Professional athletes are a part of the world's population that happens to earn a lot of money. There are plenty of avenues for a player to earn money, whether through them actually playing the sport, endorsements from companies, and investing. Needless to say, a lot of the most popular athletes in the world have extremely high earning potential.
Forbes has recently compiled a list of the top 10 highest-paid athletes in the world. There are athletes from a variety of sports that make the list, and the earnings cover both on-court and off-court earnings. It seems as though for the top athletes in the world, things haven't changed too much amidst a crazy year.
The ten highest-paid athletes in the world took home pretax gross earnings of $1.05 billion during the past 12 months, 28% more than last year’s top earners. The combined haul falls just a few million short of the $1.06 billion record set in 2018, the 12-month window in which boxer Floyd Mayweather earned $285 million, almost all of it from his 2017 pay-per-view fight with Conor McGregor.
This year, McGregor lands the winning punch, having leveraged his unmatched popularity in mixed martial arts to build a lucrative hustle outside UFC’s Octagon. The brash McGregor collected a total of $180 million over the last 12 months; most of that comes from his recent sale of his majority stake in whiskey brand Proper No. Twelve to Proximo Spirits for $150 million.
Adding in his endorsements, McGregor made $158 million outside of his fighting career over the last 12 months, becoming only the third athlete, after Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, to earn more than $70 million off the field in a single year while still actively competing.
Three other superstars also surpassed $100 million in total earnings this year: soccer stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and NFL quarterback Dak Prescott. Messi, whose off-the-pitch drama with FC Barcelona last summer was followed by media reports of the club’s dire financial state and the revelation that his contract was worth $674 million, sets a record for soccer players with his 2021 total of $130 million. Prescott, with $107.5 million, breaks the record for NFL players thanks to a $66 million signing bonus from the Dallas Cowboys. The four on this year’s list join only five other athletes—Federer, Mayweather, Neymar, Manny Pacquiao and Woods—to have made more than $100 million in a single year. Previously, the most $100 million earners to appear on one list was three, accomplished in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
LeBron James was just shy of joining that elite group. The Los Angeles Lakers star took home $96.5 million, a record for NBA players. Another record set in 2021: the $75 million cutoff to qualify for the top ten, beating the previous high-water mark of $65.4 million from 2019. This year’s top ten also made a combined $512 million off the field, crushing the previous record of $407.5 million from 2020.
The #10 player here is Kevin Durant, who brought in $75 million this year, with around $31 million of it coming from his NBA contract. The remaining $44 million comes from off-court ventures. He has an endorsement deal with Nike, which he signed in 2014. He notably invested in cryptocurrency company Coinbase before it reached its $100 billion valuation.
Following Kevin Durant, we have Tom Brady. Brady has recently won the Superbowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and his on-court earnings tallied $45 million. Tom Brady is notably signed to Under Armour, where he has his own line of athletic gear. Another prominent company that he endorses is the beer company, Sam Adams. Tom Brady's total earnings were $76 million.
Lewis Hamilton is a prominent Formula 1 driver: his 7 World Championships speak for themselves. Most of his earnings have been from racing, but outside of that, he has endorsements from companies such as Monster Energy and Sony. He
The only tennis player on this list, Roger Federer has missed the majority of last year with an injury. However, that didn't stop him from being 7th on the list, with almost all of his gains coming from off-court avenues. Federer has a prominent deal with Japanese clothing company Uniqlo, as well as endorsements from Mercedes Benz and Rolex. Despite his relatively minor earnings from his sport, Federer still managed to bring in $90 million from off-field income alone.
There are three soccer players that are part of the top 10 highest-paid athletes, and Brazilian star Neymar is one of them. Neymar is one of the most marketable athletes in the world, and the endorsements/deals he has with other companies is a part of that. He has switched from Nike to Puma in recent memory, as well as having endorsements from Red Bull and Qatar Airways. His total earnings are $95 million, with the lion's share of it coming from soccer ($76 million).
Now, we get to LeBron James, the most popular NBA player. LeBron James has always been known as a savvy businessman off the court, so it's no surprise that out of his total earnings ($96.5 million) that only $31.5 million of it comes from playing in the NBA. LeBron James' amazing business ventures include his ownership stake in Blaze Pizza, as well as being a part-owner of the MLB's Boston Red Sox.
The first player to breach the $100 million mark is NFL quarterback Dak Prescott. Dak Prescott plays for quite possibly the most prominent franchise in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys. Prescott's on-field earnings make up the majority of his gain this season as he has made $97.5 million from American football this season, largely due to his $66 million signing bonus. Off-field, Prescott has partnerships with Adidas and Citibank among others, and with his non-football money, his total earnings are $107.5 million.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a fashion icon on top of being one of the best professional soccer players in the world, so there is no surprise with him at the #3 position. Cristiano Ronaldo earned $120 million this year, with around $50 million coming from non-soccer sources. His CR7 clothes/fragrance brand is part of that, but he also has a lifetime deal with Nike.
There is no doubt that Lionel Messi would be on this list, as he is one of the most respected soccer legends in the world, and possesses a huge global brand. Lionel Messi earned $130 million last year, and a whopping $97 million of it has come from soccer. The remaining 33 million comes from his various endorsement deals. Lionel Messi has a lifetime agreement with Adidas, as well as being partnered with Gatorade.
The top athlete on Forbes' list was Conor McGregor, the famous UFC fighter. As mentioned in the Forbes article, a large part of his $180 million earnings was due to his sale of a majority stake in whiskey brand Proper No. 12, with which he earned $150 million. Around $22 million of the remainder was from his fight with Dustin Poirier, and the rest is rounded out by various endorsements, which include the sports betting company DraftKings.