When Roger Federer changed his equipment brand from Nike to Uniqlo, it sent ripples through the sporting world. Federer had been an ambassador of Nike for two decades and was the face of the brand for much of the 2000s. Athletes these days earn more from their brand contracts rather than their team or sport. Brand contracts and sponsors are an integral part of the sporting world; with they being intertwined with the athlete’s life almost concurrently. Having sponsorship funding allows athletes to focus more on the training and production of their sports and reduces stress in finding money to train and put on events. Sponsorships between brands and teams/ athletes is a partnership where both brand and team benefit. It’s a win-win scenario, and exposure to social media increases the longevity of these advantages.
Companies try to get in touch with promising athletes at a very young age to get them to ink a deal because they see their brand’s popularity rising with the athletes. All companies, be it, Nike, Adidas or Puma are ready to take the risk by sponsoring various athletes before they have proven themselves on the biggest stage but show glimpses of being world-beaters. One of the most famous examples being that of Michael Jordan. Before Jordan could establish himself as a basketball legend, Nike approached the then-NBA rookie. Nike was not one of the front-runners. However, both Adidas and Converse already had signed deals with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
Jordan eventually went through with the deal and signed a five-year deal with Nike worth $500,000 per year. As we all know today, even if one doesn’t consider Michael Jordan to be the greatest player of all time, one cannot deny his popularity. There is no taking away from the craze of his line of sneakers, “Air Jordan” which is over a billion dollars in net worth today. In India, the most recognized sports person undoubtedly was Sachin Tendulkar, and he signed the first Billion Rupee deal in Cricket history with World Tel in 2001. Brands are all about Image, on the field but just as much off the field. An athlete’s persona and behavior are very important in a brand choosing to opt for him/her. Rolex, perhaps the epitome of class and luxury, signed Roger Federer because they saw their brand’s characteristics align with his playing style and demeanor. But it attaches the brand one to also expects the professional to behave in a certain manner in public and, more than anything, not attract negative attention. Upon his confession of adultery in 2009, Tiger Woods lost 15 of his sponsors, including top names like Gatorade and AT&T.
The reason is that brands and companies don’t want to be associated with people who are portrayed negatively in the public for their activities and behaviors. So even while the person is off-field, they have to uphold a certain character to ensure to remain contracted with a brand. Constant salary negotiations go on behind the scenes with companies and agents getting involved in often ugly spats. The major reason for an athlete to jump ship is primarily money. Athletes are always looking for an opportunity to increase their earnings, and their primary income is through sponsors with whom they are under contract.
Brand loyalty is very important to companies and sponsorships. We can never see an athlete who has signed with a certain brand sporting or endorsing a rival or any other brand in public. It relieved former Barcelona star Ronaldinho from his contract with Coca Cola when he was seen on camera drinking Pepsi in a press conference. So in this day and age of ever-present marketing, not only is it important for a sports person to uphold his performance on the field, but also live by the rules and contractual obligations off the field. The money they get speaks for itself, and if not drinking Pepsi nets one half a million dollars a year, we’d all be falling over each other to sign that dotted line.