Money Smart Athlete Blog

Athlete role models and their relationship with sponsors and endorsements

May 31, 2023 | Athlete role models

By Iacovos Iacovides, Contributor

Sponsorships and endorsements have evolved into an integral part of modern-day sports. Counterintuitively, they developed almost hand-in-hand with the sport industry itself over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, sponsors have become a vital part of the industry and the flow of money into the veins of sports, form the lion’s share of the industry’s turnover. For athletes, the funds they secure for endorsements and from sponsors constitute an important part of their income. In some cases, the monetary rewards from such activities far surpass their base salaries; that is, the contracts with their club. During his second spell at Manchester United in 2021, Cristiano Ronaldo was making more money from his sponsors – taking home around £36 million – than from his very generous salary from the Red Devils (around £550,000 pw).

While for footballers and basketball players, sponsorships and endorsements are a lucrative add-on, for most solo-sport athletes they are their main source of income. At the same time, this creates a one-way relationship of dependence between athletes and their sponsors. Nowadays, athletes are not just expected to behave on the pitch and publicly, but during their every breath as you do not know where the closest camera or journalist is. Multimillion-dollar contracts can go up in smoke after a slip of the tongue or a reckless tweet. The same can’t be said of the companies funding the athletes as there are many accusations and lawsuits out there against these companies, with no long-term impact upon their revenues; being vindictive against pregnant athletes is but one example.

Nonetheless, through sponsorships and endorsements, companies have many goals in mind. They seek to enhance their image among sports fans, increase sales and create buzz around their products. Moreover, it is a demonstration of their products in action, while putting a recognizable face to their brand. Any missteps naturally reflect bad upon sponsors and while financial repercussions are usually short-lived, still, sponsors like to avoid any reputational and PR crises altogether. When a given company sponsors an athlete or asks for their endorsement, they essentially attach their product/service to an athlete who starts “representing” the said product/service. This implies that the sponsor believes that the athlete’s values, principles and brand is aligned with theirs.

Athletes need to be mindful of which products they endorse or from whom they receive sponsorships. If, for instance, you are Cristiano Ronaldo – arguably one of the best, healthiest and most dedicated athletes out there – endorsing cigarettes or alcohol would not be the best idea.  What athletes ought to keep in mind, is that the deals they secure depend largely upon their brand which in turn depends on their character, physical characteristics and so on. The benchmark for “The Notorious” Connor McGregor who has the gimmick of the extravagant misfit is different than that of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the man who rose from poverty to prominence and boasts a track record of volunteering, philanthropy and charity.

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