1. Peyton Manning
The Indianapolis Colts quarterback is more than simply the one of the best players in America’s sport. He’s also a model of class, sportsmanship and overall likability that fans (and sponsors) can’t get enough of.
photos of top 20 most powerful athletes of the world.
2. Shaun White
White, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, combines dominance on the slopes with a friendly face and personality. All this adds up to instant marketability.
3. Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods may have fallen from grace, but he hasn’t fallen far. Last year he still made $70 million in endorsements to remain America’s highest paid athlete. But guess who’s not far behind.
4. Phil Mickelson
More than just a moneymaker and an ace golfer, Mickelson provided the feel good sports story of the year when his wife, recovering from breast cancer surgery, met him at the 18th hole of his third Masters victory.
5. Tom Brady
Although he couldn’t make it past Rex Ryan’s Jets, the three-time Super Bowl champ still led his New England Patriots to a staggering 14 regular season wins.
6. Shaquille O’Neal
At 38, the four-time NBA champ has a legitimate chance to earn his fifth ring as the back-up center for the Boston Celtics. Even if the big man falls short, it’s doubtful that his extreme marketability will suffer much.
7. Drew Brees
Want to know how to win the support of fans and sponsors the world over? Try bringing a championship to an American city that’s seen more hard-luck and shown more resiliency than any other. That’s exactly what Drew Brees did for New Orleans.
8. Lance Armstrong
Although Armstrong has seen his share of controversy over the past few years, no number of doping allegations can take away from his cycling accomplishments (winning seven Tour de Frances after beating cancer) and his charity work.
9. Albert Pujols
The perfect antidote to the backlash against baseball over Performance Enhancing Drugs, Pujols is proof that you don’t have to play dirty to dominate the game.
10. Apolo Anton Ohno
Ohno? Oh yes. The Olympic speed skater has won loads of gold medals, but he really captured America’s heart as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars.
11. LeBron James
To some, LeBron is a backstabber who betrayed his hometown team on national TV. To others, he’s a phenomenal player who, like many other athletes, simply wants the best chance to win. For the time being at least, it would appear the public has embraced the first perspective; LeBron slipped a whopping nine spots this year.
12. Michael Phelps
Although it’s been over two years since winning eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, that stellar achievement is enough for him to continue raking in the advertising bucks for years to come.
13. Lindsey Vonn
The darling of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vonn is a sexy, hardworking downhill phenom whose star should only continue to burn bright into the future.
14. Kobe Bryant
In 2009, Bryant won his first NBA title without the big man Shaq down low. But that clearly wasn’t enough for him. Last year he won another title and now has a solid shot of a 2nd three-repeat, a feat that would only be rivaled by the great Michael Jordan.
15. Roger Federer
The Swiss Maestro has won 16 Grand Slam singles titles, more than any other male tennis player in history. He held the ATP number one spot for 237 straight weeks until earlier this month, when the following athlete overtook him…
16. Rafael Nadal
Winner of last year’s French Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon, the dashing Spaniard’s advertising strategy is wildly varied: he’s been in a claymation viral video, but he’s also gearing up to be the new face (and body of course) of Armani underwear.
17. Eli Manning
While no match for big brother Peyton in the endorsement category, his heroics in Super Bowl XLII have made him a fan favorite pretty much everywhere outside of Foxboro.
18. Serena Williams
The accolades speak for themselves: 27 Grand Slam titles, 2 Olympic golds, and Williams shows no sign of slowing down. And with her fashion line and high-dollar endorsements, Williams’ influence is as potent as her crushing serves.
19. David Beckham
Plagued by injuries, Beckham didn’t exactly have a banner year on the field. But he’s the most recognizable face in international soccer which certainly counts for something ($40.5 million to be exact).
20. Dwayne Wade
Unlike LeBron, Wade didn’t have to betray anyone to get his own personal dream team in Miami. Nevertheless, it looks like he’s suffered from “guilt by association,” falling to number 20 after being ranked sixth in last year’s list.