After years of sitting on the sidelines, watching colleges cash in,
athletes who graduate to the big leagues are eager to score lucrative partnerships and endorsement deals. Who better to look to for inspiration than these five savvy sports stars turned marketing pros.
The two-time boxing heavyweight champ- turned-preacher scored his biggest KO outside the ring in 1994 as an infomercial star for the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine, selling more than 100 million George Foreman Grills worldwide. The pitchman also has a restaurant franchise called UFood Grill and a line of cookbooks.
Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson
As the Los Angeles Lakers’ star point guard for 13 seasons, Johnson retired in 1991 after announcing he had contracted HIV. Johnson came back to play (and coach) again in the ’90s. Post-retirement, he made his mark as an HIV/AIDS prevention advocate, then as a fleeting TV talk show host and sports analyst. He found his groove as a businessman, creating Magic Johnson Enterprises. The private company, which focuses on business development in underserved communities, includes a national chain of movie theaters and investments in restaurants, marketing, real estate and more.
This golf great, who in the 1950s brought a common touch to the elitist game, found major success as a business executive when he retired in 2005. He helped found the Golf Channel (owned by NBC Sports) but became best known perhaps for his eponymous iced tea and lemonade drinks. In the aughts, first Innovative Flavors—then the Arizona Beverage Co.—went on to produce the drink in a variety of flavors, with annual sales in 2012 exceeding a reported $200 million. Palmer also runs a sports marketing firm, a restaurant, a country club and a company that designs golf courses.
What doesn’t the retired superstar footballer have going on? Most recently, Beckham bought Major League Soccer’s Miami franchise. He has lent his name to Coca-Cola and IBM and struck endorsement deals with brands ranging from Adidas and Armani to Samsung and Disney Parks. Beckham also has a line of fragrances, including Homme by David Beckham, and a bodywear collection with H&M.
While Jordan was leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, he was also busy building a business empire. In 1985, Nike gave the Bulls’ shooting guard a signature line of sneakers and apparel called Air Jordan, and the rest is history. The Jordan Brand, which is a division of Nike, accounts for 58 percent of the U.S. basketball shoe market, according to Forbes. Jordan’s endorsements have included Gatorade, McDonald’s, Upper Deck, Wheaties and many more. Meanwhile, in June, Jordan upped his majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets.