Neymar Jr. PUMA
Credit: Aurelien Meunier – PSG / PSG via Getty Images

Words: Chloe Watts

When news broke earlier this week that Neymar Jr. was leaving his $163 million USD contract with Nike for a sponsorship at PUMA – for an undisclosed sum – it got the sporting world talking. Neymar Jr. explained his move to PUMA was about more than just money (but we’re sure the amount would definitely help), revealing he wanted to leave a legacy behind in the same boots that his idols had worn when he was growing up.

Over the decades, we have seen the power of having an athlete associated with a brand. The Australian Financial Review reported Nike sold $126 million USD worth of Air Jordans in the first year of its deal with basketball legend, Michael Jordan. With athletes being such a beneficial asset to companies, it’s no surprise that their influence doesn’t come cheap.

Below we’ve rounded up the 10 most valuable sporting sponsorships in history.

Roger Federer and Uniqlo

Roger Federer Sport Sponsorship
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In 2018 Roger Federer left his long-time sponsorship with Nike for a contract with Japanese brand, Uniqlo. Worth reportedly $300 million USD over ten years, Federer said the reasoning for the change was due to being at the back end of his career. Nike wouldn’t commit to continue working with the player when he entered retirement.

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LeBron James and Nike

Los Angeles Lakers Small Forward, LeBron James, signed the deal of a lifetime with Nike in 2015. The sponsorship will see him earn over $1 billion USD by the time he reaches his 60’s.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Nike

Cristiano Ronaldo Nike Sports sponsorship
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Another athlete to join the Nike $1 billion club is Real Madrid soccer star, Cristiano Ronaldo. He is the first soccer player to have a lifetime contract with the sportswear brand, which was entered into back in 2016 and has potential to continue long after the star has retired from the sport.

Michael Jordan and Nike

The one to start it all, since signing with Nike in 1984, Michael Jordan has pulled in approximately $1.3 billion USD from his sponsorship with the global sportswear brand.

Rory McIlroy and Nike

There’s a reason Nike keeps popping up in the sporting arena, it is the largest sponsor of athletes in the world. In 2013, British golfer Rory McIlroy joined Nike on a 10-year deal worth $200 million, which requires him to sell a certain amount of clothing and equipment for the brand.

Lionel Messi and Adidas

Lionel Messi Adidas sports sponsorship
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Global superstar, Lionel Messi extended his long-time partnership with Adidas signing a lifetime deal, which will see him through to the end of his career with the German brand, that reportedly rakes in $12 million USD a year.

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Steph Curry and Under Armour

Golden State Warriors Point Guard, Steph Curry signed with Under Armour in 2013 on a contract that is worth $20 million USD a year, until 2024.

Kevin Durant and Nike

Brooklyn Nets Small Forward, Kevin Durant, signed at 10-year deal with Nike in 2014 worth up to $300million and includes a $50million golden handshake payment upon retirement, according to Pledge Sports.

Tiger Woods and Nike

Tiger Woods Nike Sports Sponsorship
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Tiger Woods’ relationship with Nike began all the way back in 1996 for $40 million over five years. It was later updated in 2001, as ESPN reports, with a $100 million contract for another five years. This was followed by an eight-year deal in 2008 that fetched the golf superstar an estimated $20 to $40 million annually. In 2013, Nike extended the sponsorship again, however the amount was never disclosed.

Kei Nishikori and Uniqlo

Japanese tennis star Kei Nishikori signed a potentially record-breaking deal with Uniqlo back in 2016. It is rumoured to be $50 million and at the time, saw him earning more than World No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the same brand.

thoughts?