Show me the money!

It's no secret that there's plenty of money to be had in professional sports. In fact, for us mere mortals, it's incredible to see athletes getting 300 million dollar contracts and wondering just what train we all missed! It's down to good representation for one thing but it also has a lot to do with your visibility. If you're a great pro athlete that's one thing. But, if you're great and you command a huge audience as in television exposure and you can fill the seats in huge stadiums that's an entirely different scenario. However, that still doesn't account for endorsements and that's where some of these athletes are making some serious cash. If your endorsements push the sales of specific products, in the case of say, a tennis racquet or tennis apparel, then you're sure to be in the money. In many cases, athletes make more cash from endorsements than they do in prize money.

ESPN just released their 2019 "World Fame 100" list that includes the rankings in terms of popularity, the athlete's sport and country, their endorsement money and their social media following. Among that elite group are a few names you might recognize like:

  • #6 Roger Federer with endorsements of $42 million and a social media following of 14.5 million
  • #8 Rafa Nadal with endorsements of $29 million and a social media following of 15.6 million
  • #17 Serena Williams with endorsements of $18 million and a social media following of 10.8 million
  • #20 Novak Djokovic with endorsements of $22 million and a social media following of 8.5 million
  • #28 Kei Nishikori with endorsements of $33 million and a social media following of 927K
  • #37 Maria Sharapova with endorsements of $17 million and a social media following of 14.6 million
  • #69 Stan Wawrinka with endorsements of $18.3 million and a social media following of 1.7 million
  • #75 Andy Murray with endorsements of $13 million and a social media following of 3.6 million
  • #93 Sania Mirza with endorsements of $2.1 million and a social media following of 12.4 million

Interestingly enough, the text comments about women on the list by saying "There is always one woman who becomes the prism through which all concerns about modern women are refracted, whether it's about sexuality, motherhood, social media or eating". A writer from The Guardian wrote, "Now it is the turn of Serena Williams". Even so, Williams has never placed above No. 12 on the list. Which means that for her or any other woman athlete to rank significantly higher, the world itself will have to change. They state that ultimately, fame is backward-looking, a quality gauged by games already won, thrills already provided and gossip already generated. Fame sums up the opinions of the public and influentials without providing many hints about future surprises. Its distribution evolves only when a singular figure such as Williams compels the public to view an athlete in a different way, or when new generations of fans and executives gain sway. They point to Naomi Osaka who beat Williams in a dramatic U.S. Open final and became 2018's breakout star. The problem, as they so painfully point out, is that tennis doesn't have fans in the billions like soccer or cricket. Osaka is adding 80,000 social media followers a month which is impressive but not yet enough to get close to the constellation of the world's most famous stars.

With or without you - you choose!

They say that Osaka could easily make a future "Fame 100". Her rise to fame foreshadows a younger, more female, more globalized sports world, with opportunities less tied to old convention and fame aligned more closely with excellence. The world is changing as I see it but it moves very slowly over time. The newer, more connected and more progressive generation will certainly make their statement and the rest of us will have to sit back and watch as the world once again moves past us.

Getting old has its advantages but it also has its downside. As sports fans, we can be a part of the change or sit on our hands and expect everyone else, especially the next generation, to do it all. Whether we want to admit it or not, they'll do it one way or the other, with or without us!

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