(Correction: In 2007 NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was No. 1 overall. The Power 100 no longer includes non-playing athletes.Correction was made to subhed on page 2. Lindsey Vonn is No. 13 on the Power 100.)
Ever since the Power 100 was launched in 2007, Tiger Woods has held the spot at the top athlete. Not this year. Shaken by scandal and struggling on the fairways, Woods is no longer America's most powerful athlete, as measured on and off the field.
He's still, however, the highest-paid. In 2010 he earned an estimated $70 million, almost 30 percent higher than the next-best-paid athlete, golf rival Phil Mickelson, who took home more than $53.8 million. But Woods's earnings came primarily from endorsements, with the big purses going to others. That left his income down 32 percent from the more-than $103 million he generated in 2009. Unless he can regain his game—and the trust of fans and advertisers—his earnings are likely to keep plummeting.
Woods wasn't the only big star to drop in the rankings because of negative publicity. LeBron James slid from the No. 2 spot on last year's Power 100, to No. 11. When he announced on live TV last July that he'd be taking his "talents" from Cleveland to Miami, numerous fans soured on him—including many far from Ohio. While the Miami Heat are having a good year, James may need to digest further crow before he can reconquer Madison Avenue and Main Street.
"If you walk into a buzz saw of negativity, then you just paid for that, so marketers are cautious," says Tony Ponturo, a consultant who see things from the sponsors' side after spending years managing Anheuser-Busch's $700 million sports marketing budget. "[The athletes] that consistently have the right profile of the corporate and human citizen are the ones that are being sought after right now."
Who, then, is the new No. 1 atop the 2011 Power 100? That honor goes to the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning, popular among fans and advertisers—and one heck of a quarterback.
"They Can Relate to" Peyton Manning
Though Manning didn't make it to this year's Super Bowl, he led the Colts there in two of the last four seasons, winning Super Bowl XLI in 2007. He consistently produces seasons with high QB ratings and nearly led the NFL in passing yards in 2010. On top of his stellar on-field performance, Manning maintains an all-American image.
"He's likeable," says Ponturo. "He looks like he's a regular person. Those on Madison Avenue realize that there is a big world out there looking for someone they can relate to."
A second fresh face atop the 2011 Power 100 is that of Shaun White, who vaulted 49 places to No. 2. Late in 2009 beverage maker Red Bull built a private halfpipe for the snowboarder in the mountains near Silverton, Colo. The investment helped White devise a risky new trick: the double mctwist 1260. Early last year, he won his second Olympic gold medal on the score from his first run, which did not feature the dangerous maneuver. Instead of enjoying an easy victory lap, White then executed the double mctwist 1260 on his second run, beating his previous score.
White is now the dominant face of the creative, dynamic sports popularized by ESPN's Winter X Games. "He helped contemporize the Olympics and bring a younger audience," Ponturo says.
The 24-year-old White turned out to be extremely likable and recognizable in polls last year, drawing endorsements from mainstream sponsors that include Visa (V), Target (TGT), and Oakley. The combination of splendid achievement on the slopes and lucrative on-screen pitches enabled White to edge Woods for second place in this year's Power 100.
No. 13 Is No. 1 Female, Lindsey Vonn
Rounding out the top 10 are Mickelson at No. 4, Tom Brady at No.5, Shaquille O'Neal at No.6, Drew Brees at No.7, Lance Armstrong at No.8, Albert Pujols at No.9 and Apolo Anton Ohno at No.10.The highest-ranking female athlete on the list is Lindsey Vonn, at No. 13.
To determine the 2011 Power 100—the 100 most powerful athletes on and off the field—Businessweek.com once again worked with Atlanta-based CSE Group (formerly known as Career Sports & Entertainment) and Businessweek.com columnist Rick Horrow of Horrow Sports Ventures.Off-field metrics included the results of polls on individual athletes by E-Poll Market Research, along with estimated endorsement dollars earned.On-field metrics reflected 2009 and 2010 regular-season athletic performance—postseason feats were not factored in—by athletes who are currently playing in the U.S.(To see complete methodology, click here)
It is tempting to think that deserving athletes are inevitably showered with golden sponsorships. In fact, big checks are far from guaranteed. In 2010 a mere 36 athletes in U.S. sports earned more than $10 million from making endorsements. An additional 137 took in more than $1 million apiece. Most athletes still make far more money from salaries than from endorsements.
Why are endorsements so important? As we wrote in last year's Power 100, athletic might is now about more than bulging muscles and superlative physical performance. In today's sporting world, power has taken on a different meaning: It now betokens an athlete's ability to connect with a broad number of consumers, thereby helping companies sell everything from beer to business management. In other words, athletic power can also be measured by the wealth of endorsements a sports figure issues.
"Freak," Lincecum Awaits Big Ad Bucks
Many winning athletes find endorsement dollars elusive. Tim Lincecum, a San Francisco Giants pitcher known as the "Freak," won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009. He then clinched last year's World Series with a clutch performance in game five. He inked a deal with Red Bull last summer, then dropped in our rankings, partly because his regular-season earned run average (on which a percentage of the Power 100 is based) worsened. Lincecum also remains something of an advertising wild card due to a marijuana arrest in 2009.
On the other hand, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster had a breakout season in which he handily won the NFL rushing title, placing him at No. 22 on the Power 100. Foster was the only running back to average more than 100 yards per game last season. However, one big season doesn't generally trigger top-shelf sponsorships. Foster has signed a small deal with Boombah, an Illinois-based shoe company trying to break out of the softball market. His off-field power prospects will look a lot better if the Texans gain greater national prominence.
Advertisers are shunning up-and-comers to concentrate mainly on big-name athletes, even those in the tail-end of their careers. "I'm seeing a lot more focus on only the great athletes," says Ray Katz, president of sports properties and media at Leverage Agency, a company that has represented or worked with KFC (YUM), Gillette, and the U.S. Open. "There are fewer local deals for first-tier local stars. You're seeing that kind of dry up."
While that might strike some fans and agents as unfair, companies cannot afford meaningful sponsorships of athletes who lack a reliable track record. They prefer decency and consistency over razzle-dazzle and the threat of scandal. Not that they have anything against a great comeback story. If Tiger and LeBron can win back their fans on and off the field, maybe these troubled stars can retake the Power 100 in 2012.
Click here to see all the athletes on the 2011 Power 100.