Retirement tests if Beckham built lasting brand
FILE - In this July 13, 2007, file photo, England soccer player David Beckham holds up his new jersey as he is introduced as the newest member of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team in Carson, Calif. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
PARIS (AP) — David Beckham's pecs are at least as much a part of his brand as his kick; his brand of shoes ultimately more lucrative than the game he's giving up. Listed as the world's highest-earning athlete for 2013, Beckham's retirement from play still leaves him with valuable endorsements and unparalleled celebrity. The question is whether he can maintain it.
Only a few athletes, once their job is preceded by 'ex,' manage to maintain a connection with fans: Those who have carefully built up their image beforehand.
Michael Jordan retired from basketball for the third time in 2003 and turned 50 this year. His eponymous Nike brand — a partnership that dates back to the first days after he left the University of North Carolina for the Chicago Bulls — is still going strong. The Jordan brand makes up nearly 60 percent of the American basketball shoe market, and a significant part of the estimated $80 million that Jordan reportedly earns each year from ventures that also include deals with Hanes and Gatorade, according to Forbes magazine.
At the height of his popularity, Jordan "was just inescapable, and I think Beckham has had that kind of quality up to now," said Ellis Cashmore, a British sociologist and author of the book "Beckham."
FILE - This undted photo provided by H&M shows a look from the collection created and modeled by David Beckham. Beckham is retiring from soccer, ending a career in which he transcended the sport with forays into fashion and a marriage to a pop star that made him a global celebrity. (AP Photo/H&M, Alasdair McLellan)
Even having given up his salary at Paris Saint-Germain, the French soccer club where he's ending his career, Beckham topped this year's Sports Illustrated list of 20 highest-earning international athletes (his estimated $48 million in earnings — most from sponsorship — would rank third on the magazine's list if American athletes are also included). He has deals with Adidas, Samsung and H&M and has his own cologne. The UK's Sunday Times Sports Rich Lost puts his estimated wealth at some 165 million pounds ($250 million).
The question, Cashmore said, is whether his celebrity will last once he's no longer on the field.
"Beckham was the first athlete to transcend sport," he said. "Leaving soccer is a little bit of a gamble because they don't know if Beckham decoupled from his sport is going to be as powerful as a brand."