Athletes these days are seen as human capital brands: walking advertisements who have the power to bring attention not only to themselves, but to their endorsers. Having your product associated with a high-caliber player can be invaluable and generate more than just a monetary return on one’s investment. Exposure is arguably even more important, which is why the top brands are always seen vying for the attention of athletes with the biggest star power.
LeBron James has been a fixture for Nike since 2003, helping the Oregon company amass over $340 million in sneaker sales last year alone (more than $16 billion in revenue since 2003). In high school, his celebrity was undisputed. He had brands knocking at his door and willing to lay out the red carpet. At the time, adidas, home to athletes like Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady, was confident they could land another big name, offering James a $100 million shoe contract over 10 years. However, the terms of the deal were altered at the last minute, replaced by a contract worth only $7 million/year with incentives over the same time span. James wound up signing a $90 million endorsement with Nike, and is one of the reasons they now lay claim to 92% of the market share in the basketball shoe industry. What could have been for adidas, never was.