2012 sports endorsement stars (and 2013 prospects)

From King James to hot hurdler Michelle Jenneke, we look at some of the athletes who fared best from sports endorsements this year, and which look best positioned for next year.

Changing the formula
sports equipment

The sports endorsement world is changing rapidly. For years, contracts offered to star athletes by star brands have ballooned to shocking proportions. But as we've written recently, change is brewing.

Brands are hesitating to offer up multi-year endorsement deals for fear of the PR fiascos that result from bad behavior. Athletes, meanwhile—the smart ones—have begun seeking alternative agreements that get them something more than a simple pay-to-pitch deal; instead, many want partial equity in an exciting startup.

And they're wise to do so: Doug Shabelman of Burns Entertainment and Sports Marketing says something else is happening that has nothing to do with scandals. Sports, he argues, are being "pushed aside quite a bit by reality stars, by chefs, by experts from home-improvement or DIY shows." You used to see recognizable athletes all over TV ads, but, "you see that more rarely now."

More rarely, sure, but huge names can still attract huge corporations. This year some perennial favorites continued to do that, some newer names emerged, and some rising stars set themselves up for great things soon. This is by no means a ranked list, but here are a few of the savviest endorsers we noticed in 2012 as well as some we will keep an eye on in 2013.

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated January 02 2013 10:15 AM ET
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