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Score Two for Marketers

Soccer legend Pelé and boxer/cultural icon Muhammad Ali are seeking to become champions in a new arena: worldwide business.

They’ve rented out their likenesses to companies that think a household name will help move products. Pelé the man signed a 40-year deal with Prime Licensing, a company devoted solely to Pelé the brand. Before long, his name could show up on everything from real estate to cell phones. Prime estimates that the Pelé business will earn $30 million worldwide in 2007 and up to $100 million in 2008, boosted by long-term endorsement deals with MasterCard and Pepsi.

Ali is behind a new line of healthy snacks aimed at preventing obesity in young people. His partners at Mars, Inc. and G.O.A.T. Food and Beverage (Greatest of All Time, natch) are staying mum on what the snacks might earn the former heavyweight champ, but one estimate says the foods could bring in $50 to $100 million a year—meaning a $1.5 million cut for Ali.

It’s a mad mad mad mad world of celebrity athlete endorsements. Sometimes a mythical product pairing (Michael Jordan’s dunking silhouette on a sneaker) comes naturally; sometimes the endorsements are sort of creepy (Rafael Palmeiro for Viagra). There was Hulkamania, “Bo Knows,” and the erectile dysfunction drug blitz. Then came Mark McGwire’s missed opportunities, Kobe’s blown opportunities, and Lebron’s $90 million Nike deal—before he’d played a single NBA game. And then, of course, there was the grill.

Big George Foreman has earned close to $140 million on the eponymous grill, and has probably inspired other pudgy heroes to see what their names might earn. It seems increasingly likely that soon the highest paid athlete endorsers will be former athletes. Got a product to sell? Call quick–or someone else will.

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