Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world – and a money-making machine too. Turning 28 later this month, “Lightning Bolt” could retire now if he wanted to. According to Forbes he’s worth an estimated $23.2million (£13.7million) making him the 45th highest paid sports star in the world.
Despite being accused by a national newspaper of criticising the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer, Bolt’s a crowd favourite wherever he goes. The Games saw him turn on the charm, sign autographs, fist bump volunteers and pose with fans for selfies.
In short, he’s a marketer’s dream – and that’s why only a fraction of his wealth comes from prize money; the lion’s share is from sponsorship and endorsements.
Sports Pro Media recently named Bolt as the sixth most marketable sportsman on the planet. The list ranks athletes according to their marketing potential over a three-year period starting with the upcoming summer. It looks at six categories: Value for money; age; home market; charisma; willingness to be marketed; and crossover appeal. And Bolt’s got it all.
Discussing his marketability, German Eurosport reporter Sebastian Tiffert, said: “Everything about him is unique: His charisma, his style, his physicality. He also plays with the camera like nobody else. Despite being a huge star, he is still a champion you can access. In the mixed zone, for instance, he speaks to all TV channels, contrary to some other athletes, and is really “present” when you interview him.”
Sprinting to the limelight
The flamboyant Jamaican sprinter was propelled into worldwide stardom after his sprint double victory at the Beijing Games in 2008. He backed up his success by repeated the feat four years later at the London Olympics, adding the 4x100m relay to his golden haul.
But Bolt had hit the ground running a long time ago when it came to attracting sponsorship. He’s been sponsored by Puma since he was just 15 and competing in the World Junior Championships. He’s been sponsored by the German sportswear company ever since on a deal that earns him an estimated $10million (£6million) a year.
Bolt started to grab people’s attention as a teenager at the 2002 World Junior Championships. He sprinted to victory in the 200m in a time of 20.61s before a home crowd in Kingston, Jamaica. Aged just 15, but already 6ft 5 inches tall, the win made him the youngest world-junior gold medalist ever. More medals followed at the 2003 CARIFTA Games and the 2003 World Youth Championships.
Bolt turned professional in 2004 but a leg injury stopped him excelling at the Athens Olympics the same year. Two years later a hamstring injury forced him to withdraw from the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.
By 2007 Bolt had convinced his coach Glenn Mills that he should compete in the 100m, as well as the 200m, and the following year saw him set a new world record of 9.72s in just his fifth senior race over the distance.
But it was Bolt’s spectacular performance at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics that really propelled him into superstardom. He won the 100m in 9.69s and set a new world record despite slowing down to celebrate before he finished. Two more gold medals and world records followed in the 200m and 4 x100m relay: Bolt had hit the big time and left Beijing one of the most famous athletes in the world.
He celebrated his victories by donating $50,000 to the children of the Sichuan province of China to help those harmed by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Bolt’s known for his philanthropy and has his own children’s charity, the Usain Bolt Foundation.
Sponsors clamouring to get on board
Bolt wears Puma clothing and shoes in his official competitions and will remain with the company until at least after the 2016 Olympics. Even after he retires from competition he’ll still be paid $4million (£2.4million) a year to act as a Puma ambassador.
The current £6million deal is a major coup for Puma which has struggled to keep pace with larger rivals Adidas and Nike.
Other lucrative sponsorship deals for Bolt include sports drink Gatorade (up to £3million a year) and Virgin Media (£2million).
The latter has seen him appear with fellow athlete Mo Farah in series of tongue-in-cheek TV adverts which saw Bolt dressed as Virgin Media founder Richard Branson to advertise new broadband speeds.
Other deals past and present include luxury watch maker Hublot, telecoms firms Digicel and Celcom, athletics track manufacturer Regupol, Nissan GTR, Visa, and headphone makers Soul Electronics.
Monetary prizes for more than coming first
In general track and field events attract paltry prize money. Athletes compete in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Diamond League in which winners of individual races receive $10,000 (£6,000) with the year-end winner earning an additional $40,000 (£24,000).
Appearances in the biennial World Championships are worth $60,000 (£36,000) with a $100,000 (£60,000) bonus for breaking a world record.
Bolt, and other high profile athletes, also earns appearance fees which often dwarf the prize money on offer. Bolt makes about $200,000 (£119,000) for one-off track appearances, often $300,000 (£178,000) at high profile events, 10 times that of his fellow sprinters due to his ability to guarantee a sellout when competing.
He was undoubtedly a major drawn of the 2012 London Olympics. Organisers received more than a million applications for a ticket to the 100m final, despite tickets costing up to £725 and the race lasting under 10 seconds.
Life after the track
Bolt’s announced that he’ll retire when the 2016 Olympics in Rio are over, but he’s set to cast a long shadow. Once he’s finished competing, he’ll be in high demand as a commentator, expert, and we can expect more book deals too as well as a round of interviews.
While he’s made his name and money so far from being finished in a handful of seconds, he looks likely to be the face of athletics for years after he hangs up his gold-drenched spangled Puma spikes.