Friday, January 21, 2022

How Endorsement Deals Have Evolved in the Sports World

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Endorsement deals and sponsorships are available for more athletes than ever before. Since more states have made it legal for student-athletes to earn income from their name, image and likeness (NIL), many opportunities have become available. 

Before sports betting legalization, it was unheard of for a TV sportscaster to provide scores and odds during a broadcast. Now that the activity has become mainstream, the way the combination of betting and sports is approached has become normalized. This is facilitating change across the board in how athletes are viewed.    

Thanks to the legalization of sports betting in 2018, U.S. athletes at the college and pro levels have more options. They can now take better advantage of the sports betting and cryptocurrency companies searching for athletes to sponsor their products. 


First Athlete Endorsement Appeared in 1905 

The first athlete to endorse a sports product was Honus Wagner of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1905. He granted the J.F. Hillerich & Son Company permission to use his signature on its Louisville Slugger bats in exchange for $75. 

Wagner was also involved in another event that would help define the future of sports endorsements. He would stop the production of his baseball cards that were being issued inside packs of cigarettes by American Tobacco without his permission. Many other baseball players of the day were also featured on these cards. 

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Some say the reason was that he wanted an endorsement fee, while others feel it was because he didn’t want children buying cigarettes. Even though this didn’t result in an endorsement for Wagner, it still opened the door for mutual endorsement agreements between brands and athletes. 

First Million-Dollar Deal

In the 1950s through the mid-1960s, Don Carter dominated the sport of bowling. He won the Bowler of the Year award six times and was a very popular figure at a time when bowling was a favorite family leisure activity. 

In 1964, he agreed to a deal worth an unheard of $1 million with bowling ball manufacturer Ebonite, which launched the Don Carter Gyro-Balanced Ball. At the time, Carter was already making over $100,000 from other endorsements and exhibitions. Even without the deal from Ebonite, his portfolio of endorsements was quite impressive.

Shoe and Sneaker Deals Start to Dominate the Landscape

One of the first companies to produce basketball shoes was Converse in 1917. They redesigned the shoe in 1922. At the time, Chuck Taylor was a semi-professional basketball player with the Akron Firestones. He took a job with Converse as a salesman and was responsible for helping redesign the Converse All-Stars. He would travel throughout the U.S. promoting the shoe by hosting basketball clinics that would highlight the features of the shoes. 

Finally, in 1932, the company would put his name on the shoe, which would become the biggest-selling basketball shoe in history. It’s been so popular over the years that 60% of all Americans have owned at least one pair. Converse went on to dominate the basketball industry through the 1970s.

Athletes would still endorse basketball shoes throughout the ’70s and ’80s, with the first signature sneaker being the Puma Clyde, named after the New York Knicks’ Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier. The shoe never took off in the NBA but affected the design of future walking shoes the company would produce.  

The Air Jordan I Changes the Game

In 1985, a struggling Nike company released the first ‘Air Jordan’ basketball shoes to the market after signing a deal with NBA rookie Michael Jordan that would pay him $500,000 per year. The agreement also gave Jordan his own signature line of shoes. 

This deal would ignite a revolution in the shoe industry as Nike’s Air Jordan brand earned $3.14 billion in 2019. Nike would later sign a deal in 2003 with Lebron James worth $90 million. He would re-sign with them in 2016 on a lifetime contract that is said to be worth more than a billion dollars. 

The future for athletes and endorsements is bright. With recent technological advancements, the future of sports endorsement deals will allow athletes to monetize their brand in more ways than ever before and for more money than has ever been available in the past.

Read: NBA Legend Micheal Jordan’s Sneakers Creates New Record After Getting Sold for $1.47 Million in Sotheby Auction

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Avatar of Rahul Roy
Rahul Roy
I am a computer guy by profession and a sports fanatic by choice.


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