The 10 biggest endorsement deals in athletic history

October 7, 2011

Who would have thought Eastern Illinois's most famous alum Tony Romo (#17) would be an NFL starter for the Dallas Cowboys and ultimately sign a multimillion dollar deal with Starter?

Professional athletes can make millions in no time, but in order to secure this kind of hefty income they will often shoot for the biggest and best endorsement deals out there. Big name athletes are usually the first to get signed to endorsement contracts, but every once in a while a big brand will take a chance on a rookie or lesser-known player and strike gold. Here are the 10 biggest endorsement deals in athletic history:

1.                  Tiger Woods and Nike

Tiger Woods is by far the most endorsed and highest paid athlete in sports history. Although Woods has lost some major endorsement contracts since his 2009 scandal, he still managed to earn an estimated $70 million in endorsements in 2010. One of the biggest names to stick by Tiger is Nike, who in 2000 offered the gold superstar a five-year, $100-million endorsement deal. At the time, this was the largest deal ever offered to an active athlete.

2.                  Michael Jordan and Nike

Before Michael Jordan reached the big leagues, Nike offered the rookie $500,000 and his own shoe line if he signed with them. This was one of the biggest and riskiest endorsement deals to ever happen to sports, especially since Jordan hadn’t played in the NBA yet and was leaning towards signing with Adidas. Jordan took Nike up on the deal and created the ever-so popular Nike Air Jordans.

3.                  David Beckham and Adidas

David Beckham agreed to one of the biggest endorsement deals in athletic history when he teamed up with Adidas for $160.8 million in 2003. This massive lifetime contract came about because Adidas feared Beckham would be persuaded to switch to their rival brand, Nike. Out of all of Adidas’ clients, Beckham is the top-selling endorser.

4.                  Allen Iverson

In 2001, Allen Iverson signed with the Sixers and signed a lifetime endorsement and marketing contract with Reebok for $50 million. Although the terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, we do know that the contract will extend beyond his career as a player. Iverson’s signature shoe “The Answer” was very successful and helped resurge Reebok’s place in basketball.

5.                  LeBron James and Nike

In 2010, basketball megastar LeBron James signed a sever-year basketball shoe endorsement deal with Nike worth $90 million. This contract was particularly huge because LeBron hadn’t played a minute in the NBA when Nike signed him. According to the Associated Press, the Nike deal includes a shoe and apparel line for James, which he has an artistic say-so in.

6.                  Tony Romo

In September 2008, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo signed a five-year, $10-million endorsement deal with apparel brand, Starter. The footwear and apparel contract is believed to be the biggest endorsement deal in NFL history. Despite his endorsement deal, Romo does not wear Starter footwear during games because the company does not have a contract with the NFL.

7.                  George Foreman and Salton, Inc.

The former heavyweight boxing champ George Foreman reached new levels of success with his popular “Lean Mean Grilling Machine,” but scored an even bigger deal by selling his name to grill maker Salton, Inc. in 1999. The company agreed to pay Foreman $137.5 million in cash and stock in exchange for using his name and image to sell food-preparation products.

8.                  Anna Kournikova and Adidas

Anna Kournikova is a highly sponsored tennis player with a wide array of endorsement deals with big name brands like Omega watches, Internet search engine Lycos and Berlei lingerie. One of her biggest and tennis’ richest deals was signing a six-year contract with Adidas worth $50 million. The catch was that in order to receive all of the $50 million, Kournikova would have to succeed on the tennis court. Since this didn’t come easy to the blonde beauty, she took home the guaranteed $3 million.

9.                  Sidney Crosby and Reebok

Sidney Crosby is one of the most endorsed hockey players in the league. In May 2010, Crosby signed an endorsement deal with Reebok worth $1.4 million a year for five to seven years. This is the richest contract the NHL has ever seen. When Crosby first entered the NHL as a 17-year-old superstar, he had a five-year, $2.5-million deal with Reebok, in addition to several other big name brands.

10.              Venus Williams and Reebok

Venus Williams struck gold in 2000 when she signed a five-year, $40-million endorsement contract with Reebok. The endorsement came after Williams won both the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. In 2003, Reebok decided not to renew their contract with Williams because of her inconsistent play throughout the years. However, the company still pays Williams to wear Reebok, even though she is not contracted to do so.

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