How MLB Superstar Shohei Ohtani Made $6 Million In Endorsements Without Even Trying

Major League Baseball’s leading slugger scored his 31st season-high home run on Sunday afternoon. The shot was 459 feet in the air and hit the dead center field. He was pitching seven innings and limiting the Red Sox’s offense to only two runs. Between those innings, he was named an American League All-Star pitcher and hitter.

Even though the announcement was expected, it did not diminish its significance. No two-way player has ever been chosen in Major League Baseball’s nearly 90-year-old history of the All-Star Game. 

Ohtani’s exploits help him stand out from the rest of the baseball field. According to Forbes estimates, Ohtani now holds the record for the most endorsement portfolios worth at least $6m annually. Four years after he arrived in the United States from Japan. His on-field salary may not be enough to get him on Forbes’ list for MLB’s ten highest-paid players, but he is bringing in more marketing dollars than established stars such as Kris Bryant ($3.5M) and Bryce Harper ($5M), Chicago Cubs veteran Kris Bryant (€3.5M).

This is because the Japanese native has been an enormous hit across two continents. He has endorsement deals with Asics and JAL Airlines in Japan and Seiko Watch in America. Ohtani can now fill the critical gap for MLB as the global icon that baseball desperately needs. The only question is whether Ohtani will be willing to invest.

Ohtani isn’t the first Japanese athlete to win big in the U.S. Ichiro Suzuka, the Seattle Mariners’ legend, made $7 million in endorsements last year to supplement his $17million playing salary. The excitement that Hideki Matsuyama’s Master’s win caused in April will likely spark a frenzy of sponsorships that could see the golfer earn more than $20,000,000 annually. Naomi Osaka, tennis’s phenom, was the highest-paid female player in 2020. She made $37 million in one year, with $34 coming from endorsements. Her record was broken a year later when she earned a remarkable $60 million in just 12 months. This included $55 million from endorsements.

Tomoya Suzuki, president and founder of Trans Insight Corporation’s Japan-focused sports marketing agency, believes Ohtani can make as much money as Ichiro and Matsuyama. “The only problem is that he’s not willing to do this, and he’s very selective about endorsements. I have heard that he has turned down many offers.”

Nez Balelo (Ohtani’s agent) and co-head of MLB at talent agency CAA acknowledge that Ohtani is selective in his associates’ brands. According to Forbes: “It’s less about the number of deals he does. It’s more about making certain that he’s not distracted and bogged down so that he can do the most important thing to him, which for him is play and be productive out on the field.”

Forbes has been told by a source that Ohtani is looking for partnerships that won’t take up too much of his time and has a loyalty that has helped shape and grows his portfolio. Ohtani chose to stay with Asics when first arriving in the U.S.A., even though other equipment manufacturers were more willing to pay him more.

Although he is well-known on both sides of the Pacific, he has only attracted 11 corporate partners.

Ohtani, a native of Oshu in northern Japan, was first impressed by American scouts aged 18 when he threw a 100-mile-per hour fastball at the 2012 Koshien Tournament. It is Japan’s equivalent of March Madness. Later that year, he announced that he wanted to quit Japanese baseball and pursue a career in the United States.

Instead, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters selected Ohtani in round one of the 2012 Nippon Professional Baseball drafts. Ohtani was persuaded to delay his American baseball dreams by allowing him to hit and pitch regularly. Ohtani’s parents provided $1,000 a month for him in his first year of the club. In Japan, Ohtani played five seasons and earned five All-Star nominations, an MVP award for 2016, and two nominations as the conference’s best pitcher in 2015. Ohtani, still just 23 years old, was being sought out by major league clubs.

With six years of experience in the pro game, Ohtani might have been exempted from MLB’s international sign rules. These rules limit how much money clubs can offer foreign prospects if Ohtani had not waited until his birthday. Yu Darvish (6 years, $60min 2012) and Masahiro Takaka (7 years, $155m in 2014) were huge winners by not leaving Japan until they had turned 25. According to Forbes sources, Ohtani was asked by the Boston Red Sox to delay. This could have cost Ohtani more than his competition. Ohtani was eager to move, so he signed for the Angels in December 2017 with a $2.3million signing bonus and a $545,000 salary league-minimum.

Trans Insight’s Suzuki stated that his desire to play MLB baseball as soon as possible was unaffected. He wanted to play there extremely, very severely.

Since Ohtani’s arrival, it has been evident that he belongs. In 2018, his first season in the major leagues, he was named American League Rookie-of-the-Year despite only appearing in two-thirds (or less) of the Angels games. He has been a revelation in both the field and the game, with a major league-leading 32 home runs, a blast on Wednesday, and an exceptional figure of 11.69 strikeouts every nine innings. If he had pitched enough innings to earn the ERA title, he would have ranked seventh among MLB starters through Tuesday’s games. Hideki Matsui holds the record for most home runs in a season by an Asian-born pitcher, but he has just half the season left. Therefore, endorsement opportunities are growing.

Ohtani is MLB’s highest earner of the off-the-field because they don’t make nearly as many endorsements as other sports stars. This means that Ohtani’s competition for the top spot isn’t as fierce as in the NBA, where LeBron James earned an astonishing $65 million in 12 months. Forbes’ 2021 list of the highest-paid athletes worldwide were filled with incredible figures, including Ohtani’s staggering $65m. Since 2012, only one MLB player has earned over $9 million. Derek Jeter was the first to reach that mark in 2014.

There are many reasons why baseball has fallen behind. Long-term guarantees and high salaries for top athletes–MLB has granted 16 of the most significant team sports contracts, as measured by total worth–may deter from pursuing success on the other side. The league and the sport are not the only ones that have to address the problem.

Joe Favorito is a Columbia University professor and veteran market consultant. “If your goal is to be a marketable superstar, this is not something you can just do.” “You compete with some the greatest names in entertainment and sport on the planet. It’s a job.

Ohtani, especially back in Japan, has been a defining figure, which gives him an advantage. He has won the hearts of baseball-loving Japan with his dominance on the plate and at the mound. Shun Kakazu (assistant general manager, NPB’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) says: “There’s a satisfaction [in Japan] knowing that the American fans focus on him.”

It’s up to him what the future holds. Although there are many endorsement opportunities available, Ohtani needs to keep performing and staying healthy. The Angels would also be pleased to see their first playoff appearance since 2014. If all goes according to plan, Ohtani’s annual on-field earnings will skyrocket from $3M in 2021 down to $30M annually by 2023. This is in line with the deals Gerrit Cole, Francisco Lindor, and Mookie Betts signed.

Now, Ohtani will be on the national stage as he steps up to the plate in the Home Run Derby on Monday. He will also appear as both a batter and pitcher in the All-Star Game Tuesday.

Favorito states, “He is a mega-star of Japan, and he’s growing in stardom in the U.S., so people have to get to know him.” “The Home Run Derby could be a turning-point for casual fans about Ohtani’s character and what he can accomplish.”

- Advertisement -
Avatar photo
Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

Latest articles

Related articles