In the modern-day sports economy, endorsement deals have become a key part of the lives of athletes. Sports stars get recruited by brands to serve as brand ambassadors in exchange for money. For a significant majority of wealthy athletes, off-the-field moves like endorsement deals contribute greatly to their net worth.
For so many years, Michael Jordan’s billion-dollar status was fueled by his endorsement deal with Nike. Also, tennis stars Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff have earned more money from endorsement deals than on the court, as per Forbes.
In recent years, a number of record-breaking endorsement deals have been signed with rising and established athletes. However, Reebok’s 2000 endorsement deal with Venus Williams remains historic.
Reebok signed a five-year, $40 million endorsement contract with the then-rising tennis star and fashion symbol, making it the biggest endorsement deal ever signed by a female athlete, according to the New York Times. She was subsequently presented as a female response to Tiger Woods. At the time, the golfer had signed a whopping $100 million endorsement deal with Nike.
”This is the first deal for a woman athlete that is in the upper echelon of male athletes,” Bob Williams of Burns Sports, a company that matches athletes to advertisers, said. ”It’s the first time an advertiser felt that it had to pay top dollar for a female athlete. This is more of a sponsorship than an endorsement.”
Prior to the $40 million endorsement deal, Williams signed a $15 million deal with Reebok, dating back to 1995 when she turned pro. While Reebok’s offer to Williams was lucrative even in contemporary times, she was entertaining other offers.
”But they didn’t have the vision of Reebok,” her agent Kevin Davis said. ”These guys at Reebok just blew away what they offered. Only one was into the end.”
Nonetheless, Williams said she had no plans of parting ways with Reebok. ”Even when I wasn’t officially with Reebok, I kept wearing Reebok. I kept wearing my lucky Reebok dress. I didn’t really want to switch my allegiance,” she said.
Williams started her professional career in 1994 and made her debut at the Australian Open in 1998 against her sister, Serena Williams, in the second round; the two have since faced each other over 20 times in their professional careers.
Williams went on to play in 16 Grand Slam finals and also won 14 Grand Slam Women’s doubles titles with Serena Williams as her partner. Her dominance in the women’s tennis division started in 2000; following that, she went on to win 35 consecutive singles and six tournaments. The Olympic gold medalist and entrepreneur has gone on to have endorsement deals with Wilson, Electronic Arts, Kraft, Ralph Lauren and Tide besides her deal with Reebok.