← Back to portfolio

Fashion Endorsements Allow Athletes to Score in Style

Decades ago, anyone would scoff at the idea of a professional athlete hocking their own clothing line. Athletes (in most cases, men) were seen as tough, rugged, and definitely not into fashion. Times have changed, and many of today’s athletes (both men and women) have taken the opportunity to add ‘fashion designer’ to their resumes.

So why are more and more athletes getting into the fashion game? We asked Karen Karuza, Fashion Design instructor at The Art Institute of Philadelphia her thoughts on this phenomenon.

“We are a culture inspired by celebrity and the glam, glitter and money associated with that title. With the incredible influence of social media, young people look up to celebrity athletes,” she says. Who better to give us fashion notes, particularly athletic fashion, than the all-stars we see during the games? When it comes to athletic gear, like tennis shoes, star athletes are the obvious choice. If they endorse a particular shoe, the public believes that if they buy these shoes, they can somehow become better at their game as well.

Heather Zeller, founder of A Glam Slam, a blog about fashion in the professional sports world, has her own take on why athletes in particular would be interested in these endorsement deals.  “Professional athletes realize the importance of cultivating their own brand beyond the field, court, ice, etc. They are aware that their time in their sport has an expiration date,” she says. “In most sports, athletes are subject to strict uniform regulations without much opportunity to showcase their personal style. Fashion is one of the truest forms of personal expression so it makes sense that many athletes choose that route to help perpetuate their brand.”

The traditional fashion influencers, like fashion magazines, bloggers and high-end designers are all helping to represent athletes as legitimate fashion icons. Vogue’s editor-in-chief and one of the most influential people in fashion, Anna Wintour, has supported many different athletes. “They're personally invited to large scale fashion events such as the Met Ball and offered front row seats to Fashion Week shows,” says Zeller. She notes that this connection to the fashion elite allows athletes to gain fans that might otherwise not be interested in sports. “The same goes for fashion houses. Utilizing pro athletes allows them to gain access to an audience that they might otherwise not be able to reach. It's a mutually beneficial relationship.” She explains that many athletes see fashion as a way to express themselves outside the court or arena. Most of the time, we see them in team uniforms with little personal expression. Fashion gives them a way to showcase their personal style.

So how much say does the superstar athlete get in the design of their fashion endorsements? It’s different for everyone. “I believe for the most part, athletes are stylists for their brands. They certainly have a say in color, fabric, silhouette but are more the ‘curators’ of these elements than the originators,” says Karuza.

The Players

Who are the athletes that are most influential in the style game? The better question is who isn’t. Athletes from all different sports, from tennis to basketball are signing endorsement deals, trying their hand at fashion design and starring as the model for their own products.

Michael Jordan

One of the most notable and successful athlete fashion endorsements of all time is Nike’s Air Jordan. The tennis shoes, designed for Michael Jordan’s team, the Chicago Bulls, in 1985, have become one of the top selling basketball shoes of all time. Jordan didn’t have a hand in the design of the shoe, rather it was designed for him. With a new version of the shoe released each year, many Air Jordan aficionados have become curators of their own valuable collections. Some of the shoes have become so valuable as a collectors item that some limited edition shoes are worth up to $10,000.00

Lebron James

The NBA seems to boast some of the most fashion-forward athletes. “They're well-known for taking risks as it relates to their off-court clothing choices, prompting fashion to become a large part of the game,” says Zeller. “Last year's NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder was as much about athletes' play on-the-court, as their wild post-game fashions.”

Before Lebron James even played a single game in the NBA, he had signed the biggest basketball shoe endorsement of all time. His career was so hyped up that everyone wanted a piece, whether it was his shoes or clothing. Besides wearing Nike’s brand on the court and appearing in commercials, James also gets a hand in the design of the shoes. The estimated value of his deal with Nike is $90 million. According to Business Insider, James makes 72% of his income from endorsement deals.

David Beckham

Let’s be honest, product endorsements aren’t just about fashion, they’re also about cash. In fact many successful endorsement deals pay out a large chunk of the athlete’s earnings. Take David Beckham for example. In 2003, he signed the biggest endorsement deal in sports, ever. The estimated value of his contract with Adidas is $160 million. He gets paid for a percentage of sales as well as his promotional work.

Besides his deal with Adidas, Beckham also promotes what he wears under the soccer shorts, underwear for Armani to be specific.

Tiger Woods

Endorsement deals can get tricky, particularly when their star is involved in some type of scandal. One of the most famous career-threatening scandals was that of Tiger Woods. Despite the bad press surrounding his infidelity and home life, many would say that Woods still came out on top. He was just too valuable for many of his brands to let go of.

Woods’ endorsement deals are endless and the majority of his income comes from these deals. Some of his fashion promotions include Rolex and Tag Heuer, as well as Nike Golf.


Karen Karuza, Fashion Design instructor at The Art Institute of Philadelphia

Heather Zeller, founder of A Glam Slam, http://blog.aglamslam.com/Heather’s unique point of view has been featured on Fox News, NBC, espnW, SportsIllustrated.com and in The Washington Post. A Glam Slam was named as a “Blog of the Year” finalist for the 2011 Stevie Awards for Women in Business. Heather is a contributor to the Women Talk Sports Network and the Yardbarker Network as well. She received a B.A. in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Heather resides in New York City.”