Since news emerged this week about Usain Bolt’s new contract with Puma, there has been much debate about what he is earning and whether or not he should be earning more.

Bolt is perhaps the most popular athlete in the world today and that popularity has resulted in significant earnings for the man from Sherwood Content in Trelawny. Forbes magazine estimates that he earns upwards of US$24 million a year mainly from endorsements. On the track I estimate Bolt makes somewhere between two and thee million a year. This is contingent on whether meet directors can meet his US$250,000 to US$300,000 appearance fee and how many meets he competes in each year. Off the track is where Bolt makes most of his money through endorsement deals with about a dozen brands including Gatorade, Puma, Celcom, Comcast, Virgin Media, Visa Europe, Soul Electronics, Hublot, Regupol, Digicel, and Samsung.

This latest deal insider sources claim is worth about US$1o million a year up from the US$9 million a year he was being paid since 2010. Under the new deal, reports said, Bolt will also be paid about US$4 million a year as a Puma Ambassador after he retires. “I can say that we have been working on this for a long time and are delighted to continue the partnership with Puma,” said a Bolt rep on the deal they recently signed.

I am sure that the six-time Olympic gold medalist, has similar post-career deals with some of his other sponsors as well. A Gatorade representative here in the Caribbean told me last year when the sports drink launched their global campaign using Bolt as the main character, that they plan to have a long-lasting relationship with the fastest man in history long after he retires.

As it stands right now we estimate that Bolt earns about US$2-3 million on the track and more than US$20 million off it. Not bad, I say. But when you compare it with athletes from more popular sports you get an understanding of how track and field compares with those top sports.  Boxer Floyd Mayweather earns upwards of US$70 million a year, baseball’s Alex Rodriquez earns  US$32 million a year, basketball’s Kobe Bryant earns US$25 million, soccer’s Christiano Ronaldo about US$20 million, the NFL’s Peyton Manning US$16 million, and tennis player Rafael Nadal earns about US$12 million. These are earnings from actual play, not endorsements.

What Bolt earns on the track by far pales in comparison because track doesn’t generate that kind of interest or revenue outside of an Olympic or World Championship year. That Bolt makes what he does in endorsements considering that his salary pales in comparison to these afore-mentioned athletes, speaks to his significant global appeal.

Some of us however, argue that Bolt, already the highest earning track and field athlete in history, should be earning more. They argue that if Bolt was an American athlete or if his handlers were more ‘sharkish’, they should have been able to generate more money. But I suspect that certain realities need to be taken into consideration.

Track and field in the US market, for example,  barely registers on the radar. The NFL, basketball, baseball, boxing, volleyball, beach and indoor, college sports, and swimming all rank higher than track and field. In Europe, football is by far the most popular sport, with other sports like  Formula One racing, Motor GP, horse racing, swimming, and all kinds of sports pushing track and field way down on the list of popular sports. That limits what Bolt can earn from the sport in terms of salary because while he competes before crowds of about 40,000 and a few million on television, those numbers really don’t compare favourably with what the other sports generate.

Notwithstanding those limitations Bolt is by far the best paid track and field athlete in history and it is useful to note that not even the best paid US  or European track athlete even comes close to earning as much as Bolt does even though they are signed with bigger brands like Nike and Adidas.

It is true that Bolt transcends other sports and cultures and that is due to his personality and his larger-than-life image. This is why he has attracted so many other sponsors. Bolt has not only created history on the track but his earnings off it are also record-setting. Can he earn more? I am sure of it but I am sure it will require several things to happen before he retires in four years or so.

Track has to grow exponentially, something that the IAAF seems to be struggling to do and creative ways have to be found to make the effect of positive drug tests less impacting. Bolt is doing the best he can to keep the sport alive, and he is doing a good enough job to ensure he will retire a rich man but as appealing as Bolt is, he can only go as far as his sport can carry him.

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  1. Leopold McPherson says:

    Very good article, well researched and written.

  2. Mark Winzenried says:

    It would be really great if Usain Bolt could donate a Chevron All-weather track at DRAX HALL, St. Ann. That area really need a quality all-weather track…and he wouldn’t even miss the money it would cost.

  3. Robert says:

    Lord help us if he ever tests positive or is proven to have doped.

  4. sgordon says:

    why counting the man’s money, and putting it in the paper, his family might soon have to move to foreign land to stay alive, them gun men don’t respect anyone, not even a great jamaica athlete.

  5. david callum says:

    Sad point but true. But Bolt’s earnings are reported all over the place, so no damage is done repeating it here. His exploits on the track, magnificent as they are, contribute only 50% of his earnings overall. The other 50% is due to his personality. Strip away his personality and his endorsements would not amount to much. Carl Lewis and others like him are living proof of what I’m saying. But go a little further: Bolt’s contribution to the earnings of other athletes is phenomenal, simply because through him primarily athletics has awoken from the doldrums and into sheer excitement and family entertainment.

  6. Johannes says:

    Good blog post. One thing that we have to take into account is that Usain Bolt, compared to his “rivals” in other sports (such as Nadal, baseball players, boxers and so on), only competes 10-20 seconds (a race doesn’t last for long) about 10-15 times per year. That is not much exposure compare to people in other sports that competes all year or in long seasons. And that is also why he can’t earn more than he does, and the only time that he “really” matters is in the championships. I would say his salary is sensational and unreal considering how few times you actually see him compete.

    If a track and field season would last longer maybe he could earn more, but that is not possible since you can’t be in shape for such a long period.

  7. Winston Gordon says:

    I am not hoping on Mr.Bolts salary to be bigger nor that he runs more, as a Perth Town man and a friend of Mr.Bolt since he was 7 years old I am looking forward to England the Country that has colonized us to come to terms of recognizing greatness of a man, Honor him, placed the name of gentleman to this Caribbean Citizen so that his name may be Title The Rt Honorable Sir Usain Bolt,viva Jamaica viva Chile,GOD bless the Queen.

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levyl Posted by: levyl September 25, 2013 at 1:06 pm