Soccer’s highest earners
Soccer superstar David Beckham has entered the golden age of his career. The transition began in 2007 when he jumped from top flight Real Madrid in Spain’s La Liga to the fledgling Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer in the U.S. He floundered on the pitch, missed half his first season with the Galaxy due to injury, then half of the second season when he went on loan to AC Milan In Italy’s Serie A.
Last year LA teammate Landon Donovan publicly bashed his leadership and commitment and subsequently took over from him as captain. To top things off, Galaxy fans heckled him as a part-time player with full-time Hollywood ambitions. One sign hanging in the home stadium read “Go Home Fraud.”
Over those three years Beckham made $138 million, with $102 million coming from endorsements, making him the highest-paid soccer player in the world each of those years. Of the $40 million Beckham earned in 2009, nearly $33 million came from endorsements. But to quiet the Galaxy boo-boys, included in that figure are a percentage of Beckham’s Galaxy jersey sales – the best- and fastest-selling one in MLS.
|In Pictures: Soccer’s highest earners|
The global economic downturn has also tested the power of Brand Beckham. In December 2008, Pepsi ended a 10-year relationship after the brand saw a decline in its soft drink sales, a 30% drop in its stock price, and new management ordered a cutback in advertising expenditure.
However, soon after in April 2009, Motorola, which lost 70% of its stock value in 2008, re-signed Beckham to promote its recession-defying $2,000 Aura smartphone. Not doing much to help his reputation with Galaxy fans, Beckham was then transformed into a shirtless Terminator-like figure in a promotional video for the luxury mobile device.
But if there was ever a wonder what Beckham would have to do not to make money, now may be the time he finds out. For starters his playing future is uncertain. In March he tore his Achilles tendon, an injury that will sideline him for months, ruling him out of selection for England’s World Cup team this summer – a typically lucrative sponsorship endeavor for players of Beckham’s stature. Additionally his Galaxy contract has an escape clause that allows him to terminate the final two years of his five-year, $32.5 million deal. It remains to be seen if he will use this latest injury as a reason to exercise that now.
Off the field, not all is well with Brand Beckham. Simon Fuller, the mastermind behind the star’s image (and hit shows American Idol, and Pop Idol in the U.K.), resigned as a director of the company that promotes and markets him, fuelling speculation that the allure of Beckham and his wife, pop star Victoria Beckham, is fading.
Successors are waiting in the wings – or at least on the wing. Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo, ranked second behind Beckham in earnings last year with $30 million in salary and endorsements, “has stepped into the shoes of the old David Beckham,” says Michael Stirling, CEO of Global Sponsors, a London-based adviser to multinational companies acquiring major sponsorship rights. “The fact that he moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid – Beckham’s old clubs – and that he has taken over his sponsorship with Giorgio Armani shows sponsors have moved to Ronaldo as a replacement for Beckham.”
Ronaldo became the most expensive player in the world last June, when Real paid United a record $130 million transfer fee for him. The 24-year-old winger inked a six-year contract that is estimated to pay $15.5 million at the outset and increase 25% each season. In total, he could command $304 million from the club.
In addition to his new Giorgio Armani contract, in 2009 Ronaldo also signed a lucrative two-year deal with Castrol, an automotive oil maker and sponsor of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Like Beckham, the majority of his earnings are from sponsors – $16 million in endorsements last year alone. But where more than 80% of Beckham’s earnings come from sponsors, Ronaldo is making half his money off the pitch.
Beckham is likely to continue to outperform the earnings of many footballers even when he is no longer playing professionally,” said Stirling.
But with Beckham out of the World Cup, that leaves an advertising gap to fill. Who is most likely to cash in?
There are tens of millions of dollars of earnings potential for these stars,” said Ann Wool, partner and managing director at Ketchum Sports and Entertainment who has nearly two decades of experience working with world-renowned athletes on public relations and marketing programs for global brands. “Only those with exceptional charisma and international appeal – in addition to having a great tournament – will have a shot at penetrating the U.S. market as a celebrity soccer star in the same way David Beckham has been able to.”
Reigning “best player in the world” (holding the 2009 titles of FIFA World Player of the Year, European Footballer of the Year and UEFA Champions League Player of the Year), Argentine Lionel Messi of Barcelona has the best shot to capitalize on endorsements. Of the $20 million he earned last year (ranking him sixth on our list), just over $5 million came from sponsors, including Adidas and Konami.
If his World Cup performance comes even close to the amazing club season he has had so far – he has scored 42 goals in 50 games this year for Barcelona, including 27 goals in 28 La Liga matches – he will headline sports highlight reels around the globe. In anticipation of the increased exposure, he has taken English language lessons to help make him more marketable.
To compile our list of the world’s highest-earnings players, we looked through team and 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 2009 calendar year, with euro and pound conversions as of exchange rates at June 30, 2009.
The top five: