Manchester United star Wayne Rooney called it as he saw it during Super Bowl XLVI, tweeting "Trying to watch super bowl final. How do they call this football. Like watching paint dry. Looking forward to adverts and music."
He has $24 million reasons for his bias. That's how much the 26-year-old British striker earned last year to rank fourth among our list of the highest paid (what Americans call) soccer players in the world. It is interesting that $17 million of that was in salary and bonus from his club (ranked No. 1 among our list of the most valuable soccer teams in the world) which is owned by billionaire Malcolm Glazer and his family, who also own the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
|In Pictures: The world's highest-paid soccer players|
Though after you sign a contract extension commanding one of the highest salary and bonus structures in the sport, help your club win its record 19th Premier League title (your fourth), lead your club in goals, have the best selling jersey in the league, you probably tend to worry little about biting the hand that feeds you.On the other hand, who could blame Rooney if the operative part of his tweet was "looking forward to adverts"? After all they are novel to his no-commercial-interruptions version of football. Plus he wouldn't be alone – Nielsen reports that 51 percent of Super Bowl viewers watch just for commercials. In particular, perhaps he was watching in anticipation of the racy H&M spot featuring his England national teammate David Beckham. In it the chiseled 36-year old Beckham stood rotating on a turntable in only his skivvies to debut his signature line of bodywear. The new deal helped contribute to the $37 million in endorsements of the total $46 million the Los Angeles Galaxy star earned to top our rank of the highest paid players.
The multi-year arrangement with the Swedish retailer makes Becks a partner in the line, versus just a face for it, a shift his business partner Simon Fuller said marks his evolution "from sporting hero to entrepreneur". It's a wise move considering under his former deal with Giorgio Armani, sales of their underwear reportedly doubled while he modeled them. Another sign Brand Beckham is becoming more business savvy? His contract with his LA club – he signed a two-year extension in January after winning his first MLS cup in November – includes an option to buy an MLS franchise at a discount, a purchase he said he will exercise when he hangs up his boots.
But what of the effect of this trend with social media, where athletes like Rooney so easily make themselves available to the public?
"It's a given that sponsors are going to look to add digital and social media elements into athlete's contracts," said Doug Shabelman, president of Burns Entertainment.
"Having a celebrity speak directly and in some cases, more personally to Facebook, Twitter or other followers can help accentuate the above the line campaigns in a completely different and unique way. The more personal and more direct-to-your-consumer these companies can get, the easier it is to see a return on their celebrity investment."
Shabelman adds athletes benefit too and can "greatly increase their income whether it be with a tweet or two about the product they are pitching or allowing their sponsor to post on their behalf." Soccer players, who attract over $250 million a year globally from sponsors, are particularly sought after for such deals due to the sport's worldwide audience and appeal.
So far it seems Rooney has yet to capitalize on such an arrangement. But his former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo leads the pack.
With 42.5 million Facebook fans and 8.5 million Twitter followers, the Real Madrid heartthrob and 2008 player of the year is the most socially engaged athlete online. Shabelman helped negotiate his current 3-year Clear Shampoo deal which included a Facebook campaign where his fans could choose his next hairstyle.
The 27-year old Portuguese winger ranks second on our list of highest paid players, having earned $42 million last year, $21 million from endorsements that include a deal through 2014 with Nike, and a recently renewed 2-year deal with Castrol. Judging by how actively he promotes them and all his sponsors through his social networks – one of his recurrent tweets promotes his nowhere-else advertised mobile game Heads Up! developed by RockLive – it looks like money well spent, and well earned.
His La Liga nemesis, Lionel Messi, the current three-time world player of the year, was slower to join the world of social networking but has been equally active pitching Adidas, Pepsi and EA Sports to his 34.4 million Facebook fans. Without online access the 24-year old Barcelona star's fan base would still get their fill of him. He has made the highlight reel of nearly every match he's played this season as he has shattered personal, club, league and international records. Included among them, in March he became the first to score five goals in a Champions League match and broke Barca's all-time scoring record. While once lagging, his endorsement income finally matches his potential on the pitch. The Argentine pocketed $39 million last year, $19 million from sponsors, to rank third on our list of highest paid players.
To compile our list, we looked through commercial sponsor filings and spoke with talent agencies and soccer experts in the U.S. and Europe. All earnings are in U.S. dollars for salaries, incentives and sponsorship income earned in the 2011 calendar year.
The top 10:
1. David Beckham, Los Angeles Galaxy ($46 million)
2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid ($42 million)
3. Lionel Messi, Barcelona ($39 million)
4. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United ($24 million)
5. Kaka, Real Madrid ($21 million)
6. John Terry, Chelsea ($18 million)
6. Yaya Toure, Manchester City ($18 million)
8. Fernando Torres, Chelsea ($17 million)
9. Frank Lampard, Chelsea ($16 million)
9. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool ($16 million)
• See more top-paid soccer players
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