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Bloomberg BusinessWeek ranks sports' most powerful athletes

Jay Busbee
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Once you start getting paid to play a kid's game, it's no longer just about the game itself. Pro athletes these days must show at least as much marketing potential as on-field potential -- in some cases, much more -- and the way that they capitalize on that potential goes a long way toward demonstrating whether their latest big contract is their last, or merely a stepping-stone to even more zeroes in a paycheck.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek has released its list of the most powerful athletes in sports, and it's one that takes into account both on-field performance and off-field marketability. A "routine" star in a popular sport can -- and does -- rank higher than a champion in one with a narrower appeal.

To craft the list, Bloomberg BusinessWeek worked with CSE, a sports brand management company, and "sports professor" Rick Horrow, and focused exclusively on athletes. The report tracks on-field performance over the last two years and off-field metrics including trustworthiness, appeal and influence.

And the winner was ... Tiger Woods?

Yes, considering the bulk of this study was completed before Tiger's travails of recent weeks, Woods took the top spot. The rest of the top five were LeBron James, Phil Mickelson, Albert Pujols and Peyton Manning.

NASCAR claims eight spots on the top 100 list, headed by Jimmie Johnson at No. 21, ahead of Tom Brady and Kevin Garnett. The other NASCAR drivers were Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Danica Patrick.

What's interesting about that is the fact that Martin, Edwards and Busch still haven't quite broken through into the non-NASCAR consciousness. And Johnson, for all of his on-track success, still hasn't cracked the top 20. Will his new HBO show and more relaxed persona affect Johnson's public image? Will success on the track help Edwards or Busch rise higher in the public mind?

The entire list is a fascinating read, both for the surprisingly high (and low) rankings of some well-known athletes, and for its analysis of the impact of sports as a whole. Did you know that the sports industry is twice the size of the auto industry, and seven times the size of Hollywood? It's true, Bloomberg says! For the full list, click here.

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