The moves helped the star garner $39 million worth of media attention, according to Apex Marketing Group’s Equivalent Media Value measurement. Ohtani is already cashing in on the All-Star buzz, signing a deal last week with global sports merchandiser, Fanatics, after accounting for 28% of All-Star Game merchandise sales according to ESPN.
Other consumer brands have lined up to endorse him, including Asics and Oakley Sports Sunglasses, as well as Japanese brands JAL Airlines and Seiko Watch. Forbes tallies his annual endorsement revenue at $6 million, which it says is the highest among all MLB players.
But he could just be getting started. MLB experts have pegged Ohtani’s endorsement potential at between $10 million and $20 million a year—and it could grow higher depending on his performance on the field. If Japanese-born Seattle Mariners Ichiro Suzuki is any indicator of what is possible, Ohtani’s potential is just scratching the surface. Suzuki earned $7 million in deals his final year in MLB, and that was nine years ago.
Jay Kim, president Asian American Advertising Federation, credits Osaka's global rise to laying the groundwork for Ohtani to take off internationally. The tennis star possesses at least two dozen endorsement deals worth more than $55 million last year—and brands stuck by her after she took a well-publicized break because she did not want to partake in press conferences, citing mental health reasons.
Still, early on, Osaka had to overcome racism in Japan, Kim says, because she is of Haitian and Japanese descent and has a darker complexion.
He expects Ohtani will get a considerable boost with recent pushes of diversity and inclusion in the advertising industry. “If Ohtani came to the U.S. five years ago, his potential may not have [the biggest] opportunity like now," Kim said. Rather, his international opportunities might have been limited to Japanese-based brands such as Toyota, Sony, or Uniqlo, he says.
The shifting attitudes in the U.S. came into full view recently when ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith faced backlash for suggesting that Ohtani’s branding opportunities would be hamstrung by his use of an interpreter. Smith later apologized, saying, “In this day and age, with all the violence being perpetrated against the Asian Community, my comments — albeit unintentional — were clearly insensitive and regrettable."
Damian Benders, general manager of B Code, a digital media company connecting with Black audiences across digital platforms, believes Ohtani is the gift MLB has been longing for as an international symbol to spread the game to other countries. He says Ohtani will be especially appealing to brands looking to penetrate the Japanese market.
"There is an excellence level right here that is compelling,” Benders says. “I think international companies based in America are going to have even more interest in identifying him and working with him and allowing it to be a possibility for endorsement in the U.S. while simultaneously capitalizing on the international.”
Baseball is already a hot commodity in Japan, given the country’s deep ties to the game, including a pro league and a long history of success in the Little League World Series.
Jim Andrews, founder and CEO of sponsorship consulting firm A-Mark Partnership, says the biggest obstacle to Ohtani’s global success outside of Japan is the fact that baseball is not a global sport. Basketball, soccer, and tennis players have the upper hand in that respect because they aren’t having to pull double weight—by selling themselves and their sport.
But if the MLB plays its cards right with some of its international faces like Ohtani, the league could reap massive returns, Dae Hee Kwak, sports marketing professor at the University of Michigan, says. “I think it presents a great opportunity for the MLB to start thinking about more strategic promotion of their star players. Look at the NBA. They have the depth of the stars appealing to different markets.”
Outside of the U.S. Antetokounmpo has sponsorships with numerous European and African countries. He rakes in $10 million a year from Nike alone with his own shoe line titled “Nike Air Zoom.” When the signature shoe line launched it was the largest in history for the brand. Antetokounmpo also has a Disney movie about his life coming out soon.
The MLB’s efforts to grow its global brand have included its London series in 2019, and the league has made heavy investments in Europe’s sports market along with India and China in the past decade.
If the moves pan out, who knows—maybe Ohtani will be on his way to get his own biopic just like Antetokounmpo.