NIKE SIGNS MICHAEL JORDAN
Upon leaving North Carolina in 1984, His Airness actually wanted a sneaker deal with Adidas. But he ended up signing with Nike for the unheard of sum of $500,000 a year. Three decades later, Nike's Jordan brand still controls 58% of the basketball-shoe market, according to SportsOneSource. Mr. Jordan still makes millions annually pitching Hanes and other brands.
ARNOLD PALMER'S HANDSHAKE DEAL WITH MARK MCCORMACK
The two partners didn't invent sports endorsements with their handshake deal in 1960. But they did invent the "super agent" and the modern template for sports superstars who are as much walking, talking conglomerates as athletes. Many of the business-savvy sports stars who followed, from Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods, demanded ownership stakes from sponsors, not just paychecks.
EA SPORTS CREATES JOHN MADDEN FOOTBALL
When EA's Trip Hawkins approached the ex-coach turned broadcaster in 1984, Mr. Madden insisted EA keep it "real" by having 11 players on each team. It took four years to bring the game to market. But it was worth it: Madden NFL has generated $4 billion in revenue and sold more than 100 million copies in 25 years.
HELEN HICKS DRIVES IT HOME FOR WILSON
In 1934, Wilson named a line of clubs after golfer Helen Hicks and sent her on the road. They were so impressed that they sponsored more and more women golfers, and eventually the LPGA.
GERMAN SOCCER CLUB GETS LIQUORED UP
Uruguay's Penarol is considered to be the first soccer team to ink a shirt sponsorship. But when Günter Mast placed the Jagermeister logo on the shirts of Eintracht Braunschweig's, it helped overcome resistance across Europe.
RICHARD PETTY'S COLOR COMPROMISE
Prior to 1972 Nascar cars sported decals, but mostly for regional companies. Then STP offered Richard Petty $250,000 for a national contract. Mr. Petty almost walked away when the marketer insisted he change his car from "Petty Blue" to "STP Red." They compromised and went with both.
GEHRIG GOES TO BAT FOR WHEATIES
Wheaties was born in 1924, but it took 10 years before the General Mills brand put an athlete on the box. Baseball great Lou Gehrig was the first. Though he was on the back of the box, Wheaties athletes eventually migrated to the front.
GEORGE FOREMAN GRILLS
The heavyweight boxing champ wasn't keen on putting his name on Salton's Mean Lean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine. But he got over it once the royalty checks started flowing in. Over 100 million George Foreman grills have been sold. Mr. Foreman has earned more as a pitchman than he did as a boxer.
DANICA PATRICK DRIVES GODADDY ADS
The most successful woman in U.S. racing has starred in a record 12 Super Bowl spots, mostly for GoDaddy. Ms. Patrick has helped the company milk maximum publicity from Big Game buys.
FARMERS INSURANCE BETS THE FARM
Showing how thirsty marketers are to put their names on sports properties, in 2011, Farmer's Insurance signed a 30-year $700 million deal for the naming rights of Farmers Field, a football stadium to be built in Los Angeles. Construction won't start until an NFL team decides to move to L.A.