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.