The most powerful athletes in sports

Tiger Woods

Woods has struggled to win tournaments and sign new sponsorship deals since his November 2009 car crash and the infidelity scandal that followed. Yet Woods continues to be the world’s best-paid athlete thanks to $3 million overseas appearance fees and two sponsors that stuck with him: Nike and Electronic Arts. First-week sales this spring of EA Sports’ Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters were the highest in the 14-year history of the popular video game franchise.

LeBron James

James’ reputation took a hit last summer when he announced he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat on a national televised special dubbed “The Decision”. His negative Q score soared 77%. Despite the animosity, James continues to be a hot ticket. His jersey was the NBA’s best seller this season and he has the No. 1 basketball shoe on the market. In April, James partnered with Fenway Sports Group to manage his business interests. As part of the deal James received a very small stake in FSG-owned soccer club, Liverpool.

Kobe Bryant

Bryant’s Lakers were swept out of the playoffs in a shocking end to their season after two straight NBA titles. Bryant continues to be the NBA’s biggest star in China where he has a popular website and recently signed on as pitchman for Mercedes-Benz’s local Smart Car brand. Bryant’ $24.8 million salary this year is $4 million more than any other player.

Roger Federer

Arguably the greatest tennis player ever, the Federer era may be nearing its end. He has been passed by both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the rankings. Federer still commands the most impressive endorsement portfolio in all of sports with 10 major deals including Nike, Credit Suisse, Rolex and Wilson. He was the only one of Gillette’s original 3 “Champions” to have his deal renewed this year as the brand dropped Tiger Woods and Thierry Henry.

David Beckham

Beckham’s pitch prowess has declined in recent years as the 36-year-old’s career winds down. Yet he is still soccer’s top endorser thanks to a massive deal with Adidas that pays him royalties from Beckham branded soccer apparel and cleats as well as Beckham-approved clothing from lifestyle lines like ObyO. He signed a deal with Samsung in May to become the company’s global brand ambassador for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

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