Sports are big business today, and athletes are at the center of it. Not only are stars making millions on the court, but the top players take home even more in endorsements and sponsorships from corporations seeking a halo effect from a beloved champion.
Michael Jordan's long-standing partnership with Nike (NYSE:NKE) may be the best example of this, but today a newer crop of talent is bringing home tens of millions of dollars in corporate deals.
Using data from Forbes and Opendorse, below are the 10 pro athletes who made the most from endorsements last year.
#8 (tie): Cristiano Ronaldo ($32 million)
The Real Madrid star was actually the highest-earning athlete based on salary and endorsements with $82 million total, but his $32 million from sponosrships puts him tied at No. 8 on the list. Ronaldo's most prominent corporate partnership is with Nike, which has made the Portuguese forward -- the world's most popular athlete, with a social media following of more than 200 million -- a cornerstone of its soccer strategy.
Ronaldo led Portugal to the European Championship title last year and also counts Tag Heuer and Monster headphones among his sponsors.
#8 (tie): Jordan Spieth ($32 million)
Golfer Jordan Spieth rocketed to fame with his victory in the 2015 Masters, which also gave a boost to shares of his outfitter Under Armour (NYSE:UA) (NYSE:UAA). Under Armour stock tanked when Spieth choked at the tournament the following year, but he redeemed himself at the 2017 British Open. Though Spieth is just 24 years old, he raked in $32 million in endorsements last year from brands including AT&T, Coca-Cola, Titleist, and Rolex.
Thanks to its high-earning fan base, golf endorsements tend to be among the more valuable in the sports world as other names down the list will reveal.
#8 (tie): Rafael Nadal ($32 million)
Regarded as the best tennis player of his era alongside Roger Federer, Nadal brought in $32 million in endorsements from the likes of Nike, Kia, Tommy Hilfiger, and Babolat. Nadal has won 16 Grand Slam titles in his career and a whopping 10 French Opens, a record. At 30 years old, he should continue to dominate the game for several more years.
#7: Novak Djokovic ($34 million)
Like golf, tennis is an individual, "country-club sport" so it's not a surprise to see Djokovic joining his rival Nadal on the list. Djokovic has received endorsements from adidas (NasdaqOTC: ADDYY), Head, Seiko, and Peugeot. His on-court earnings haven't been too shabby either, as he became the first player ever to earn more than $20 million in one year in 2015. Djokovic is also the all-time tennis leader in prize money with $110 million in winnings.
#6: Rory McIlroy ($35 million)
McIlroy has been one of the premier golfers in the world for nearly a decade, and that fame and success helped garner $35 million in endorsements last year from companies including Nike, Omega, Bose, Upper Deck, and Jumeirah.
The Northern Irish golfer originally signed with Nike in 2013, and the two extended their partnership earlier this year with a new long-term contract. Notably, Nike said last year it would stop making golf equipment, including clubs, balls, and bags, and instead focus on shoes and apparel. McIlroy bemoaned the move on Twitter at the time, expressing sympathy with Nike Golf employees.
#5: Kevin Durant ($36 million)
Now a Nike sponsor for a decade, Durant also has partnerships with several other brands, including Foot Locker, Sonic, and Sprint. The NBA star made waves when he bolted from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors, joining Under Armour star Stephen Curry in the process. That move paid off: the Warriors won the championship this year and Durant took home the MVP.
Not long after, however, Durant took a swipe at his teammate's brand, saying on a podcast that young players don't want to wear Under Armour shoes. That comment took more than 3% off Under Armour stock.
#4: Tiger Woods ($45 million)
It may be surprising to see Tiger Woods so high up on the list as the once-dominant golfer is now well past his prime. A car accident and marital infidelity scandal in 2010 caused Woods to lose a number of corporate sponsors; however, Nike stuck with him, and the Swoosh still pays him $20 million year as part of their partnership.
A DUI earlier this year threatened that revenue stream again, but Woods was able to hold onto sponsors including Monster Beverage and Taylor Made.
#3 Phil Mickelson ($50 million)
Fellow golfer and longtime Woods rival Phil Mickelson ranks #3 on the list with $50 million in earnings. Unlike everyone else on this list, Mickelson lacks a deal with a major sneaker company, but he makes up with sponsorships from KPMG, Callaway, Exxon, Barclays and others.
With his long career at the top of the leaderboard, Mickelson has made himself a fan favorite, and converted that following into a number of valuable corporate sponsorships.
#2: LeBron James ($54 million)
Sports fans won't be surprised to find LeBron James so far up on the list. The Cleveland Cavaliers star has been a dominant force in the NBA for a decade, leading his teams to a record seven straight NBA Finals.
James' highest-profile sponsorship is with Nike, but he's also a pitchman for Coca-Cola, Samsung, McDonald's, and Beats by Dr. Dre.
In 2015, the King signed a lifetime deal with Nike worth more than $1 billion. That arrangement indicates that Nike plans to make LeBron a brand well into his retirement, much in the way it's done with Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand.
#1: Roger Federer ($60 million)
Topping the list of marketable athletes is Roger Federer, who brought in $60 million in sponsorships last year. Federer has reigned over the tennis world for the last 15 years, and with 19 Grand Slam victories he has more than any other man in history. The breadth of his appeal is visible in the range of his sponsors, which include Nike, Rolex, Wilson, Credit-Suisse, and Mercedes-Benz.
At 35, Federer may have a few more years left in the limelight before he retires and loses his endorsement bonanza.
Jeremy Bowman owns shares of Nike and Under Armour (C Shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Monster Beverage, Nike, Under Armour (A Shares), and Under Armour (C Shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil. The Motley Fool recommends Barclays. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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