Asian endorsement deals still key in global sports market

Some thoughts for the weekend… I’ll say upfront that I’m not a huge fan of Forbes, particularly when it comes to their sports coverage, but their annual list of the world’s 100 highest paid athletes makes for interesting reading. Two things are clear: the money is still in the US – 63 of the athletes are American; 73 are US-based – but the sponsorship business is a global one.

Tiger Woods is reportedly days away from re-signing with Nike

Bear in mind that much of this is a guessing game: Tiger Woods, once again the world’s richest athlete, made $77 million in endorsements last year according to Golf Digest, but Sports Illustrated put it at $40 million, and Forbes estimates $65 million. Meanwhile, Didier Drogba’s salary/winnings is listed as $15.8 million – roughly half of which is attributed to Shanghai Shenhua – but who knows how much of that actually made it into Drogba’s bank account?

The other thing that struck me was the power of Asian endorsement deals. Five Asians make the Forbes list: Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao (14th), Indian cricketers M. S. Dhoni (16th) and Sachin Tendulkar (51st), Japan’s baseball star Ichiro Suzuki (77th) and Chinese tennis player Li Na (85th). Those are the standings when salary/winnings are combined with endorsements, but on endorsements alone, the rankings look very different.

Pacquiao falls from 14th to 29th, but the others soar up the table: Dhoni and Tendulkar are ranked 7th and 14th respectively, Suzuki jumps 42 places to 35th, and Li Na shoots up 68 places to 17th in the world.

Li Na Signs Big Endorsement Deal With Mercedes Benz
Li Na signed several multi-million dollar deals after winning the 2011 French Open

No football or baseball star makes the top 20 for endorsements, but 15 of them make the top 20 for annual salary. Meanwhile the Indian and Chinese markets are dominated by relatively few stars who have multiple sponsorship deals, meaning that once you’re in the Asian sports elite, you can clean up.

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