It is no secret that many professional athletes earn a lucrative income from their respective sports. However, unlike employees in most other industries, athletes have a limited career lifespan; on average, the retirement age is before 30. The combination of short careers and potential injuries puts their sustained earnings at high risk. As such, many athletes are now focusing on creating and managing themselves as a brand in order to earn money after they hang up their jerseys. Below, we’ll detail some of the highest-profile athletes that the younger generation will try to emulate.
Tom Brady, a former NFL football player, is a great example. He filed for numerous trademarks after announcing his initial retirement in February of 2022. Although he changed his mind and returned to the game a month later, only to retire again in 2023, the applications remain pending.
Brady is someone who has given much thought to his post-football earnings. He currently has 130 active trademarks, which is more than some publicly traded companies. These range widely from health and wellness to candles and digital collectibles. Brady also has tied his trademarks to his business TB12, a company focusing on fitness and nutrition. He has one of the most robust trademark and brand strategies of any athlete, which will continue to give back to him long after his football career.
Strike a pose, or better yet, trademark one. This is exactly what legendary former Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt did in August 2022. Bolt is the world record holder in two of track’s biggest events (holding a time of 9.58 in the 100 meters and 19.19 in the 200 meters) and holds eight Olympic gold medals.
At the end of his races, he would stand in the middle of the field with his arms pointing across his body to the sky, mimicking the shape of a lightning bolt (his signature move). Bolt applied for this pose with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to be trademarked as a logo and used on cosmetics, shoes, clothing, jewelry, and at sports bars and restaurants.
Basketball player Lebron James recently filed to trademark the phrase, “Shut Up and Dribble” through his company Uninterrupted, Inc. The phrase became popular in 2018 after a news anchor responded to political comments that James had made during an interview. The news anchor was unhappy with Lebron’s comments and said that the Lakers star should, “keep the political commentary” to himself and “shut up and dribble.” According to the USPTO filing, this trademark would be used on downloadable virtual goods, i.e., computer programs featuring clothing, backpacks, accessories, etc., and entertainment services.
James has filed for many trademarks over the course of his career. His other notable ones include:
- All Things Zhuri – trademarked for James’ youngest child, Zhuri James, who has her own YouTube channel.
- Just a Kid From Akron – used as a hashtag in his social media posts and is filed to use on clothing.
- I Promise – registered for the “I Promise” School, a school supported by the LeBron James foundation.
- LeBron James Family Foundation – used for goods and services, mainly charitable activities.
Serena Williams has created a strong brand through her business and property investments, partnership and sponsorship deals, and interests in fashion and entertainment. Aside from her skills on the court, Williams attended the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale where she studied fashion and design. Her most notable registration is for “ANERES,” which was initially used for her clothing line and now extends to cosmetics and skincare. Williams also has applied for other trademarks for companies that she has started. One notable one is “Serena Ventures,” which helps fund start-up companies. She also has trademarked the logo “S” and an image of a globe for her lifestyle brand. Under this brand, she has filed for additional marks including “Serena’s World” and “S By Serena.”
These are just a few of the hundreds of athletes who have turned their slogans, phrases, names, gestures, and ideas into business opportunities. While this has been happening for a long time, the rise of the internet and social media has and will continue to fuel its growth. And now, with college athletes being able to earn money off their NIL, they will have the opportunity to build their brand even earlier than those that came before them. Athletes are the new businesspeople, who can create an entirely new career after their professional one ends.