How MLB Superstar Shohei Ohtani Earned $ 6 Million In Endorsements Without Even Trying


The first two-way All-Star in baseball history, Ohtani is a hit with marketers on two continents, with a portfolio of some of the best supporters in the league. Is he ready to capitalize?

MThe league’s top hitter hit his 31st homerun of the season on Sunday afternoon, a massive 459-foot shot from the neutral field. Two days later, he took the mound for seven innings, limiting the powerful Red Sox formation to two points and securing the victory. In the meantime, he has been named American League All-Star as a hitter and pitcher.

The fact that the announcement was overdue didn’t make it any less remarkable: no one in the nearly 90-year history of Major League Baseball’s All-Star game had been singled out as a two-way player. But the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani has a way to make the superhuman seem routine.

These feats also help Ohtani stand out on the pitch: the 27-year-old is now the head of all baseball players with a portfolio of sponsors worth at least $ 6 million a year, according to Forbes estimates, just four years after arriving in the United States from Japan. While his salary in the field is not enough to land him a place on Forbeslist of MLB’s ten highest-paid players to date, he pulls more marketing dollars than established stars like Philadelphia Phillies hitter Bryce Harper ($ 5 million) and Chicago Cubs veteran Kris Bryant ($ 3.5 million).

Baseball’s Most Marketable Stars

This is largely because the Japanese native is a proven success on two continents, as evidenced by his sponsorship deals with Asics, JAL Airlines and Seiko Watch in Japan and Fanatics, Oakley and Topps in the United States. Ohtani now has the chance to fill a crucial void for MLB. , as the global baseball icon desperately needs it. The only question is whether he is ready to capitalize.

Ohtani isn’t the first athlete to win big in Japan and the United States In 2012, Seattle Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki raised $ 7 million in endorsements to top his salary of $ 17 million. Hideki Matsuyama’s victory at the Masters in April is expected to spark a sponsorship frenzy that could double the golfer’s annual off-course revenue to more than $ 20 million. Tennis phenomenon Naomi Osaka became the highest-paid female athlete of all time in 2020, earning $ 37 million in just one year, of which $ 34 came from sponsors. She broke her own record a year later, earning $ 60 million over 12 months, including $ 55 million on court.

“I think Ohtani could make as much money as Ichiro or Matsuyama if he wants to,” said Tomoya Suzuki, founder and president of Japan-focused sports marketing company Trans Insight Corporation. “[The] the only problem is he’s not willing to do it, and he’s very, very picky about approvals. I heard he declined a lot of offers.

Nez Balelo, Ohtani’s agent and co-head of baseball at arts agency CAA, acknowledges that Ohtani is selective about the brands he affiliates with, telling Forbes, “It’s not about the amount of transactions he does; it’s more about making sure he’s not bogged down and distracted so he can do what is most important to him which is play and be productive on the baseball field .

A source tells Forbes that in addition to looking for partnerships that don’t take too long, Ohtani displayed a sense of loyalty that helped shape his portfolio: for example, he chose to stay with Asics when he arrived at United States for the first time, even equipment companies were willing to pay more.

But while his popularity on both sides of the Pacific has attracted 11 partner companies, his prodigious talent will only take him so far.

Originally from Ōshū in northern Japan, first Ohtani seduced the American scouts at 18 years later unclogging a fastball at 100 miles per hour at the 2012 Koshien Tournament, the equivalent of the Japanese high school baseball event of March Madness. Later that year, he announced his intention to bypass Japanese baseball and begin his professional career in the United States. If he had taken the step, he could have become one of only three Japanese players to reach the majors. without starting professionally at home.

Instead, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters drafted Ohtani in the first round of the 2012 Nippon Professional Baseball Draft and persuaded him to postpone his dreams of American baseball by giving him the opportunity to pitch and hit regularly. When he started out with the club, Ohtani lived on $ 1,000 a month, the allowance his parents gave him after he deposited his checks in the bank. He played five seasons in Japan, winning five All-Star caps, an MVP award in 2016 and two nods as top pitcher in his conference, in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, major league clubs were expressing a resurgence of interest in Ohtani, who was still only 23.

Had he waited until his 25th birthday to come to the West, with six years of professional experience, Ohtani could have been exempted from MLB’s international signing rules, which cap the amount of money clubs can offer to foreign prospects. Stars like Yu Darvish (six, $ 60 million in 2012) and Masahiro Tanaka (seven, $ 155 million in 2014) have earned huge salaries while waiting to leave Japan until they are 25. Boston Red Sox wanted Ohtani to wait, source says Forbes, and could have surpassed the competition. But Ohtani was ready to move and he joined the Angels in December 2017 for a signing bonus of $ 2.3 million and a minimum wage of $ 545,000.

“His desire to play in MLB as early as possible has never changed, and everyone, including the fans and the club, knows it,” said Suzuki of Trans Insight. “He wanted to play there very, very badly.

From the moment Ohtani arrived it is clear that he belongs. In his first major league season in 2018, he won American League Rookie of the Year honors despite playing about two-thirds of Angels games. This season he’s been a revelation on both sides of the ball, with 32 home runs leading the major leagues after another blast on Wednesday and an elite number of 11.69 strikeouts per nine innings, which would have placed seventh. among MLB starting pitchers through Tuesday’s Games if he had pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Total home runs give him a lead over Hideki Matsui for the most in a season by an Asian player – and he still has almost half of the season to widen the gap. As a result, opportunities for approval accumulate.

Part of the reason Ohtani is the biggest off-field earner in MLB is that baseball players don’t earn as much as other stars in the sport in terms of sponsorship – his competition for first place isn’t as fierce as it would be, say, the NBA, whose superstar LeBron James pulled $ 65 million off the field in 12 months Forbes’ 2021 list of the highest paid athletes in the world. In fact, no MLB player has made more than $ 9 million in a single year off the field in the past decade or more (Derek Jeter hit the $ 9 million mark from 2012 to 2014) .

There are several reasons why baseball has fallen so behind, including the grueling length of the season, the hyper-regionalization of the sport, the inability to connect with a younger audience, and the competition from star athletes. other sports. Long, guaranteed contracts and sky-high field salaries for top stars – the MLB awarded 16 of the 20 biggest contracts in team sports history as measured by total value – may also discourage the pursuit of success out of the box. ground. At the end of the day, this is not a problem that falls solely on the league or the sport.

“If you want to be a marketable star, you have to understand that it’s not something that just happens,” says Joe Favorito, veteran marketing consultant and lecturer at Columbia University. “You compete globally with some of the biggest names on the planet, not just in sports but in entertainment. And it is a job.

Still, Ohtani has inevitably become popular, especially at home in Japan, and that gives him a head start. His dominance on both the plate and the mound, something no player has done so effectively since the days of Babe Ruth, has conquered the baseball-loving nation. “There is a satisfaction [in Japan] knowing that American fans and the media are focusing on him, ”said Shun Kakazu, deputy general manager of NPB’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

The rest is up to him. The opportunities for approval seem endless, but Ohtani must continue to perform and stay healthy – he didn’t pitch in 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his launch elbow. Leading the Angels to their first playoff appearance since 2014 wouldn’t hurt either. Assuming things go as planned, Ohtani’s field revenue could skyrocket from $ 3 million in 2021 to over $ 30 million per year when it hits free agency after the 2023 season. , in accordance with contracts recently signed by Francisco Lindor, Gerrit Cole and Mookie Betts.

For now, the national stage is waiting as Ohtani prepares for the Home Run Derby on Monday and appears as both a hitter and a pitcher at the All-Star Game Tuesday.

“He’s a mega-star in Japan, he’s a growing star in the United States, and I think people just need to get used to him,” Favorito says. “I think the Home Run Derby could be a turning point for the casual fans around who Ohtani is and what he can do.”

With additional reports by Brett knight.

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