Alex Rodriguez, the game's biggest star, arrived on its biggest stage in 2004 through a trade from the Texas Rangers to the New York Yankees. Playing under the bright lights of the New York media and near Madison Avenue, A-Rod was expected to become a marketing superstar. He had already inked deals with the likes of Pepsi, Kraft Foods and Colgate-Palmolive, but his endorsement portfolio was hardly robust.
With the Yankees, Rodriguez has won two MVP Awards, a World Series and slugged 284 home runs, but sponsorship deals continue to elude him. "Despite his noteworthy accomplishments on the field, he hasn't succeeded in resonating off if it because he lacks a measure of authenticity sought by sponsors and, ultimately, consumers," says David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. "This difficulty in connecting with fans and consumers has weighed heavily on his ability to secure major endorsements.”
A-Rod's 2009 confession of using a "banned substance" likely ensures that sponsors will never fully embrace him. He has a lucrative deal with Nike and smaller ones with the likes of Rawlings, Topps and Vita Coca that earn him an estimated $2 million annually, including memorabilia income.
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Even with a limited endorsement portfolio, Rodriguez remains baseball's top-earning player with combined on and off the field income expected to hit $32 million in 2012. Credit the 10-year, $275 million contract extension he signed with the Yankees in 2007. The deal pays him $30 million this year, including a $1 million bonus paid in January.
A-Rod's 2012 income will soar by another $6 million if hits 31 home runs. His contract includes a $30 million marketing agreement with the Yankees that gets triggered in five installments worth $6 million, each based on career home run thresholds. The first mark is 660 home runs, which is the career total of Willie Mays and ranks fourth all-time. The Yankees hoped to capitalize on A-Rod's march to the home run record by selling merchandise and sponsorships around it. Of course, the marketing pact was inked before his confession, which taints his achievements in the eyes of the public.
A-Rod isn't the only baseball star with weak marketing muscles. Few ballplayers are landing national ad campaigns. The NBA has at least 10 players pulling down more than $5 million annually from endorsement deals thanks to lucrative sneaker contracts. MLB has just one player making that kind of money in the U.S.: Derek Jeter, who banks $9 million annually from partners Nike, Gatorade, Ford, Movado, 24-Hour Fitness, Rawlings, Avon and Steiner Sports (memorabilia). Jeter ranks No. 3 among baseball's top earners at $25 million, including his $16 million Yankee salary in 2012.
Several international players have secured lucrative endorsement deals in their native countries like Ichiro Suzuki (Japan) and Johan Santana (Venezuela). Ichiro ranks fourth overall at $24.5 million, with off-field earnings of roughly $7 million in Japan. Santana ranks No. 5 with earnings of $24.4 million, largely on the strength of his $137.5 million contract with the Mets that pays him $24 million in 2012.
Baseball players might not be racking up huge endorsement deals, but they're getting paid big-time anyway thanks to all the money pouring into baseball from cable companies hungry for must-see programming that is DVR-proof. The beneficiaries of this largesse are the star players, who receive massive contracts.
Baseball's 10 top-earning players will make nearly $250 million in total during 2012 from salaries and endorsements. On-field pay makes up 90% of the pie. There were only two players with salaries of $20 million six years ago (Jeter and Rodriguez). This season, 13 players will earn at least $20 million from their teams.
There have been 11 $100 million deals signed since the end of the 2010 season, versus 22 total deals in the history of baseball before then. This winter included the two biggest deals in baseball history for a player not named Alex Rodriguez.
The Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder in January as a free agent in a deal worth $214 million over nine years. The Tigers will pay the slugger $23 million in 2012. He ranks seventh overall with earnings of $23.3 million.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim doled out the winter's other $200 million contract to free agent Albert Pujols. The Angels were outbid for stars like Carl Crawford and Mark Teixeira in the past, but the Angels paid top dollar this go around with a 10-year, $240 million contract. Credit a new TV deal with Fox Sports West for the Angels' aggressiveness. The pact is worth as much as $2.5 billion over 17 years including the team's equity stake in the network.
Pujols doesn't make the cut on our list of the top-earners this year though because his contract is heavily back loaded. The Angels owe him $12 million this season, but his pay will jump to $23 million in 2014 and top out at $30 million in 2021, the last year of the deal, when Pujols will be 41 years old.
The top five:
1. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees ($32 million)
2. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins ($27 million)
3. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees ($25 million)
4. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners ($24.5 million)
5. Johan Santana, New York Mets ($24.4 million)
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