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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Today's athletes have more power than ever to build their own brands and significantly bolster their own earning potential.

What's happening: Social media has created new outlets for athletes to communicate directly with fans, take part in conversations around issues that matter to them, and attract endorsement money.

  • LeBron James made more money from endorsements ($52 million) than from playing basketball ($35.6 million) last year. He also has a combined 111.9 million social media followers, 10 million more than his employer, the NBA.
  • Top, media-savvy athletes like James help define their sport and boost a team's popularity (and thus, revenue).

Be smart: The NBA is better suited to creating stars than other sports, partly because of aesthetics.

"When you look at an NBA game, the players are in shorts and tank tops. You can see their faces, there’s no helmet.... When you start to look at other sports, with helmets and pads, the stars may not be as recognizable. That makes it harder for brands.”
— Michael Keenan, sports practice leader at PwC

It's not just superstars: Even lesser-known athletes are using their platforms to land smaller-scale sponsorship deals, while others are launching their own product lines and businesses.

  • Klay Thompson inked a massive $80 million deal with Chinese apparel company Anta and has his own signature shoe.
  • Donovan Mitchell signed a smaller deal with Stance Socks in December after missing out on last year's NBA Rookie of the Year award.
  • Lacrosse player Paul Rabil became an investor and even launched a new professional lacrosse league.

Bottom line: As athletes become more powerful, they're changing the way sports are marketed — and even how they're consumed.

  • A new partnership between the NBA, Twitter and Turner Sports will let users vote on which player the camera should follow with an isolated camera feed. It's a prime example of a league, a network and a tech company all coming together to leverage the power of an individual superstar.

Go deeper

Updated 18 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Education: Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong puts tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge — Pfizer to supply 40 million vaccine doses to lower-income countries — Brazil begins distributing AstraZeneca vaccine.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

DOJ: Capitol rioter threatened to "assassinate" Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Supporters of former President Trump storm the U.S. Captiol on Jan. 6. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A Texas man who has been charged with storming the U.S. Capitol in the deadly Jan. 6 siege posted death threats against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Department of Justice said.

The big picture: Garret Miller faces five charges in connection to the riot by supporters of former President Trump, including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and making threats. According to court documents, Miller posted violent threats online the day of the siege, including tweeting “Assassinate AOC.”

Schumer calls for IG probe into alleged plan by Trump, DOJ lawyer to oust acting AG

Jeffrey Clark speaks next to Deputy US Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen at a news conference in October. Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP via Getty Images.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Saturday called for the Justice Department inspector general to investigate an alleged plan by former President Trump and a DOJ lawyer to remove the acting attorney general and replace him with someone more willing to investigate unfounded claims of election fraud.

Driving the news: The New York Times first reported Friday that the lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, allegedly devised "ways to cast doubt on the election results and to bolster Mr. Trump’s continuing legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians. Because Mr. [Jeffrey] Rosen had refused the president’s entreaties to carry out those plans, Mr. Trump was about to decide whether to fire Mr. Rosen and replace him with Mr. Clark."