Media Exposure & The Financial Benefits It Has For Professional Athletes

It is common practice these days for marketing executives to get a professional athlete to endorse their company’s product. But just how valuable is it? According to Masterman, many companies have claimed that endorsing professional athletes has had a direct influence on product sales. Gardner and Shuman believe that the more familiar the endorser is, the more likely the consumers will buy the endorsed products. If this is the case, it is important that the endorser is well known by potential consumers and one of the most influential ways in which to make an athlete known by the public, is through various media sources, such as Television, Print Media and more recently the Internet. The more exposure the athlete receives through the media, then the more recognisable they become to consumers.


As outlined previously, there are a number of key factors that play a large part in the amount of exposure each athlete receives though various forms of media. The most common two are firstly, the gender of the athlete and secondly, the sport the athlete is playing. According to Friedman, athletes are experts in their chosen field and therefore consumers are more likely to purchase products that are endorsed by them. With this being the case, if a budding young basketballer was to watch LeBron James dominate a game of basketball on television, whilst wearing a pair of Nike shoes, if the young basketballer then saw James endorsing a pair of those shoes, the young basketballer would automatically associate the brand of shoe with success. Conversely, if the young basketballer had never seen James’s performances on television, then they wouldn’t be able to relate the endorsement to a successful performance. This being said, given that males sports and male athletes receive close to 90% of the total media exposure relating to sport, it’s clear to see why professional male athletes receive more endorsement opportunities. For women to secure more endorsement opportunities, they often need to be very successful and also very attractive. Research conducted by Ohanian suggests that a sexy image may be an important factor for a product, and uses the example of Gabriella Sabatini, an attractive tennis player from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when she was shown to have a “White Moustache” whilst endorsing a brand of milk. The advertisement was clearly an attempt to create sex appeal. More recently, it has even been seen that females athletes don’t necessarily need to be successful in order to gain endorsement opportunities, they simply have to be sexy. An example of this is Anna Kournikova, a Russian tennis player who famously never won a grand slam tournament, yet received huge amounts of media exposure due to her apparent good looks. As a result of this increased media exposure, Kournikova received many opportunities to endorse products from global organisations including Adidas, Multiway Sports Bra, Yonex Racquets, Omega Watches as well as many others, and in doing so earns in excess of US$10 million annually. This again reinforces Ohanian’s thoughts.

In relation to the second key factor, the chosen sport of the athlete, some sports are watched by a broader audience than others, which as a result gives the athletes more exposure in order to become more recognisable with the public. Marketing executives understand this and realise that the sports being watched by a larger audience have a bigger market to sell their products to. An example of this can be seen in the USA, during the National Football League Superbowl half-time break. In 2008, the television audience in the USA alone for the NFL Superbowl was a staggering 97.5 million, and some companies such as Budd Breweries spend as much as US$2.7 million for a 30 second advertisement in order to reach as many viewers as possible. Athletes playing for either team in the Superbowl will gain more exposure due to the large audience, and as a result the public will be more likely to recognise them. Consequently, the athlete becomes more marketable and may receive extra endorsement opportunities in the future. Conversely, the average television audience for the 2006 National Hockey League playoffs was just 1.4 million, not even a blip on the radar when compared to the 2008 Superbowl. Wayne Gretzky is arguably the most successful player in the NHL of all time, yet due to the limited exposure through the media, he doesn’t have the opportunities to earn the mega-bucks to endorse a companies product, like an NFL star would.

The following four case studies give an insight to the amount of media exposure professional athletes receive and the resulting money that can be made for these athletes through product endorsement. We are focusing on the key factors mentioned above and we’ve come to understand that some of the differences are alarming.

James Tompkins vs. Stephanie Rice

James Tomkins, a current rower and past Olympic champion and Stephanie Rice, a current swimmer and recently crowned Olympic champion, are two individuals that are both well-known Australian athletes. Both have had highly successful careers in their chosen sports, and both have benefited financially through their achievements. However, despite both having benefited financially, there is an alarming difference in the amount of exposure they receive through various media forms, and an even greater difference in the amount of money they earn from sponsorship and endorsements. Does this difference in media exposure relate directly to the amount of sponsorship and endorsement opportunities for each athlete?

To begin with, you have James Tomkins. Tomkins was Australia’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony of the 2008 China Olympic Games, and an athlete who has competed at the last six Olympic Games. Throughout these six Olympic appearances, Tomkins captured a career haul of three Gold Medals and one Bronze Medal. Amazing credentials they may be, yet if you were to “Google” his name and sport (rowing), you would only receive 19,400 articles relating to his rowing career. Despite this sounding like a lot of exposure, if you then chose to “Google” Stephanie Rice and her sport (swimming), you would receive and incredible 294,000 articles relating to her career. Not to take anything away from Rice, after all she did win three Gold Medals at the recent 2008 China Olympic Games, but there is over fifteen times as much information available for Rice, despite her only competing in the one Olympic Games, as opposed to a six-time Olympian in Tomkins.

When explored further, the amount that each athlete receives from sponsorships and endorsements is just as one-sided as their exposure through the media. Firstly, Tomkins currently has just the one major sponsor, that being Cadbury Chocolate, however it is only in a limited role where he is seen to participate in various Cadbury sponsored events. Alternatively, Rice currently has contracts with Davenport Underwear and Channel 7, which when combined, earns her in excess of AU$800,000 annually. Based on the above findings, it is clear to see that companies and organisations are far more prepared to spend money on Rice to promote their products and to make special appearances, as opposed to Tomkins. So why is this the case?

When relating this back to the theory previously discussed, there is a key element that is determining the amount of exposure these two athletes are receiving from the media. Firstly, Rice may be receiving a lot of extra exposure through the media, not only because of her success, but also because of her apparent good looks. Often females have received media exposure by people effectively putting them up on a stage and displaying them for men to ogle. As seen with Annette Kellerman early in the 20th Century, and more recently Anna Kournikova throughout the late 20th Century and early 21st Century, the attractiveness of the athlete increases the exposure they receive through the media, and also makes them more marketable to sponsors. In Kellerman’s case, she was very successful and attractive, and therefore received increase exposure, whereas in Kournikova’s case, she wasn’t even highly successful, yet due to her attractiveness, received huge amounts of exposure through the media. As a result of this exposure, the athlete becomes more recognisable, and this is when the marketing managers of companies can see a value in having this athlete endorse their companies’ product. As Charbonneau and Garland state, “A celebrity endorsement, such as that by film actor or athlete, uses a publicly recognised star and that public recognition assists the other party (the endorsee) to gain commercially”. Secondly, the societies perception is that swimming in Australia receives far more media coverage than rowing does, and as a result of this, the public is seeing more of Rice than of Tomkins. Because the public can recognise Rice easier, marketers are therefore using Rice and her success to endorse their products so that potential consumers can associate her success to the product that she’s endorsing.

In conclusion, the two factors that are enabling Rice to benefit financially through product endorsement are the status of her chosen sport in the public’s perception, as opposed to Tomkins chosen sport, and the fact that her apparent good looks are creating a sex appeal that in the past has been proven to boost sales.

Jared Talent vs. Eamon Sullivan

At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Eamon Sullivan and Jared Talent both won Olympic Silver and Bronze medals, however the amount of publicity and media exposure regarding both athletes is substantially different. When Jared Talent and Race Walking are entered into the Google search engine, just 37,200 articles appear relating to his career, yet when Eamon Sullivan and Swimming is entered, 103,000 or almost three times as many articles appear.

When we relate these findings back to the theory previously mentioned, it becomes apparent that the most likely reason for this being the case is the chosen sport of the individual. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, walking is the most popular recreational activity in Australia with just under 4 million Australians regularly participating in various forms of walking, whilst conversely just under 1.5 million people responded that they participate in swimming. Despite these statistics, professional race-walkers don’t receive much media exposure. This is possibly because there seems to be a public perception that walking is more of a recreational activity, and not a sport. According to the ABS Recreation Statistics, out the 4 million people that responded they walk, not even 100,000 were participating in organised walking, with the majority walking for exercise and health benefits, and not competition. This reinforces the public perception that walking is seen more as a recreation activity and not as a sport.

Additionally, Sullivan receives extended Media Exposure through his past relationship with fellow swimming star Stephanie Rice. During the build-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, every news bulletin of back page of the newspaper had pictures or videos of Stephanie Rice and Eamon Sullivan. Through this extended media exposure, Sullivan received contracts through Channel 7 and Davenport Underwear, the same two contracts that Rice received, valued at over $800,000.

So in conclusion, despite walking being the most common form of exercise in Australia, given Sullivan’s celebrity appeal and the extended media coverage that swimming receives as opposed to walking, Sullivan earns a substantial amount more than Tallent does, despite them being equally successful in the 2008 Olympic Games.

Mia Hamm vs. David Beckham

As seen in the first two case studies, despite athletes being champions and world beaters in their respective sports, sometimes the level of exposure between the two champion athletes may vary, depending on a number of factors. Soccer, or Football as it is most commonly referred to in many parts of the world, is known as the “World Game” and is the world’s most popular sport.

During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, David Beckham, from the United Kingdom and Mia Hamm, from the United States of America, were once widely regarded as the best male and female footballers in the world. Beckham shot to fame in 1995 when he was the star player in Manchester United’s all-conquering side of the mid-to-late 1990’s. As well as playing important roles for Manchester United, he has since played important roles for Real Madrid and currently Los Angeles Galaxy. Mia Hamm on the other hand is a five-time winner of Best Female Soccer Player in the USA and has scored more goals in international matches than any other female in the history of the game.

Given that both of these athletes are known to be the best in the world for their respective gender, the difference in exposure through the media for each individual is once again alarming. If we once more apply the “Google Test”, when searching David Beckham and Football, just under four million articles appear, as opposed to Mia Hamm, who attracts a far less 212,000 articles. As with the previous case studies, there is quite a large difference in the media exposure that each athlete receives, and in this case the main reason for the difference is that traditionally, society in general has perceived male sport to be more entertaining than female sport in that the male athletes tend to jump higher, run faster and seem stronger. This generally results in a higher entertainment quality, and because of this is, male sports attract more spectators to the matches than female sports. In turn, as a result of the larger spectator volume, the media exposure increases and companies start to realise the potential that this may have in regards to sponsorship and athlete endorsement for their products. So just how much does this difference in societies perceived views on gender based sport, actually equate to in monetary terms?

Firstly, although retired now, Mia Hamm was earning in excess of US$2 million a year through playing fees and endorsements when active. Her contract with Washington was the league limit of US$85,000 annually, while she also received US$60,000 annually when appearing for the USA National Team. Additionally, a large list of sponsors that included Nike, Gatorade, Mattel, Pepsi and Powerbar, took her total annual earnings over the US$2 million mark. Conversely, David Beckham is currently making in excess of US$50 million a year through playing fees and endorsements from world wide brands such as, Adidas, Motorola, Pepsi, Giorgio Armani and Sharpie. Only Tiger Woods, the world’s best golfer earns more money than Beckham as a sportsperson, by earning an amazing US$115 million annually.

It is clear to see that despite both of these athletes being the best in the world for their gender; the male (Beckham) is earning almost twenty-five times more than the female (Hamm). As mentioned previously, some sports have a larger audience base and therefore the superstars of that sport are going to receive more media exposure, as is the case with Beckham who initially shot to fame in the English Premier League. With this increased media exposure comes more endorsement opportunities, and as seen with Beckham, it can lead to huge financial gains. Professor Michael Messner conducted a study at the University of South California, which began in 1989, and the results are startling. The results show that in the sixteen years since the study began, right up until 2005, there was no substantial difference in the amount of media exposure female athletes get as opposed to male athletes, with male athletes consistently receiving 90% of the media exposure relating to sport, year in, year out. Given that female sport receives far less media exposure through televised games, and news reports, female athletes are always going to come second behind their male counterparts, and as a result, are always going to receive limited endorsement opportunities. Because of this fact, the female athletes won’t receive the financial benefits that male athletes do.

Lauren Jackson/Lisa Leslie vs. Kobe Bryant/LeBron James

Lauren Jackson and Lisa Leslie are fierce rivals both on and off the court in the Women’s National Basketball Association, and are commonly referred to as being two of the best female basketball players of all time. Despite this well reported rivalry, there’s no doubt that they share the same view on one thing, which being the inequality in the amount of money they earn as opposed to their male counterparts in the National Basketball Association.

The Women’s National Basketball League is currently the most successful and longest running professional women’s sporting league in America and the best players within the league are household names throughout the country. Despite this, the amount of media exposure they receive, although reasonably high when compared to other female sports, fades into insignificance when compared to their male counterparts in the National Basketball Association. For example, the city of Seattle has two basketball teams, one male and one female. The male version, the Seattle Supersonics, plays 82 regular season games per year, of which 71 are televised. In contrast, the Seattle Storm, the female version, play 34 regular season games per year, of which just 5 are televised. This disturbing difference is reinforced further by adding that the Supersonics entertain in excess of 14,000 fans at each home game, as opposed to the Storm who attract less than half of that, with an average crowd of approximately 7,000. Additionally, if we “Google” each of the individual athletes studied in case study three and their sport, the amount of hits they each receive is substantially different. Kobe Bryant leads the way with over 3.5 million articles relating to his career and LeBron James comes in second with over 3.2 million articles. Lisa Leslie and Lauren Jackson are a long way back with just 319,000 and 305,000 articles relating to their careers respectively. Does this difference in Media exposure have an effect on the player payments and endorsement opportunities though?

In 2003, the average salary for a female in the WNBA was approximately US$46,000, whereas the average salary for a male in the NBA was one hundred times greater, being US$4.5 million. If you then add in the money these athletes receive from endorsement opportunities, the difference is even greater. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are currently the highest paid NBA players through playing contracts and endorsements, with Bryant receiving in excess of US$35 million annually, through contracts with global organisations such as Nike, McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Furthermore, James is receiving in excess of US$40.5 million annually and has contracts with organisations such as Nike, Upper Deck, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Powerade. On the flip-side, Lisa Leslie is currently earning $150,000 annually through player payments, yet doesn’t have any major endorsement contracts. Whilst Lauren Jackson is earning slightly more due to the fact she’s playing in an extra league. She currently earns $200,000 per year for player payments. To further enhance the difference between the two sexes, Jackson has previously posed nude in an assortment of male magazines such as Sports Illustrated and FHM, in order to boost her earnings.

In summary, Leslie and Jackson are not receiving as much media exposure in the WNBA as opposed to their male counterparts in Bryant and James, and as a result, are less publicly recognisable. Because of this, companies prefer to use their male counterparts to endorse their products as the public are more inclined to associate the product being endorsed with the success of the male athlete. Additionally, as in Jackson’s case, she has to rely on her femininity and her apparent sex appeal to gain more exposure through the media.

Anon.

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