Matthew Hook in the Independent on Sunday: David Beckham is on course to overtake Michael Jordan's $100m a year


Britain's best-known ambassador for sport is set to top the league and take the basketball legend's position of the world's highest-earning retired sport star.

matthew hook The Independent on Sunday

Two years after quitting football, David Beckham is challenging Michael Jordan's position as the world's highest-earning retired sports star.

Beckham ranks second only to the US basketball legend in the list of best-remunerated retired athletes, making $75m (L48m) last year compared with the former Chicago Bulls player’s $100m.

And now the Englishman is reconfiguring his business interests, to focus less on product endorsements and more on joint ventures. A series of announcements is expected in the autumn about projects that should take his earnings to a new level.

At the centre of his plans is an alliance with the Hong Kong-based Global Brands Group, which Beckham and his business guru, Simon Fuller, signed last December. GBG, one of the world’s leading branded clothing companies, with licences for Disney and Star Wars imagery, is understood to be hoping to partner with Beckham to revive a selection of dormant heritage brands.

The ex-footballer took a similar approach in another joint venture, with drinks giant Diageo. Beckham is an investor in Haig Club, a single-grain Scotch whisky with a name well known to older generations. The brand is seen as having great potential in China and South-east Asia.

In March, Beckham travelled to China, where he has a huge personal following, to work on initiatives with GBG that include Beckham-branded products. They hope to create new brands and invest in image rights deals, following the lead of CKX (the American parent company of Fuller’s XIX Management), which bought the licence in 2006 for the name and likeness of Muhammad Ali.

The third prong of Beckham’s joint-venture strategy is Miami FC, the American football club that his consortium acquired for a discounted $25m, thanks to an option in his playing deal with LA Galaxy. Although the project has been repeatedly delayed, Beckham is expected to announce significant new investment.

The 52-year-old Michael Jordan, who retired in 2003, is a billionaire. Between 2000 and 2012, he earned $480m from his relationship with Nike, a court heard last week. He claimed that he is owed $10m every time a company uses his name in an ad. Beckham’s earnings are growing at a phenomenal rate, having been estimated by Forbes at $51m in 2013. He owns a third of the successful clothing business run by his wife, Victoria, and is its largest investor.

Steve Martin, CEO of M&C Saatchi Sports & Entertainment, who first worked with Beckham on an adidas account in 1994, said that he was following a clear plan. “The evolution has been to take equity status – that’s when you get to a completely different level because you have skin in the game.”

Richard Gillis, a sports business commentator, said Brand Beckham had become the classic case study taught in sports marketing courses, despite the man himself being something of an enigma.

“It’s hard to say what he stands for, what his politics are or what he believes in. He’s a blank canvas on to which people paint their aspirations. He is a perfect brand vehicle in that way.”

Beckham rarely speaks in public, a point exemplified by his silent cameo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E, directed by his friend Guy Ritchie. But his next role, as a grumpy knight in Ritchie’s Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur, is described as “a speaking part with more depth to it”, for which he has had some acting training. Beckham’s team has also been in talks with the BBC for a follow-up to last year’s motorcycle documentary Into the Unknown, which was pre-sold to 14 countries.

The English star is scheduled to devote a lot of energy to “7”, the fund he has set up with Unicef, the UN Children’s Fund, to tackle issues such as child gangs in El Salvador and water supplies for young people in Burkina Faso.

He has reduced the range of endorsements which proliferated in his playing days but included such products as Police sunglasses and Gillette razors. He will maintain his relationship with the high street retailer H&M, and is in the process of renewing his 20-year partnership with adidas, the official kit supplier to America’s Major League Soccer. Beckham likes to be seen as an early adopter of technology and has a stake in MyEye, a British live-streaming app to rival Periscope.

Matthew Hook, of media agency Carat, said that while many athletes cut shallow commercial deals, Beckham shows a “very high level of commitment” to projects, ensuring their success and his own rewards.

In a rare loss of cool, the former footballer took to his Instagram account last week to complain about press criticism of his four-year-old daughter’s use of a dummy. Hook said the authenticity of his response was integral to his brand appeal. “It showed that he knows his own mind, that he’s a committed family man, and that he’s up to date with technology. These things are part of his brand.”

Top 10 highest earning retired sportspeople

1. Michael Jordan, age 52, Basketball

Earnings: $100m (L63.9m)

2. David Beckham, 40, Football

$75m (L47.9m)

3. Arnold Palmer, 85, Golf

Earnings: $42m (L26.8m)

4. Jack Nicklaus, 75, Golf

Earnings: $28m (L17.9m)

5. Jerry Richardson, 79, American football

Earnings: $23m (L14.7m)

6. Shaquille O’Neal, 43, Basketball

Earnings: $21m (L13.4m)

7. Gary Player, 79, Golf

Earnings: $21m (L13.4m)

8. Magic Johnson, 56, Basketball

Earnings: $20m (L12.8m)

9. Pele, 74, Football

Earnings: $16m (L10.2m)

10. Greg Norman, 60, Golf

Earnings: $16m (L10.2m)

matthew hook The Independent on Sunday
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