Top athletes and their endorsements

Ever since Bruce Jenner appeared on a Wheaties box in 1977, companies have used endorsements by top athletes to boost their sales. As a result, major sports stars routinely receive multimillion-dollar paydays for lending their names to products, and the practice has become so competitive that a player’s endorsement income can sometimes dwarf his or her salary or winnings.

Included is the NBA’s LeBron James, who plays for the Miami Heat after abandoning the Cleveland Cavaliers amidst great public outcry. “King James” was picked by Cleveland in the 2003 NBA Draft, and he was so savvy with securing endorsement deals that he had already negotiated one with Nike before even setting foot on the professional court.

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Slideshow: Top athletes and their endorsements

Today, James’ endorsement contracts include the still-active Nike deal, as well as agreements with Glaceau, McDonald’s, Sprite, State Farm and Upper Deck. However, his continued viability as an endorser has been called into question due to his perceived churlish behavior, combined with his team’s June 2011 NBA finals loss.

Last year was a tough one for golfer Tiger Woods. Aside from losing his No. 1 ranking to Lee Westwood, Woods also lost a slew of sponsors in the wake of news of an extramarital affair. The drop in endorsement income cost his management company IMG $4.6 million in fees. Assuming IMG charges its clients the standard 15 percent to 20 percent on endorsement deals, then Woods most likely lost between $23 million and $30 million in sponsorship money.

Still, Woods continues to have some of the most lucrative endorsement deals in professional sports. While Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade all jumped ship when news of his scandal broke, many other sponsors stood by him, and today he has endorsement agreements with EA Sports, NetJets, Nike Golf, TagHeuer and Upper Deck.

The Lakers' Kobe Bryant makes plenty off endorsements.
(nubeo.com/CNBC.com)

Professional golfer Phil Mickelson has won four championships and 39 PGA Tour events since joining the professional circuit. Mickelson’s right-handed in every respect but his golf swing; as a child he would watch his father swing a golf club and mirror the movements exactly, earning him the nickname “Lefty.”

In 2007, Mickelson earned almost $53 million. Of that amount, less than $6 million came from his actual pay. The remaining $47 million came from endorsements. Today, Mickelson’s sponsors include Barclays, ExxonMobil, Grayhawk, KPMG and Rolex, but the largest portion of his sponsorship money comes from Callaway Golf, the company that makes the ball, putter and clubs that he uses.

Click ahead to see top athletes who supplement their income with lucrative endorsement deals.

Check out Sports Biz with Darren Rovell.

Updated Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011