Wildly Successful Athlete Brands (And Others That Have Failed Miserably)

Once an athlete goes professional, they are officially a brand. He or she must be vigilant in protecting that brand. One false statement or decision can cost them millions and lead to their brand failing. If athletes keep things on the straight and narrow while finding ways to grow, then they are usually good to go. We’ve seen so many athletes fall from grace, like Tiger Woods, but we’ve also seen many enter greatness such as Serena Williams. Read through and learn how many athletes keep their brands rolling, while others make grave mistakes and lose millions.

Success: Just Watch Messi

Success: Just Watch Messi

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Lionel Messi’s old mentor had some interesting words about one of the world’s best. Pep Guardiola said, “Don’t write about him, don’t try to describe him. Just watch him.” And although we’re going against those words, Messi deserves to be here on our list.

As of 2018, Messi has $25 million worth of endorsement money. The average soccer player retires at 35. Messi is 30, leaving him with perhaps five more years of competition. His brand should only continue to grow. Adidas lucked out when they inked a deal with him.

Fail: Pacquiao Knocks Himself Out

Fail: Pacquiao Knocks Himself Out

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With today’s social media reach at an all-time high, it’s best for public figures to keep a tight lip. Saying anything remotely offensive can have you battered by the same people who used to root for you. In the case of boxer Manny Pacquiao, he flat out said the wrong thing.

Pacquiao uttered words that shouldn’t come from anyone’s mouth, let alone a famous boxer. He said that homosexual people were “worse than animals.” At that moment, Nike dropped him. Say goodbye to that Nike money, Pac Man.

Success: Rafael’s Dedication Shines Through!



One of the best to ever step on a tennis court, Rafael Nadal’s brand only continues to grow. The “King of Clay” has amassed over $80 million in career earnings. He also has $33 million worth of endorsements as of 2018.

Even after injuries, Nadal always comes back and proves his worthiness. He went on a record streak from 2005-2014 of winning at least one Slam in consecutive years. The main thing that has given Nadal’s brand such a high stock is his determination and high work ethic.

Fail: Not So Fast, Phelps

Fail: Not So Fast, Phelps

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Even the most decorated Olympian in history can take a hit to his brand. Michael Phelps has gathered 23 gold medals. For reference, Usain Bolt only has eight. One day in 2009, Phelps image took a hit thanks to an old picture of him.

The picture was of him using marijuana at a college party. Sponsor Kellogg’s wasn’t too happy with this and decided to drop him. Five years after that, Phelps got arrested for a second DUI. Experts predicted that his image would bounce back, and they were mostly correct. Only Kellogg’s missed out on a sponsorship with this historic Olympian.

Success: Serena Is Here To Stay

Success: Serena Is Here To Stay

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“I feel as a brand, I’m here to be around for a long time,” Serena Williams in 2011. That statement still holds true in 2018, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Rodger Federer claimed that Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time in 2018 as well. When a peer who is considered the best backs you up, you’re doing something right.

Williams has $28 million worth of endorsements alone (2018). Before she took maternity leave, she was ranked number one in the world for 319 weeks. It would take something monumental to bring her brand down. That’s what happens when you’ve been at the top for so long.

Fail: Klay Thompson’s Obscure Shoe Deal

Fail: Klay Thompson’s Obscure Shoe Deal

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“I am honored to be an Anta brand endorser,” Klay Thompson said. While Thompson speaks highly of his shoe deal, others might not be as interested. The China-based sports brand, Anta, signed the Golden State Warrior to a ten-year contract worth $80 million.

Thompson might not be a failure as far as his personal brand is concerned, but these shoes don’t help at all. Americans usually prefer Nike or Adidas when it comes to sportswear. The Anta shoe might have some success internationally, but this is a failure domestically.

Success: Ronaldo Believes He Is The Best

Success: Ronaldo Believes He Is The Best

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What Michael Jordan was to basketball, Cristiano Ronaldo is to soccer. The man is easily one of the best the game has seen. Even in 2018 at the age of 33, he continues to improve and to astonish fans. His immaculate play led him to earn $40 million in endorsements (2018).

“There are people out there who hate me and who say I’m arrogant, vain and whatever,” Ronaldo started. “That’s all part of my success. I am made to be the best.” As cocky as that statement is, it has truth to it. The bicycle-kicking star doesn’t have many who rival his brand’s success.

Fail: Rice Pays The Ultimate Price

Fail: Rice Pays The Ultimate Price

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Seemingly out of the blue in 2014, TMZ released a video of Ray Rice and his then-fiance in an elevator. Rice, just off a solid season with the Baltimore Ravens, wasn’t too far removed from his Super Bowl victory. The video showed him striking his fiance until she became unconscious.

The NFL scrambled as they prepared the right punishment for Rice. Nike ended their relationship with the running back including taking his jersey’s from stores. He ended up losing all his sponsors and an estimated $1.6 million per year.

Success: Mickelson Remains Undaunted


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On his path to $50 million in endorsement money for 2018, Phil Mickelson stays fearless. He turned 48 in 2018 and suddenly was faced with the curse of no one winning a major championship past that age. He wants to win 50 PGA Tours and he’s currently at 43. He’s remained in the top ten of world rankings for more than 700 weeks… shall we continue?

Not only is Mickelson wealthy for an athlete, but he also came in at 16 on the Forbes 2016 list. After building his brand for four-plus decades, Mickelson can happily retire whenever he wants now.

Fail: Lochte Makes The Wrong Lie


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Olympic fans used to sing high praises for Ryan Lochte. Up until the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, Lochte was considered an outstanding U.S. citizen. Then, he made up a false story about being kidnapped and robbed. Once his story came out as misleading, Lochte lost a good portion of his endorsements.

Lochte’s lie portrayed Rio de Janeiro in a negative light and humiliated America. Speedo, Airweave, Ralph Lauren, and Gentle Hair Removal all publicly cut Lochte off. Forbes estimated the loss of those endorsements cost Lochte $5-$10 million in future money.

Success: The Billion Dollar Man

Success: The Billion Dollar Man

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LeBron James became the NBA’s most marketable player the day he graduated high school and announced he was going pro. That means since 2003, James’ brand has only been building to the monumental level it’s at in 2018. He’s more than just the top player in the league; he has a tremendous voice. He called Trump a bum on Twitter, and it became the most retweeted post from an athlete.

The NBA isn’t the only one who recognizes his influence. Nike and James made history when they signed him to a billion dollar lifetime deal. Wow.

Fail: Adrian Peterson Can’t Escape This One


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At one point, Adrian Peterson was the best running back in the NFL. Nicknamed “AD” or All Day, Peterson encountered issues in 2014. After pleading no contest to child abuse charges, the NFL wanted to suspend him, but he had already lost significant endorsements.

Nike, Castrol, and Radisson all cut ties with running back. The total income he lost from those deals was about $4 million. The only silver lining here is that upon his return from suspension, Adidas remained interested in Peterson and signed him.

Success: Curry By Popular Demand

Success: Curry By Popular Demand

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The NBA has never seen anything like Steph Curry. The back-to-back MVP winner changed the way the game is played and did so while becoming the most popular player. From 2016-2018, he led the NBA in jersey sales and racked up $35 million in endorsement money for 2018.

He’s mainly the leading Under Armour athlete, slightly behind Tom Brady. Whether he’s launching unbelievable threes or declining a White House trip, Curry’s brand only continues to rise.

Fail: From Olympics To Prison

Fail: From Olympics To Prison

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Who can forget the motivating story of Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius? With amputated legs, he still managed to run wildly fast times en route to becoming the first amputee to compete in the Olympics.

But just one year after completing such a monumental feat, he shot and killed his girlfriend. He was convicted of murder and given a rather light sentence. Nike, Oakley, and Thierry Mugler all dropped the South African. That cost him an estimated $2 million a year.

Success: Speith Makes Youth Look Even Better

Success: Speith Makes Youth Look Even Better

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Perhaps humility is the key ingredient for golfer Jordan Spieth’s success. It’s rare that any sport has someone so young come in and dominate as Spieth has. After comparisons to greats like Tiger Woods, he humbly responded.

“I don’t compare myself, and I don’t think that [comparisons] are appropriate or necessary,” Spieth said. What those guys have done has transcended the sport. And in no way do I think I’m anywhere near that.” Spieth turned 25 in 2018 and brought in $32 million from endorsement money. He still has plenty of time to raise his brand.

Fail: Gilbert Arenas Totes Firearms In Arena

Fail: Gilbert Arenas Totes Firearms In Arena

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Gilbert Arenas once was the man out in Washington. The effortless three-point shooter scored by the dozens and led the Washington Wizards to the playoffs as much as he could. His play allowed him to sign one of the most lucrative deals in basketball.

All of that changed when he decided bringing weapons to a game would be a smart move. After pleading guilty to carrying four unregistered firearms into the arena in 2009, he was toast. The NBA suspended him indefinitely and he lost his eight-year $40 million Adidas contract.

Success: Bolt Knows No Limits


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Athletes like sprinter Usain Bolt don’t come around often. If you lived through his dominating era, consider yourself lucky. The fastest man in history broke the 100-meter record and the 200-meter record with ease. In a sport that doesn’t garner much attention, Bolt was precisely what athletics needed.

His silly showmanship mixed with his amazing victories created the perfect storm. While he has gathered the most gold medals in sprinting history, the Jamaican doesn’t seem to be slowing down yet. His brand is synonymous with victory so don’t expect to see Bolt doing anything unless he’s sure he’ll be great at it.

Fail: Armstrong Wasn’t That Strong Afterall

Fail: Armstrong Wasn’t That Strong Afterall

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Lance Armstrong used to be the ruler of championship cycling. He had seven Tour de France victories under his belt, 11 sponsors, and he was a cancer survivor. The ultimate feel-good story in America all came crashing down on one day in 2012.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency revealed Armstrong had taken and covered up his use of banned substances. The majority of his sponsors severed ties with him including Nike. Armstrong ended up losing $150 million and got banned from cycling for life.

Success: Durant Will Find A Way To Flourish

Success: Durant Will Find A Way To Flourish

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Kevin Durant is a league MVP, a Finals MVP, two-time NBA champion, and he has some scoring titles on his resume as well. There is nothing Durant can’t do on the court. He’s starting to take his focus off the court.

Durant brings in $36 million in endorsements for 2018. He and his partner Rich Kleiman founded The Durant Company. The company invests in startups. Taking his talents from Oklahoma City to the heart of Silicon Valley was a smart move for his brand.

Fail: Tiger Woods Loses His Touch


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There used to be a time when Tiger Woods ruled the sports world. Imagine that. From his professional debut in 1996 to 2016, 90 percent of his $1.4 billion earned is from endorsements. You can imagine what his infidelity case did to his pockets back in 2009.

On top of the affair involving a car crash, his divorces cost in $100 million. He lost his AT&T, Gatorade, and Buick sponsorships. Nike decided to stick by his side and helped his earnings stay relatively high, but they still dropped by 30 percent. As of 2018, he’s trying to get back into the swing of things.