For decades, celebrities have pitched and hyped all types of products and causes to further their own business interests or to receive fat endorsement paychecks from big companies. There's really no better way to sway the public than by having a much-loved celebrity stand behind the product or support a cause, and these celebrities receive generous financial rewards for their efforts. Today, we will profile 12 of the highest paid celebrity spokespeople for 2010. These celebrities routinely earn enormous amounts of money, both directly and indirectly, simply by becoming the smiling face of various products and causes.
While he won't likely be signing many new endorsement deals this year (thanks to a gigantic infidelity scandal), golf icon Tiger Woods is arguably the highest-paid celebrity spokesperson of 2010 solely on the strength of existing contractual arrangements. In September 2009, Forbes reported that Tiger had become "sports' first billion-dollar man", largely because of endorsements and celebrity appearances. In fact, Forbes spoke of Tiger's "more than $100 million in annual off-the-course earnings" in 2009 alone. And although several of Tiger's sponsors have jumped ship for fear of being associated with his currently negative publicity, he had so many left over that even the residual income of past endorsements is enough to make him tops on our list.
Although he's been retired since April 2003, pro basketball legend Michael Jordan continues to pile on the earnings from celebrity endorsements. Excluding the money he makes from promoting Hanes underwear, Ballpark hot dogs and other brands, Forbes estimates that His Airness "continues to earn $45 million annually, almost entirely from Nike." Annual sales of his Jordan brand of sneakers are said to be in the $1 billion range, putting MJ on pace to "hit the $1 billion mark in career earnings in the next four to five years." Chalk it up to the fact that Jordan is arguably the greatest to ever play the game and has an overall persona that is nearly as marketable today as it was the last time he laced up for a game. In fact, at his NBA Hall of Fame induction speech last year, Jordan reportedly joked that we might someday see him playing at the age of fifty! In any case, his endorsement value remains sky high. Jordan is second only to Tiger Woods in terms of total career earnings.
Tennis rarely gets the popular acclaim the NFL, MLB or NBA gets, so it took Roger Federer a bit longer than athletes in those sports to rise to endorsement prominence. A 2007 CNN article, for example, lamented that Federer was "dominating tennis in a way all other athletes would envy, but most advertisers and Americans don't know who he is." By 2008, however, all of that had changed. Federer's uninterrupted string of excellence prompted Nike to "sign Roger Federer to a new deal that stands to be the most lucrative tennis endorsement ever" according to the Sports Business Journal. The deal, which spans ten years, "could be worth as much as $13 million a year" and he appears to be even more popular overseas, as the Journal notes that he "costs $1 million an exhibition in the offseason in Asia." SportsProMedia reported in October 2009 that Federer was earning $30 million per year from endorsement deals that included "Nike, Wilson, Rolex, Gillette, Jura, Mercedes Benz and NetJets." Clearly, Roger Federer has taken the next step into the elite circle of high-paying celebrity endorsement moonlighters.
LeBron James, who has openly stated that he wants to be "the next Jay Z" in terms of celebrity appeal, has rocketed to the upper echelons of celebrity spokespeople in a breathtakingly short time. In January 2010, Fox Sports reported that the basketball prodigy had inked a "multiyear partnership with McDonald's Corp., adding the global fast-food giant to a list of heavyweight corporate sponsors that already included Nike, Coca-Cola and State Farm." Consider also that the 25-year-old James already took home $40 million in endorsements in 2009, and ranks behind only Tiger Woods in BusinessWeek's ranking of the most powerful athletes. Indeed, with Tiger's image at an all-time low, James is arguably the most powerful. James' endorsement prowess began in 2003, when he signed a $90 million deal with Nike while he was still in high school.
As alluded to above, rapper Jay Z is a trailblazer in his field in terms of endorsement deals and being a spokesperson. It's no coincidence that, as ABC explains, Jay Z "became the first non-athlete to score an endorsement deal for a line of sneakers from an athletic shoe company" in 2003. In 2007, Forbes stated that Jay Z earned "an estimated $34 million in 2006, earning him the top spot on Forbes' first-ever list of hip-hop Cash Kings." More recently, Jay Z has appeared in commercials for HP laptops and even performed his new hit "Empire State of Mind" live at Yankee Stadium before a 2009 World Series game. Perhaps no rap star has ever been more marketable than Jay Z is today.
As soccer's most recognizable face and marketable star, David Beckham has racked up an impressive portfolio of celebrity endorsements. After Real Madrid paid $25 million to acquire Beckham in 2003, he made an even more lucrative jump to MLS in America. As the UK's Guardian reminded us in November 2009, Beckham was an instant celebrity hit, earning $10 million in endorsements alone during his first year playing for the LA Galaxy. The Guardian contends that this "shows that his marketability was unaffected by his move from Real Madrid to the United States, where football is a minority sport." While endorsement deals with Pepsi and Gillette were not renewed, Beckham was reportedly working on designing his own products with Adidas and lining up several other lucrative deals for 2010.
While he may not be as big a high-roller as Jay Z, rapper 50 Cent is no slouch himself when it comes to celebrity endorsements. A September 2009 BusinessInsider.com article talks in-depth about 50 Cent's "massive $150 million business empire." According to BusinessInsider, it was smart business moves more than anything else that propelled the rapper to where he is today. For instance, rather than merely endorsing Vitamin Water on TV, 50 Cent negotiated a stake of the parent company for himself, which "netted him $100 million." (Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan have also used this tactic to become some of the most expensive celebrity spokespeople.) He also "made $6 million from selling hats, t-shirts and outerwear emblazoned with the "G-Unit" logo",
While not an endorser of products per se, daytime TV queen Oprah Winfrey remains one of the world's foremost spokespeople on general issues, including (in the last election) political issues. In 2009, Forbes ranked Oprah as the most powerful woman in media, and acknowledged that her support of then-candidate Barack Obama could have played a role in his being elected President. From her media activities and public speaking, Oprah is said to have "pocketed $275 million last year, far more than any other woman" that Forbes included on its list.
After inking a $20 million endorsement deal for T-Mobile in 2006, Catherine Zeta-Jones was brought back by the company in May 2009, according to a Wall Street Journal article discussing how the actress "has tremendous credibility as a spokesperson for T-Mobile." The new ad campaign, which urged viewers to visit price comparison website Billshrink.com, landed Zeta-Jones a hefty payday and debuted during a finale of American Idol ( no pressure or anything!) With these and other deals in progress, Catherine Zeta-Jones seems poised in 2010 to reclaim a spot as one of the most expensive celebrity spokespeople in the world.
It's tough playing second fiddle to Tiger Woods, but we're willing to bet golf star Phil Mickelson isn't complaining. In 2008, MSNBC reported that "advertisers love the unassuming golfer, to the tune of nearly $50 million per year." By endorsing Rolex watches and other brands, Mickelson earned $47 million that year in endorsements, compared with just $5.8 million earned by competing in golf tournaments. Amazingly, MSNBC at the time declared that Mickelson was the "second most marketable athlete in U.S. sports" and that the NBA's Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James "combined brought in less money than Mickelson on his own."
In today's NBA endorsement landscape, Dwayne Wade is number two, directly behind LeBron James. The flashy Miami Heat star was said as early as 2007 to be "rewriting the rules of sports marketing" by MSNBC. Following the lead of 50 Cent and others we've covered, Wade realized that the road to huge endorsement riches included taking an active approach in product design, not just passively affixing a signature to something. To that end, Wade has already "helped wireless carrier T-Mobile USA Inc. design a limited-edition Sidekick." Other deals with Staples and Lincoln automobiles netted Wade "$15 million to $17 million", according to MSNBC. More recently, Wade appeared in a successful Super Bowl ad (also for T-Mobile) in February with Charles Barkley, which can be seen here.
Finally, racecar driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounds out our list of the most expensive celebrity spokespeople. As one of the highest paid celebrities of 2010, Earnhardt is one whose earning power can be unquestionably traced more to his off-the-track persona and legend than his on-the-track performance. Even though the driver has won only a single race during the previous two NASCAR seasons, he has been NASCAR's most popular and instantly recognizable figure for much of the last decade. Due to his enduring popularity, Earnhardt Jr. maintains endorsement deals with the likes of Polaris, Wrangler and Nationwide Insurance.