21 August, 2021
Work hard, be smart, get rich, baby
Skye Gregory Skye On Sports
ONCE upon a time, kids played sport to play sport. Whether they loved the sport or simply wanted to play with their friends, sport was played for sports sake. While I wholeheartedly believe kids still start their sporting lives for the above reasons, you would also be hard pressed to find a kid who hasn’t said they want to be a professional footballer, tennis player or basketballer when they grow up.
The reality is, if they make it, they will be among the highest paid professionals in the world. Sport has increasingly become a commercialised giant backed by big money and aspiring athletes can benefit in one of three ways – be good; be marketable; or be smart.
Then there’s the ‘Willy Wonka Golden Ticket’-type athlete who ticks the ‘all of the above’ box and they will go down in history as sporting legends. Arguably the best football player on the field today is Lionel Messi and last week we saw one of the largest free agent player transfers of the European summer with Messi signing with PSG (Paris Saint-Germain) from his childhood Club Barcelona.
Now Messi, judging by the tears and the fact he’s been there since he was 13, would have loved to continue playing for Barca, but the Club’s eye-watering debt of almost A$2 billion meant that his equally eye-watering contract of around A$175m per year was a non-starter for the Club’s financial regulators. Even after Messi offered to drop his salary by 50 percent, Barca couldn’t financially retain the Football superstar.
So what’s a multi-millionaire who kicks a ball for a living to do> He finds a team with bigger financial backers. Enter PSG, who despite their locality, is owned by the State of Qatar through their Sovereign Wealth Fund. Messi’s PSG contract remains well below his previous contract, but he can expect to earn around A$102m per year, which includes salary and bonuses.
Leaving politics aside, I would be interested to revisit Messi’s earnings after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and whether he’ll become the unofficial poster-boy to ease tensions for what was, and still is, a controversial decision to host Football’s biggest event in the State of Qatar. Athletes have a relatively small window of opportunity to earn money and what every aspiring junior has to remember is that the “on the field” salary is only a portion of their earning potential.
A marketable athlete can literally earn a comfortable living on endorsements. And it’s not a prerequisite that the athlete has to be the best at their sport in order to be marketable. Some of you might remember Anna Kournikova, a Russian tennis player who entered the playing scene at 15, retired by 21 and never won a singles tournament in her career.
But alas, she was one of the most popular athletes in the world and largely amassed her fortune through endorsements. Staying on the tennis court, Japanese player Kei Nishikori, ranked number 54 in the world, saw 95 percent of his earnings in 2019 coming from endorsements with over $33m a year vs his on-court earnings of $1.6m.
Kei is a solid player on the Tour and through his achievements, he is highly marketable and a national hero, which has earnt him lucrative endorsements with some of the country’s largest companies. A smart athlete, or one that surrounds themselves with smart people, assures that their athletic earnings are invested wisely and provides them financial security into the future.
Controversial UFC Fighter Connor McGregor might not be the first athlete that springs to mind, but in his own words he ‘could have taken the easy money’, but he was strategic, took the risk and poured his heart and soul into the entrepreneurial world by creating an unmistakable, and as it turned out, a highly popular Irish Whiskey. In 2016 McGregor boasted to Cristiano Ronaldo, who was the highest paid athlete at the time, that one day, he would surpass the football superstar on the Forbes Richest list.
It took longer than McGregor wanted, but in 2021, his strategic risk paid off when he sold his majority stake in the whiskey company, which catapulted him to the top of the highest earning athletes list with total earnings sitting at A$245m. Then we have the ‘Golden Ticket’ athlete, the one who has it all – unsurpassed talent, incredibly marketable and smart management. Enter Michael Jordan. Jordan has the largest endorsement deal in sporting history through his relationship with Nike.
In the 2019 financial year, the wholesale revenue for Nike’s Jordan brand hit A$4 billion and Michael continues to earn a yearly endorsement figure that some athletes might not earn in their lifetime. Like McGregor, Jordan entered the entrepreneurial world with investments in sporting teams, which has placed him among the top 1000 billionaires in the world, a list that includes the likes of Elon Musk and Bill Gates.
Jordan’s popularity remains
relevant through incredible foresight from his playing days where
unseen footage shot during his last
season with the Bulls culminated
into “The Last Dance”, a docuseries aired on Netflix in 2020.
Although Michael donated all
his proceeds from the series to
charity, the brand that is “Michael
Jordan” was thrust back into the
limelight and therefore, creating a
new wave of marketability
This was no doubt cashed in by the likes of Nike and in turn, Michael himself. Come on…now that alone is incredibly smart. He’s a good guy for donating the proceeds to charity (clever marketing), but on the backend, he refreshes his relevance in the market, which generates a new wave of shoe sales, which he takes a share of the profits of what we know is a multi-billion business.
There’s money to be made in sport and a ridiculous amount at that! For the adults reading this who have a child or know a child with talent, and they utter the magic words “I want to play sport for a living”, encourage them to BE GOOD, BE MARKETABLE, and most of all BE SMART!
I would love to see a wave of up-and-coming athletes who not only use their talent on the field, but understand that what they do off the field is just as important.
I mean if you’re going to make the headlines in the news, make it for the right reasons because it