | Roughly $120 Million
Quarterback Drew Brees has racked up 12 Pro Bowl invites over the course of his 19-season career and, after hitting his stride with the New Orleans Saints, nabbed a championship title in Super Bowl XLIV. For the 2019 season alone, the 40 year old’s annual salary is an estimated $25 million, making him one of the year’s top earners.
Off the field Brees has hit his endorsement stride as well, with big-name brands lining up to earn his seal of approval. Currently, Brees pulls in about $13 million annually in endorsements and has deals set up with Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Pepsi, Nike, Wrangler and Verizon.
21. Dwyane Wade | $120 Million
Sixteen-season vet Dwyane Wade played in a whopping 12 All-Star Games and won an impressive three championship titles, all with the Miami Heat. According to Business Insider, he raked in career-high single-season earnings of $23.2 million thanks to a lucrative contract with the Chicago Bulls.
Wade’s endorsement deals are numerous, ranging from Gatorade and Converse to T-Mobile and Topps. In 2010, after his Converse deal ran out, Wade debuted the Air Jordan 2010 during the NBA All-Star break, before eventually signing a $100 million, 10-year deal with Chinese athletic brand Li-Ning.
20. Tony Hawk | $140 Million
Tony Hawk is synonymous with skateboarding. In fact, he helped it make the jump from hobby to bonafide, well-respected sport. Along the way, he also managed to become the owner of his own skateboard company, Birdhouse, and earned a net worth of approximately $140 million.
Back in the day, video game publisher Activision offered the 20-something Hawk a $500,000 buy-out to slap his name on what would become their Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. Thanks to some other cushy endorsements, Hawk had the foresight to turn Activision down. The 10-year licensing deal netted Hawk an incredible $6 million annually in royalties.
19. Kevin Durant | $170 Million
Picked up by the Seattle SuperSonics in the 2007 NBA draft, Kevin Durant went on to play for the franchise — which became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008 — for nine seasons. After signing with the Golden State Warriors in 2016, Durant won back-to-back NBA championships in 2017 and 2018.
Although his NBA contract may not be as padded as Kevin Garnett’s, Durant’s endorsements make him one of the league’s top earners. In 2014, the 10-time All-Star inked a 10-year deal with Nike worth upwards of $285 million, meaning he rakes in a staggering $28.5 million from this one endorsement deal.
18. Rafael Nadal | $180 Million
Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal has won an impressive 19 Grand Slam singles titles, the second-most in the history of men’s tennis. From Nike alone, Nadal earns about $10 million a year thanks to a five-year, $50 million deal. Although Nadal’s Grand Slam titles are impressive, he still has four fewer than Serena Williams.
However, thanks to deals with Kia Motors, Emporio Armani and Nike, Nadal still pulls in more money than the women’s tennis legend. Of course, that doesn’t mean "The King of Clay" isn’t accomplished — there’s a reason his endorsements are so impressive, but we just wish the gender pay disparity wasn’t so obvious.
17. Ichiro Suzuki | $180 Million
Despite never winning a World Series title, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki has played a combined total of 28 seasons in top-tier professional baseball leagues, both in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league and in the MLB. Although he was hesitant at first, Ichiro was convinced to use his given name on the back of his jersey — and, soon enough, he was a household name.
While the 10-time MLB All Star — and seven-time NPB All Star — brought in $169 million over the course of his career, his net worth now totals $180 million, meaning he owes the rest of that wealth to smart endorsement deals from Japanese companies like Nissan and Nintendo and from stateside favorites like Starbucks.
16. Serena Williams | $180 Million
Serena Williams has won a staggering 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most by any player regardless of gender. Throughout her career, she’s been ranked No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) a total of 319 weeks. Serena has also won an incredible 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, all with her sister, Venus.
In short, Serena is a living legend. In 2019, Serena was the only woman to make Forbes’ highest-paid athletes list. For example, her high-profile deal with Nike was for five years at $55 million. Despite deals with companies like J.P. Morgan Chase, Wilson and Gatorade, Serena’s endorsements earn her just $25 million annually.
15. Neymar | $185 Million
Brazillian footballer Neymar is considered to be one of the greatest soccer players in the world, with his achievements as a goalscorer only trailing legends Pelé and Ronaldo. But his popularity isn’t confined to the pitch. In 2012 and 2013, SportsPro dubbed Neymar the most marketable athlete in the world.
According to Forbes, Neymar’s 2019 earnings make him the world’s third-highest-paid athlete — and a lot of that wealth stems from endorsements. Over 11 years, the footballer will earn about $9.5 million a year — a figure that works out to $105 million over the course of the deal. Neymar’s other high-profile sponsorship deals include the likes of Volkswagen and Panasonic.
14. Rory McIlroy | $200 Million
Rory McIlroy, a professional golfer from Northern Ireland, was named the third-most-marketable athlete in the world by SportsPro in 2013, trailing soccer stars Neymar and Lionel Messi. Currently, the Official World Golf Ranking cites the four-time major champion as the top golfer in the world — an honor he’s held for 100 weeks throughout his career.
In 2013, McIlroy signed a hefty endorsement deal with Nike. Once rumored to have been a 10-year, $250 million deal, it has since come out that it was more like a $100 million deal. However, in 2017, he signed a 10-year, $200 million contract extension for the endorsement of their apparel. As far as golf clubs go, McIlroy inked a 10-year, $100 million deal with TaylorMade that same year.
13. Derek Jeter | $220 Million
Shortstop Derek Jeter played his entire two-decade career with the New York Yankees. As one of the most heavily marketed athletes of his time, Jeter became the face of the team on and off the field. (Just not in the Hall of Fame — yet.)
Although the five-time World Series champ signed some history-making contracts, including a 10-year, $189 million contract with the Yankees before the 2001 season, he earned an incredible amount from sponsorships too. Forbes estimates that thanks to partners like Nike’s Jordan Brand, Rawlings, Steiner Sports, Gatorade and Movado, Jeter netted over $130 million in endorsements.
12. George Foreman | $340 Million
Former boxer George Foreman stayed in the ring for decades, becoming a two-time world heavyweight champ and an Olympic gold medalist. However, as his career slowed down, Foreman looked for other avenues to up his earnings, eventually partnering with Salton Grill.
Although there was no guarantee that Foreman would make money off the deal, his first check from Salton totaled $1 million, prompting him to hang up his gloves. A year later, in 1999, Salton decided to end the endorsement contract and instead paid Foreman roughly $138 million — plus stock — for naming rights and the use of his image.
11. Alex Rodriguez | $350 Million
With 22 seasons played, Alex Rodriguez netted an enviable $450.2 million and until very, very recently had the distinction of being the MLB’s top earner. In addition to deals with both the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, A-Rod raked in some impressive endorsement deals.
Most notably, he has partnered with brands like Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz, Nike and Rolex, and even though the retired 14-time All Star continues to reap the benefits of these endorsements, he’s still earning checks from the Rangers as well. According to Sports Illustrated, "at the time [A-Rod] was traded, he was to receive $36 million in deferred money from that record deal." Now, that payout is racking up interest, meaning A-Rod will be on the Rangers’ payroll until 2025.
10. Lionel Messi | $400 Million
Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi captains both his country’s national team and FC Barcelona, a club he’s been part of since he was just 13 years old. In 2019, Forbes dubbed the leading brand endorser for Adidas as the world’s highest-paid athlete.
Annually, that Adidas deal alone netted Messi over $10 million. In 2017, he signed with Adidas "for life" and, while the specifics aren’t clear, experts speculate that the lifetime deal rivals that of Cristiano Ronaldo’s $1 billion lifetime deal with Nike. Outside of sports-centric businesses, Messi’s endorsements include Gillette, Dolce & Gabbana and Konami.
9. Phil Mickelson | $400 Million
Phil Mickelson has won an impressive five major championships — three Masters, one Open Championship and one PGA Championship. The only stone left unturned? The U.S. Open. Mickelson has finished runner-up six times. However, "Lefty" is no runner-up when it comes to nabbing lucrative endorsement deals.
All these sources of income led to Mickelson becoming the second-highest-paid athlete in the U.S. in 2011. That year, $53 million of his total $62 million income came from endorsements, thanks to big-name backers like ExxonMobil, Workday, Inc., Rolex, Ford and Titleist. As of 2019, Mickelson’s net worth totals approximately $400 million.
8. Shaquille O’Neal | $400 Million
When Orlando Magic star Shaquille O’Neal left the team and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on a seven-year, $121 million contract, fans complained he was quick to drop his allegiances for the money. "I’m tired of hearing about money, money, money, money, money," Shaq said. "I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok."
And that he did. The 15-time All Star also rakes in the cash off the court. Even after his retirement, his endorsements — and investments — have garnered him upwards of $25 million annually. Investopedia estimates that Shaq has endorsed over 50 products, including Icy Hot patches, Burger King and Pepsi. He even agreed to promote Papa John’s for $8.25 million — money really can buy anything.
7. David Beckham | $450 Million
Before players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo inked billion-dollar deals, footballer David Beckham was one of the sport’s most marketable athletes. Like the aforementioned players, Beckham also netted a lifetime endorsement deal — a contract with Adidas worth at least $160.8 million.
Sure, that’s no billion-dollar deal, but Beckham’s earnings are nothing to laugh at. Apart from Adidas, he has been a brand ambassador for Armani and enjoys deals with Breitling and Diageo. After he retired from soccer in 2013, his endorsement deals alone pulled in $75 million annually, adding to his impressive $450 million net worth.
6. Roger Federer | $450 Million
Swiss tennis player Roger Federer is one of the most accomplished athletes in the world. With eight Wimbledon men’s singles titles, six Australian Open titles, five U.S. Open titles and a French Open title under his Uniqlo belt, he’s one of eight men to have achieved a Career Grand Slam.
Thanks to sponsorships from Rolex, Lindt, Gillette and a dozen more companies, Federer was ranked No. 5 on Forbes’ list of top-earning athletes in 2019. Between 2008 and 2017, he grossed a reported $120 million thanks to a deal with Nike. Most recently, Federer signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo | $460 Million
Prolific Portuguese professional footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is one of soccer’s most gifted goalscorers of all time. In 2016 and 2017, Forbes also listed him as the world’s highest-paid athlete and ranked him second on a list of highest-paid athletes of the decade.
In January 2020, Ronaldo earned the title of most-followed user on Instagram. That off-field popularity, combined with his skillset, make him highly marketable, which is probably why Nike offered the soccer star a lifetime contract after his $105 million, five-year deal ended in 2019. And that lifetime deal? It’s worth a reported $1 billion.
4. LeBron James | $480 Million
From Bleacher Report to Fox Sports, numerous publications have dubbed LeBron James "the greatest basketball player of all time." The three-time NBA champ is not only one of the league’s highest-paid players — his earnings total over $307 million — but also one of the most well endorsed players too.
Most notably, James signed a lifetime contract with Nike, which nets him $30 million a year plus a share in shoe sales. When all is said and done, this deal is worth upwards of $1 billion. Thanks to dozens of other endorsement deals, the 15-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist is one of the wealthiest athletes in the world.
3. Kobe Bryant | $600 Million
Entering the NBA right after high school, the late Kobe Bryant played the entirety of his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. An 18-time All-Star and 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, Bryant has a whopping five NBA championship titles to his name.
Although he is one of the highest-paid NBA players in history, quite a bit of Bryant’s wealth was earned off the court, thanks to endorsement deals with Mercedes-Benz, Sprite, Sony and McDonald’s, among others. In 2014, Bryant signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Nike, which alone netted him $15 million a year.
2. Tiger Woods | Currently: $800 Million; Formerly: $1.4 Billion
With 15 major championship wins, Tiger Woods is one of golf’s most decorated players. In the 1990s, you couldn’t go anywhere (or buy anything) without seeing Woods’ signature smile. In 1996, he signed a five-year, $40 million deal with Nike, which he re-upped in 2000 to a five-year, $105 million contract.
Known as the "ultimate endorser" for Nike Golf, Woods’ endorsement took the brand from being a "start-up" to one of the leading golf apparel companies in the world. Thanks to other million-dollar deals with companies like General Motors, American Express, Titleist, General Mills and Gatorade, Woods’ endorsement earnings and tournament winnings led him to become the world’s first professional athlete to earn over a billion dollars in 2009.
1. Michael Jordan | $2.1 Billion
The official NBA website states "By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time." That’s quite a claim, but the former Chicago Bulls shooting guard has the six championship titles and six NBA Finals MVP Awards to prove it. One of the most marketable athletes in history, Jordan helped make the NBA popular internationally.
As a spokesperson for Coca-Cola, Wheaties, Hanes, Gatorade — "Be Like Mike," anyone? — and more, Jordan became a pop culture icon off the court as well. His biggest deal? Nike. Originally, Jordan signed a five-year deal worth $500,000 a year plus stock options, partnering with Nike to create his signature shoe — the Air Jordans. The partnership proved to be more than a hit, generating $1 billion in sales for Nike. Now, Jordan has a net worth of $2.1 billion.