Truly the world's game
Soccer explodes on Fortunate 50's International 20
Posted: Thursday May 31, 2007 10:36AM; Updated: Thursday May 31, 2007 12:05PM
Last year, Michael Schumacher's numbers were positively Chamberlain-esque, a function of his longevity, ability and name recognition.
With the former Ferrari man out of the mix, fellow Formula One star Fernando Alonso grabbed the top spot of Sports Illustrated's International 20 list of the top-earning non-American athletes with less than half Schumacher's 2006 total of $80 million. And that's even allowing for the pathetically weak dollar, which skews the salaries of Euro-denominated athletes upwards.
Two major themes emerge from this year's list. The first is that, while soccer may be the world's No. 1 sport (and, indeed, there are nine footballers in the top 20), athletes in individual sports seem to have the edge, particularly if they dominate (just ask Roger Federer, Fernando Alonso, Maria Sharapova or MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi, all of whom are in the top 10). Having a sparkling media-friendly personality can help (witness Rossi), but it is not necessarily a prerequisite (Federer is not exactly the epitome of charisma).
The other is that, particularly in soccer, past performance and image seem to count more than current achievement. All nine of the players on the list are 26 or older, evidence that it takes time to build up a fat paycheck and a decent portfolio of lucrative endorsements.
The flip side is that, once you have them, even if there is a drop in performance, you tend to hang on to them. Alessandro Del Piero, Ronaldo and David Beckham are exhibits A, B and C. All three are firmly on the downward spirals of their respective careers, yet they all remain among the wealthiest athletes in the world. It's evidence that once you consolidate your reputation, all you have to do is maintain it off the pitch. And all three do it in different ways.
Del Piero has the humility and calm of the boy-next-door whom you would want to date your daughter, Ronaldo the goofy smile of the big kid who never grew up and, of course, Beckham the celebrity glamour which seems to appeal globally (it's no surprise that he'll be the first Major League Soccer player to crack the International 20's ranks). Curiously, all three are wildly popular in Asia, which, from an endorsement perspective, remains a crucial market.
Of course, Barcelona and Brazilian national star Ronaldinho, in second place, trumps every other athlete in a team sport, and he does manage to combine performance on the pitch with appeal off it, as does Arsenal captain Thierry Henry (ninth).
Three other players seem to benefit disproportionately from what can only be termed the Roman Abramovich Effect. The Chelsea trio of Michael Ballack, Andriy Shevchenko and John Terry all make the list, no doubt on the strength of the fact that their employer is the most munificent boss in sports, a global version of George Steinbrenner who puts even the New York Yankees boss to shame.
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