The world’s most marketable athletes


What brands do the world's top athletes endorse?

What brands do the world’s top athletes endorse?

This week SportsPro, one of the world’s leading sport business and media companies, published its sixth edition of “The World’s 50 Most Marketable Athletes”.

The study aims to measure athletes’ marketing potential over the next three years.  The hypothetical question being asked is which athlete would give brands the best return on their outlay if signed to an endorsement deal over that period.  Athletes are measured against six critical yardsticks:  Value for money, age, home market appeal, charisma, willingness to be marketed and cross-over appeal.

The first ten athletes on this year’s list are Eugenie Bouchard, Neymar, Jordan Spieth, Missy Franklin, Lewis Hamilton, Virat Kohli, Stephen Curry, Kei Nishikori, Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Usain Bolt.  South Africa has no representative on the list.

The list also credits each athlete’s management company and his/her key partners (i.e. major sponsors).  From an athlete management and marketing point of view this is the most revealing aspect of the list.

Only four international management agencies represent more than one athlete.  The industry pioneers, IMG (in conjunction with the Wasserman Media Group) is still by far the foremost agency in the world.  They represent no fewer than eight athletes in the top 50.  Three other agencies represent two each.  A further four athletes (surprisingly) do not have an agent and two others, football stars Neymar and Lionel Messi, are managed by their fathers.  The balance is managed by 34 different agencies (some by more than one agency).

Numerous agencies are scrambling for the opportunity to represent top athletes.  This puts the agencies at a disadvantage because supply and demand are heavily in favour of the athletes.  An agency must therefore focus on “doing things differently” to make it stand out from the pack.

The agency to athlete ratio also would appear to suggest that once an agency represents a mega-star, unless you’re IMG, all your resources have to be pooled together to manage and promote the athlete.  Once again this leaves an agency vulnerable because it’s putting all (or at least most of) its eggs in one basket.

It would be interesting to find out how many of the “one sport star agencies” manage to hold on to the athlete for his/her entire career…

SportsPro’s study doesn’t state how “key partners” is defined but from further research it would appear to be sponsorships worth approximately US$1 million and more per year.

In total 153 key partners were credited.  Sport specific or technical sponsors dominate the key partners, and of these none is more prominent than Nike.  The American sport goods giant sponsors a staggering 17 of the world’s most marketable athletes!

The other notable brands on the list include Oakley and Adidas with five sponsorships each, and Red Bull, Wilson and Monster Energy Drink with three each.  Four other sport brands have two sponsorships each and 31 have one each.

When looking at cross-over sponsorships (i.e. sponsorships outside the athletes sphere of influence) the most prominent categories were the following:

  • Food and beverage sponsorships:  17, with Coca Cola (3) leading the way.
  • Watches sponsorships:  13, with Rolex (3) the leader.
  • Telecommunications sponsorships:  10.
  • Finance sponsorships:  9.
  • Car sponsorships:  8, with Nissan sponsoring three athletes in the top 50.

Half of the world’s top sponsorships are sport specific.  It confirms that the sponsorship of at least one leading brand in the athletes sport must form the bedrock of his/her sponsorship portfolio.  The appeal of a successful cross-over sponsorship is limited and even the world’s most marketable athletes rarely manage more than one such sponsor.


Francois Brink

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