The global sports industry is one of the biggest in the world, and those who play have been elevated to global superstars. Sports have always been popular, but it’s only in the last few decades that those involved have commanded the attention and salaries that are involved today. Classic stars like Babe Ruth, Mohammed Ali and Jack Charlton might have earned a respectable wage at the time, but it was nothing compared to the millions that players rake in every year now.

Why do sport athletes become stars?

There are a few reasons why the top sports stars now command so much fame and money. Firstly, due to television, sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, Premier League and Cricket are broadcast around the world. Not only do the clubs get paid for the television rights, but merchandise sales have increased due to interest from a wider fan base. Gone are the days of supporting your local team, you can now pick whoever you want in the world and be able to watch their matches at your convenience. This has also meant that some players, through their talent, personality, looks, or a combination of all these factors, have become famous, their names known by people who wouldn’t particularly call themselves sports fans. 

Secondly, this fame has been monetized, bringing in a second income, and also spreading their image further. Stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham have used their image to sell their own lines of clothing and fragrances, with fans wanting to emulate their heroes eager to buy their merchandise. But for others, who want to be known just for playing the game they love, there are other ways to make a little extra cash. And this is where sponsorship deals come in. The highest earning stars today all get more than a little help by licensing their image for use on all sorts of items, including video games.

Video games: a new way to engage with sports fans

Sports video games have been a great way to appeal to the armchair fan who dreams of playing but often lacks the skills or opportunity. Having said that, there are plenty of famous faces who are also massive gamers who like to play the virtual version of their own day job, including Red Bull Racing’s Charles LeClerc and NBA stars Anthony Davis and Paul George. Whether they play or not, most sports stars will tell you that one of the most prized accolades is not necessarily winning trophies and championships but being chosen to be the face of a video game representing their sport.

NBA 2K, Madden football, FIFA, PES, MLB The Show…these are just a few examples of the sports-based video games which release a new edition every year, and every year the reveal of the cover star is a big deal for fans and sports personalities alike. Being chosen as the representative of your sport all over the world is a huge achievement, and usually demonstrates that the player has had an excellent season and is at the height of their career. The FIFA franchise has had 29 different cover stars since its first release in 1993, with England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney appearing a staggering six times. It seems rather unfair for him to hog the limelight, considering there were plenty of other internationals to choose from. By contrast, MLB The Show has only ever used one player twice – Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Mauer was granted the 2010 cover for his exceptional performance in the 2009 season, where he was named American League MVP and had a batting average of .365 – not only unusual for a defensive player, but also the best out of everyone that season.

What about other games where you might find athletes?

Sports image licensing isn’t limited to just video games. You can find it in other games, like online casinos that host many slot machines which have a sports theme. Online slots have experienced a surge in popularity over the last few years, especially amongst young adults under 30. The ability to play them on the go, combined with massive developments in technology have made them a very attractive way to have fun. But with so many different slots out there, it can seem really hard to choose where to start, and that’s where sponsorship and theming comes in. Sport-themed slots are more likely to appeal to sports fans than generic slots with themes like Ancient Egypt or Lucky Irish. When trying something new people always tend towards the familiar, and game developers know this. That’s why sponsorship, especially amongst sports stars, is such big business. And it’s not just the big names either; jockey Frankie Dettori and snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan have both put their names and faces on popular online slots.

Sports stars will become famous because of their performance in their respective sports. However, staying famous often means becoming linked with other products like video games. That’s why becoming the face of a game is such a great achievement for players; it’s their own shot at immortality.