Branding the World of Sports

Top 10 Nike Endorsers of All-Time

Posted by ZA on August 4, 2008

In 30+ years in business some of the biggest names in sports have worn Nike’s swoosh.  Many of those athletes are, or were, the biggest names in their sport.  WIthso many great athletes on their roster how do you decide who are the best endorsers in Nike’s history?  Which athletes are the top endorsers for Nike of all-time?

There are a large pool of Nike athletes, so to establish the top 10 first lets establish the criteria for inclusion.  The top 10 Nike endorsers is based on which athletes had the biggest impact on Nike’s brand, and are most associated with Nike.  Impact on the brand includes the amount of dollars generated, number of shoes sold and associate of the athlete with Nike.  So who are the top 10 endorsers in Nike history?  Below is the list, plus some of the other great athletes who didn’t make the list.

Top 10 greatest Nike endorsers of all-time:
1. Michael Jordan
Jordan and Nike are as closely linked as an athlete and product in history.  His Airness is one of the few Nike uber-athletes with his own Nike product line. Jordan IS Nike, so much that his Jordan Brand is one of top divisions within Nike.  MJ was part of some of Nike’s most successful marketing campaigns, including; his “It’s gotta be the shoes” with Mars Blackmon.  Jordan’s impact on Nike has translated into over a billion in sales.
2. Tiger Woods
The other megastar with his own Nike division is well on his way to making billions for Nike with his Tiger Woods golf line.  It is rare that Tiger takes a backseat to anyone, but in this case his the Prince to Michael Jordan’s role as King.  Over his lifetime Tiger’s Nike golf division will generate more revenue for Nike than the Jordan Brand, because they have a larger suite of products that span from shoes and shirts to irons and drivers.  But Tiger might be permanently stuck in second place because while he is the most prominent face of Nike today, Jordan was the only face of Nike for many years.
3. Bo Jackson
Tough call at #3, but Bo Jackson gets the nod because “Bo Knows” Nike and in the early 90’s Bo was Nike.  The fascination over this dual sport athlete allowed Nike to build a unique and memorable campaign that featured Bo dominating a variety of sports.  The “Bo Knows” campaign still ranks as one of the top Nike campaigns of all-time.  Just imagine the global impact Bo might have had on Nike had he not been injured relatively early in his career?
4. Andre Agassi
As Andre said in his commercials for Canon, “Image is everything!”  And the image of Andre became synonymous with Nike tennis, from his pseudo-denim shorts to the vibrant Nike shirts.  His long career and high Q rating made him a premier pitchman for Nike, making it almost forgivable that he dropped Nike after 17 years for a deal with rival Adidas in 2005.
5. Ronaldinho
Ronaldinho brings a global appeal to Nike like few athletes have aside from Jordan and Tiger.  One of the most recognizable athletes in the World, the Brazilian soccer star is a magician with the ball.  Nike has capitalized on his star power by designing entire ad campaigns around him for the 2006 World Cup.  Over the next decade Ronaldinhowill have as big an impact on the Nike brand as anyone this side of LeBron James.
6. Lance Armstrong
Lance is the triple threat for Nike, not only is he known for his seven Tour de France wins, but he is also a regular fixture in the celebrity magazines and as a spokesman in the fight to cure cancer.  Nike’s Livestrong campaign for the Lance Armstrong Foundation has sold over 70 million bracelets.  Even though Lance’s professional cycling career is over, he keeps going strong as an inspirational pitchman for the Swoosh.
7. Michael Vick
Hindsight is 20/20, obviously this is one that Nike wishes it could Just Do Over.  But in the years before Mike Vick finally imploded Nike made him the face of their football campaign.  Vick’s ability and Nike’s promotion made him a big part of their brand growth in football, even if Nike now wishes they had never heard his name.
8. Deion Sanders
“Primetime” was the second coming of Bo Jackson; Neon Deion was the chance for Nike to again cash in big on a two-sport star.  Nike helped to introduce Primetime to America, and Sanders brash personality and electrifying style of play did the rest. 
9. Pete Sampras
In five years you’ll probably be able to plug Roger Federer into this spot and not miss a beat, because Sampras and Federer are nearly identical Nike pitchman.  The primary difference was Nike paired Sampras up with Agassi in the classic “good versus evil” matchup.  If Nike wants to recapture lightning in a bottle they’ll remake Rafael Nadal and Federer as a modern day Sampras and Agassi. 
10. LeBron James
Blaspheme to list King James this low, I know but he’s got a lot of years in-front of him to prove he deserves to be higher.  Just wait until 2010 when he heads to New York to play for either the Nets or Knicks, then you’ll see LeBron explode up this list.

Those are the top 10 Nike endorsers of all-time.  The hardest decision was trying to figure if either Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova had a big enough impact yet to include on the list.  Ultimately I decided that neither is more worthy yet than the 10 men listed above, but I would not be surprised to see Sharapova on the list in five years.  It was also tough to leave legendary Nike pitchman Steve Prefontaine off the list, but the media exposure that athletes from the 1990’s to today have received, greatly overshadow the exposure of Pre in his prime.

It is also funny to see names like Tom Brady and Charles Barkley not on the list, because those are two athletes who are iconic in their respective sports.  But while Barkley gets an honorable mention due to his long career reping Nike and his famous “I am not a role model” spot for Nike, Brady isn’t even in Nike’s top 25 right now.

Let me know who I left off that deserves to the on the list, or who should be listed higher on the list.  Below are some of the other famous Nike pitchman I considered for this prestigious list.

Freddy Adu
Carmelo Anthony
Charles Barkley
Tom Brady
Kobe Bryant
Vince Carter
Brandi Chastain
Landon Donovan
David Duval
Kevin Durant
Roger Federer
Kevin Garnett
Wayne Gretzky
Ken Griffey Jr.
Mia Hamm
Derek Jeter
Dan Johnson
Michael Johnson
Randy Johnson
Marion Jones
Roy Jones Jr
Mario Lemieux
Justin Leonard
Carl Lewis
Greg Maddux
John McEnroe
Mark McGwire
Rafael Nadal
Cam Neely
Dave O’Brien
Steve Prefontaine
Alex Rodriguez
Cristiano Ronaldo
Wayne Rooney
Monica Seles
Maria Sharapova
Sheryl Swoopes
LaDainian Tomlinson
Brian Urlacher
Michelle Wie
Serena Williams
Liu Xiang
Steve Young

Who did I forget?  Which Nike endorsers would be in the top 10 on your list?

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5 Responses to “Top 10 Nike Endorsers of All-Time”

  1. leah said


  2. Rico said

    Actually not in top 10
    manny pacquiao

  3. Sabrina said

    Manny Pacquiao

  4. Regina said

    This article was dated 2008
    At this point in time, The Face of Boxing on Nike commercials is: Manny Pacquiao!

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