Kenyan stars still trail global counterparts in earnings, endorsements despite career dominance

With one of the biggest number of athletics superstars, celebrated footballers and rugby players and other sports maestros, Kenya is no doubt a talent powerhouse.

Their attractive prize monies, salaries and allowances for impressive performances and plays have accentuated their celebrity status, over time.

Results of the hefty earnings from sports are conspicuous. From the commercial high-rise buildings built by athletes in major towns, to top-of-the-range vehicles driven by football and rugby stars, shows sport is well paying.

After excellent performances both locally and globally, a number of sports men and women have increased their earnings even further through endorsements, but many others have not been so lucky. 

Their counterparts from foreign countries, particularly the West, have for decades increased their earnings at their prime, and extended their hefty returns to their retirement through endorsements, authoring books, documentary production and sports commentaries among other income-generating activities.

Locally, athletes who have won gold medals in global competitions such as the Olympics and World Championships however depend on prize money and sponsorships by shoe companies, with a small number succeeding in securing endorsement deals.

Also read: Athletes losing their wealth after retirement.


But when the lucky sports stars sign endorsement and sponsorship deals, experts say, the biggest hurdle of signing agreements that result in underpayment, arise.

Nairobi-based lawyer Donald Kipkorir, in July this year wrote: “Kenyan athletes sell themselves very cheap. Ferdinand Omanyala, the fastest man in Africa always wears clothes branded Nike yet travels economy. US, Jamaica and European Union athletes sponsored by Nike travel in private jets or first class. Unless Kenyan athletes value themselves, Nike wont.”

Sports analysts say Kenyan athletes were yet to reap from well-paying deals, compared to their counterparts from America and Europe.

For example, Tom Brady, the famous American Football quarterback authored his second book ‘How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance,’ in 2017. Various sources indicate that the book is estimated to have earned Brady about US$20.3 million (Sh2.7 billion) annually.

As a result of his superb racing, marathon World Record holder Eliud Kipchoge has secured lucrative deals with shoe company Nike. His deals with Isuzu saw him get a vehicle.

Marathon star Eliud Kipchoge.

Women’s marathon record holder Brigid Kosgei, just like Kipchoge, is among the few lucky Kenyan athletes. Stanbic Bank Kenya last year unveiled Kosgei as its brand ambassador in a two-year partnership deal.

The value of the ambassadorial role was not disclosed, but Kosgei will promote the ‘It can Be’ brand of the Bank which aims at inspiring stakeholders to dream big and achieve their goals.

Alternative sources

Last year, Demetris Constantinou wrote on that endorsements were amongst the most popular revenue streams for athletes, and would often overtake salaries, especially for more famous athletes.

He says a third and increasingly popular revenue stream is investments, noting that such ventures could take various forms and can be completely irrelevant to the athlete’s sport.

Athletes can further earn revenues from other, more unconventional sources, such as participating in TV shows, holding motivational talks, or even producing their own books and movies, according to Constantinou.

Lebron James, the basketball superstar who earlier in 2021, released “Space Jam: A New Legacy”, a movie built on cartoon characters, and which serves as the continuation of “Space Jam”, the 1996 family movie starring Michael Jordan, is earning from the production.

Football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, serves as a great case of how sportsmen can multiply their revenue channels. By 2017, Ronaldo’s yearly earnings in 2017 were estimated to be around $100m (Sh12.2 billion) annually, only $58m (7 billion) which he earned as salary.

Cristiano Ronaldo.

About $35m of his earnings came from Endorsements in companies like Nike, Toyota and others while the rest came from investments in his own line of footwear, fragrance as well as other miscellaneous investments.

A notable mention and a great entrepreneurial mind is the Tennis superstar Serena Williams. Serena earns a large portion of her income through her winnings and endorsements, but what makes her a stand out is her investment towards the creation of Serena Ventures.

 Williams essentially created her own venture capital firm to invest in businesses across multiple industries. By doing so, Williams leveraged her brand to maximize her flow of revenue while minimizing any associated risks.

Back in Kenya, Kipchoge starred in “Kipchoge: The Last Milestone,” a 2021 documentary film directed by Jake Scott and produced by Ridley Scott.

The documentary follows the two-time Olympic champion and the events leading up to the Ineos 1:59 Challenge that saw him become the first man on earth to run a marathon under two hours. The film was released digitally on-demand on August 24, 2021.


A number of Kenyan athletes took up coaching, and have produced record-breakers. They include Olympian Patrick Sang, who has guided Kipchoge to stunning performances as well as former marathoner Eric Kimaiyo, who trains Brigid Kosgei.

Legendary coach Patrick Sang.

In America, several athletes have tried their luck in acting, and became successful.

Ronda Rousey, the most feared woman in the world, stood out from a young age as a judoka, where she won an Olympic bronze medal before taking up acting, and shared the screen with great artists. Her filmography includes several action films such as The Expendables 3, Fast and Furious 7 and Mile 22.

Mike Tyson, a World Heavyweight title winner became a legend in the sport. In total, he won the title twice and left a 50-6 record. His foray into the film world began with a series of documentaries, but the most recognized films were the first two instalments of The Hangover, Ip Man 3 and Rocky VI.

Last week, sports expert, Dr Byron Kipchumba said self-centered management companies, poor level of education among athletes and inept communication skills among a section of Kenyan athletes have conspired to deny them better endorsement deals, compared to their American and European counterparts.

“It all boils down to the level of education and poor communication. Managers have only been focusing on performance and when you ask athletes whether they know what they sign in deals, they have no idea what is going on,” he explained.


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