The Usain Bolt brand and business model … how the world’s greatest athlete earns and spends money

August 4, 2017

Usain Bolt is one of the great icons of sport … Mohammed Ali is the only other worthy of calling himself “the greatest”, and similarly Bolt’s presence stretches far beyond the sporting arenas in which he has collected 9 Olympic Golds, and incredible world records at 100 and 200 metres.

When Bolt hangs up his golden spikes this week (made, as always, by Puma – and with the slogan Forever Fastest emblazoned on the sides), his fame and fortune is unlikely to decline. Indeed, with more time for media appearances and business projects, it could well grow.

Bolt, known as the fastest man in the world, has trademarked his name and his signature “Lightning Bolt” pose. He even has an emoji.

Ricky Simms manages Bolt (the man, and the brand) from his small office (Pace Sports above Simms Opticians, in my hometown of Teddington, England – although he also has an office in Monaco for tax benefits!).

Simms coordinates Team Bolt, a network of the sprinter’s best friends and experts who together ensure Bolt makes the most of his talent and fame, on the track and commercially. Gina Ford takes responsibility for the brand partnerships, school friend Nugget Walker looks after Bolt’s daily needs, and Norman Peart manages his finances. Coach Glen Mills is in charge on the track, whilst local PE teacher Everald Edwards is his masseur.

The $60m 9.58 second sprinter

Overall Bolt is worth over $60m. This year, it has been estimated that he will be the 32nd highest-earning athlete on the planet. Forbes’ latest celebrity rich list placed the sprinter at number 91.

To put that in context, he is the only track and field athlete to make the top 100 sports stars, and makes roughly 20 times more than the average sprinter. The available statistics tell a mixed story, and some sources suggest that it might even be much more than this: a full-time athlete in the United States earns around $15k a year, whilst those in Canada face an annual deficit of $12k; in which case Bolt is to the average athlete what Bill Gates is to my seventeen-year-old self with a summer job.

The winner of the annual Samsung Diamond League receives around $40k, which is a career-altering amount for most athletes, but just 1.24 per cent of Bolt’s average yearly takings; his earning power within his sport is unprecedented.

Despite the sport’s rapidly-increasing popularity and terrific excitement value, prize money in athletics is pretty insubstantial – unless you’re Usain Bolt.

The winner of an individual Diamond League race receives just under $10k – the culmination of months of work. Cristiano Ronaldo takes about four-and-a half hours to earn that much in wages alone. Bolt has managed this 23 times, and has won an overall Diamond League Race once: that’s about $250k so far.

A gold medal at the IAAF World Championships is worth around $55k, a silver $30k and a world record $90k (Usain Bolt doesn’t do bronze medals, and has only once deigned to pick up a silver). He has 11 golds, one silver, plus 2 world records, and two more as a relay team. That’s $900k at major championships (Jamaican athletes don’t receive prize money for Olympic or Commonwealth medals, unlike other nations).

On top of that, the sprinter can command huge appearance fees, given his headlining potential, reaching the dizzying heights of $320k. If he runs a typical non-championship 100 metres in 10 seconds, that’s $32k a second.

So what is the “business model” of the world’s greatest sprinter?

Est. annual income = $35m

Whilst most athletes’ earnings are based on race winnings, Bolt’s is much more diverse. For starters, an event organiser can transform their ticket sales my mention of Bolt’s name. Therefore an appearance fee is likely to be far in excess of the winner’s cheque.

His importance to the former cannot be overstated: Puma’s CEO, Jochen Zeitz, estimated Bolt’s marketing value at just over $300m a year. The German sportswear brand provides his largest pay cheque by some margin, and the athlete receives the astronomical sum of just under $10m a year for his troubles: more than the annual fees commanded by Maria Sharapova, Kobe Bryant or Cristiano Ronaldo from kit giant Nike.

Brands that Usain Bolt endorses include

  • Puma … his long-term kit sponsor is his main brand partner, worth $10m a year. Rather than just wearing the brand, collaborations include development of his own range of shoes and apparel. Indeed the brand has repositioned itself around his fun-loving informal and colourful Jamaican style, rather than the more technical emphasis of most sportswear brands.
  • Nissan … he loves his cars, and after his “triple triple” gold in Rio, Nissan presented him with the keys to a gold-painted top of the range GT-R.  He has often appeared at the start of global track meets standing in a Nissan car (even when the meet is sponsored by rival brands), driven round the 400m track to huge adulation.
  • Hublot … the luxury Swiss watch brand seeks to differentiate itself through “fusion” concepts – fusing classic and modern, tech and human. Whilst you won’t see him racing with the chunky Jamaican-yellow gold King Power UB model, you will see it in the glossiest lifestyle magazines, and selling for $18,000 each.
  • Visa … the payments brand wanting to articulate its new brand proposition, of helping money to flow. How to tell the story? Call Usain, who got the idea instantly, flow being a keyword of his coach, Glen Mills, when perfecting his sprinting technique. The choice of brand is also important, finding truly global brands, where there is real shared meaning. $750k.
  • Virgin Media … Richard Branson also had only one person in mind when he wanted to communicate that his cable brand was the fastest around. Rather than talk about fibre optics and gigabytes per second, it was far simpler to coin the phrase “superfast” accompanied by Bolt, with a little humour too. $2.5m.
  • Gatorade … $3m a year (plus a bonus every time he’s pictured drinking it), with a drink named after him, and saying “We have an incredible roster of great athletes who are each unique in their own way, but Usain’s joyful personality paired with his overall dominance in a sport most people can relate to, results in an athlete who provides brands like Gatorade with true global reach.”
  • ANA … Japan absolutely loves its sporting stars, and this sponsor
  • Gibson … music matters to Bolt, and the Trainer TH100 wireless headphones were developed with him to ensure you get the best sound quality even when doing the most physical activity.
  • Enertor … shoe insoles, particularly relevant because he has one leg longer than the other
  • Regupol … Bolt’s blue running track at his Racers Track Club in Jamaica is made by this German sports facilities company
  • Digicel … $100k from Jamaica’s mobile phone company, one of his longest term sponsors.
  • Kinder … bite into a Kinder Joy chocolate egg and you could be surprised by a mini Bolt inside. Whilst Bolt is famous for his love of chicken (he trusts a KFC bucket wherever he travels), this is his only sponsored food brand.
  • Mumm champagne … to celebrate!

Est. annual outgoings = $22m 

Bolt is famous for his partying lifestyle, when not in full training. Sean Paul lives down the road from him, and he is frequently found in the DJ booth a local club into the early hours. And whilst music and fast cars are his big loves, he spends most on charitable donations, plus some big investments for the future:

  • Nitro Athletics … he is a major investor in the new athletics team concept that was first unveiled in Australia over the winter, and in which Bolt competed. As athletics struggles to engage with younger audiences, Nitro has been hailed as a welcome innovation for the sport’s format.
  • Champion Shave … Bolt recently invested over $10m in this new start up business, the first example of real venture capitalism from the fastest man. With the likes of Dollar Shave Club valued at $1bn, then it could be a smart move, if he continues to support its growth
  • William Knibb High School … In 2015, Bolt gave $1.3m to his former high school along with soccer and cricket gear. He’s provided the school with track and field equipment since he signed with Puma in 2002.
  • Sherwood community … Bolt opened a multi-sport playing field in his local community on Jamaica, raised funds for pediatric cardiac surgeries and partnered with Samsung to provide photography workshops to students.
  • Local health centre … He paid for a $4 million renovation to a local health center using the proceeds from a party he threw to celebrate breaking the 100m world record.

Whilst Bolt dreams of a call from Jose Morinho, asking him to join the Manchester United squad, far more likely is entertainment (music and gaming, as well as the inevitable TV shows, books and interviews) and fashion partnerships (most likely a more significant partnership with Puma, similarly to Nike’s link with Michael Jordan).

Finally it’s worth reflecting on the brand itself. Whilst we like to associate logos with brands, most people are probably not even aware of the Usain Bolt brand’s official logo (there is one, but rarely used).

Instead, we have an enduring icon (“Forever Fastest” even in retirement), an incredible personality, a distinctive attitude, with out-of-this-world performances. These are the attributes which sponsors, and millions of fans across the world want to associate themselves with.

Brands as we have talked about many times, are the intangible qualities that people connect with, that emotionally engage and inspire them to greatest too.


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