As Forbes does, they recently released a list of the Top 100 highest-earning athletes in the world for the past year (June 1, 2019-June 1, 2020). They calculated the earnings of each athlete using their known income from their sport (i.e. salaries and winnings) as well as endorsement money.
Atop the list sat Roger Federer, followed by a variety of soccer players, NBA’ers, and Tiger Woods at #8. We find an old friend (for many of us) at #9, as Vikings gunslinger Kirk Cousins was the highest-earning NFL player last year, between his salary and endorsements (that’s due to change in the next year). Amidst the rest of the NBA, NFL (including former Vikes CB Trae Waynes, somehow), and soccer players (of which there were many), boxers, golfers, tennis stars, and racecar drivers(!), only one MLB player made the list. While the current pandemic, which has greatly depressed the salaries of MLB vets for the past few months, has a heavy hand to play in the extremity of this, it is somewhat symbolic of a larger problem for the MLB.
Clayton Kershaw made the list. One of the top MLB pitchers for many years (and history), Kershaw’s salary (and structure), paired with a very small amount of endorsement money, earned him the 57th spot on the list, in a tie with NBA rookie Zion Williamson (whose endorsements far outweigh his $7.3 million salary). That is my larger point here: MLB players are lagging far behind the athletes in other sports in endorsement money.
Arguably the greatest player in baseball history, as well as a number of very charismatic, young, marketable faces are gracing the diamonds of MLB these days. Yet, while many of the top players in the NBA are earning endorsement money that outweighs their (similar to MLB) salaries, these bright stars of baseball are hardly earning a fraction of their salaries. Kershaw supplemented his $26.5 million salary with only $0.75 million in endorsements in the past year, for reference. Why can’t somebody like Mike Trout or Francisco Lindor make some serious endorsement money?
MLB has a marketing problem, which is well-documented. While the NBA has taken great strides to make the highlights and soundbites of their sport more accessible (along with more nationally-televised games), the MLB has lagged behind, policing their copyrighted content strictly on social media. With “mic’ed up” spring training games and the abundance of content that the MLB social media accounts have been releasing as of late, the league has taken some steps in the right direction. Will they continue down that path in a post-pandemic world? It remains to be seen, but hopefully they will. If they do, they’ll be able to drum up more market interest in the league’s brightest and best, which will lead to more endorsement dollars for the studs of the league.
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