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Box-Top Fame

Wheaties is still the breakfast of champions as far as many athletes are concerned, report Annie Gasparro and Ryan Wallerson in The Wall Street Journal (3/5/14). Appearing on a box of Wheaties has always been more about the honor than the money. Chris Evert, who took her star turn on a Wheaties box in 1987 says the payment she received "certainly didn’t stand out." But it still means a lot to her: "That box is enshrined in my office," she says. Peter Carlisle of Octagon, an athlete agent, agrees that the dollars don’t matter.

"It’s a drop in the bucket for the professional hockey or basketball players," he says, but says the box’s "iconic" status still makes it "very valuable for an athlete." Lou Gehrig was "the first athlete to be featured on the box." That was in 1934. "Michael Jordan holds the record for the most appearances at 18" and Mary Lou Retton became the first female athlete to be honored, in 1984. General Mills, makers of Wheaties, doesn’t disclose how many athletes have been its box, but a website called ranker.com puts it at 474.

Beyond the honor, Peter Carlisle says the money actually does make a difference for Olympic athletes, whom he says "receive 90% of their income from corporate sponsorships." The current Wheaties box features Olympic gold medalists Mikaela Shiffrin and Sage Kotsenburg. What this does for brand Wheaties is harder to discern — it is a 91 year-old mark that today ranks "17th among US cereal brands." And yet the boxes still hold great value for collectors: An original Lou Gehrig box commands $369.95 on eBay.