In a landscape where the Top Richest Sportsman in the World commands salaries that most people can only dream of, thanks to huge television contracts and lucrative endorsement deals, elite sports stars are raking in tens of millions of dollars every year. But who are currently the very top earners in sports? In this post, we will count down the 10 highest-paid athletes based on total earnings from the last year. You may be surprised to see who lands at number one.
Using data on athletes’ salaries, winnings and endorsements in recent years, we have compiled and ranked the biggest money makers across popular sports like football, basketball, boxing and more. The following profiles outline some background, achievements and biggest deals for each top-paid athlete. Factors like championships won, records held and marketability all contribute to their jaw-dropping compensation.
Without further ado, here are the 10 highest paid athletes today based on total earnings:
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10. Matt Ryan – $43.8 million
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback cashes in at number 10 on our list. Matt Ryan has been one of the most consistent passers in the NFL since being drafted 3rd overall in 2008. He has missed just 2 starts in his entire career, earning the nickname “Matty Ice” for his durability and cool demeanour. Ryan has led the Falcons to the playoffs six times, including an NFC Championship in 2016. He was the league’s MVP that year and also holds multiple franchise passing records. An excellent leader on and off the field, Ryan’s salary and endorsements reflect his importance to the team. His 5-year, $150 million contract extension signed in 2018 helped him land a spot among the top earners.
9. Lewis Hamilton – $44 million
British race car driver Lewis Hamilton has been one of Formula 1’s most dominant drivers over the past decade. Racing for Mercedes AMG since 2013, he has won 5 World Championship titles, putting him second only to Michael Schumacher. Hamilton holds the records for all-time pole positions (92) and grand slam wins (33). His success on the track has led to lucrative endorsement deals with brands like Monster Energy, Puma and Sony. Hamilton’s salary and bonus from Mercedes accounts for about two-thirds of his income. He continues to race at an elite level and has his sights set on matching Schumacher’s championship record.
8. Kevin Durant – $45.8 million
Since entering the NBA as the 2nd overall pick in 2007, Kevin Durant has become one of the most prolific scorers in league history. He has led the league in scoring 4 times and his career average of 27.2 points per game ranks 4th all-time. After 9 seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2016. His addition helped the Warriors win back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018, winning Finals MVP both years. Durant has picked up numerous endorsement deals with the likes of Nike, Gatorade, Panini and 2K Sports. At age 30, he is still in his prime and should continue piling up big earnings.
7. Roger Federer – $55 million
One of the greatest tennis players ever, Roger Federer has won 102 career titles including 20 Grand Slams. He held the world’s #1 ranking for a record 237 consecutive weeks and remains near the top at age 37. Federer is renowned for his effortless playing style and extremely high match win percentage. He has reached an all-time record of 30 Grand Slam finals. Federer’s impressive haul comes mostly from endorsements. Major deals with Rolex, Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz and Barilla have made him one of the most marketable athletes around. He also has his own line of Nike tennis products.
6. LeBron James – $71.5 million
Since going straight from high school to the NBA as the #1 overall pick in 2003, LeBron James has lived up to the hype as “the chosen one.” He has made 14 All-Star teams, winning MVP honors 3 times. James has also won 3 NBA titles and 3 Finals MVP awards with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. Having earned over $266 million in NBA salary to date, his off-court endorsements are even more lucrative. Nike pays LeBron more than $30 million annually as part of a lifetime deal. He also has deals with AT&T, Beats, Blaze Pizza and more. His move to the Los Angeles Lakers bolstered his status as one of the most marketable superstars.
5. Neymar – $75 million
Paris Saint-Germain made Brazilian soccer phenom Neymar the most expensive transfer in history with his $263 million move from Barcelona in 2017. He has twice been named FIFA’s best male player and led Brazil to an Olympic gold medal in 2016. Neymar’s electric speed, dazzling footwork and scoring ability have landed him endorsement deals with Beats, Gillette, Qatar Airways and many more. After Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the 26-year-old Neymar is the heir apparent to be the face of world football. His massive PSG contract will have him earning over $350 million through 2022.
4. Conor McGregor – $99 million
No athlete has capitalized on fame and controversy quite like Conor McGregor. He burst onto the UFC scene in 2013 and captured featherweight and lightweight titles by the end of 2016. McGregor has become a cultural icon in Ireland and one of MMA’s biggest pay-per-view draws. He crossed over to boxing in 2017 for an epic clash with Floyd Mayweather, which became one of the richest fights ever. While still competing in MMA, McGregor has leveraged his popularity to launch businesses like an Irish whiskey brand and a menswear line. His income will continue to grow as he dominates MMA headlines.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo – $103 million
Cristiano Ronaldo has staked a solid case as football’s greatest of all time alongside Lionel Messi. The Portuguese striker became Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer with 450 goals. He led the club to 2 La Liga titles and 4 Champions League crowns. Ronaldo transferred to Juventus in 2018 for a €100 million fee. He is the world’s most popular athlete on social media, which has greatly enhanced his value to endorsers like Nike, Herbalife, Tag Heuer and CR7-branded products. Ronaldo shows no signs of slowing down at age 33. He still has time to further bolster his case as the sport’s new GOAT.
2. Lionel Messi – $111 million
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi continues to shatter records in his 15 years with the storied club. The Argentine marksman is La Liga‘s all-time leading scorer with 36 hat tricks and top scorer in the Champions League for 5 seasons. With 5 Ballon d’Or trophies, Messi has a case as football’s GOAT over rival Ronaldo. Having spent his entire career with Barcelona, Messi has a lifetime contract that pays him over $60 million annually through 2020. His lucrative endorsement portfolio includes Adidas, Pepsi, Gillette and Turkish Airlines. Messi figures to continue terrorizing La Liga defenses for several more years.
1. Floyd Mayweather – $275 million
Floyd Mayweather stands alone atop this list with astronomical earnings that lap the field. Over his 21-year career, he racked up a perfect 50-0 record with titles in 5 weight classes. Mayweather landed a mind-blowing payday in 2017 when he took on UFC star Conor McGregor in a super fight. The bout generated 4.3 million PPV buys and over $550 million in total revenue. Nicknamed “Money,” Mayweather maximized his earning power through his own promotion company. He also partnered with Showtime for huge fight payouts at the end of his career. While Mayweather is officially retired, a comeback bout would instantly make him the highest paid athlete again.
This list shows that the very top athletes today earn what most people can only imagine. The combination of ever-rising player salaries and endorsements has created unprecedented wealth. Basketball, football, boxing and soccer dominate sports earnings, but many other athletes also earn tens of millions annually. The rewards for superstar performance and popularity have never been greater.
These athletes undoubtedly work hard to reach the pinnacle of their sport and global stardom. Generational talents like LeBron James and Lionel Messi set new standards with their consistent excellence. Savvy self-promoters like Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather cash in on their sporting and entertainment value. But the massive corporate machinery behind professional sports also plays a huge role in enabling such prosperity.
Nonetheless, these amazing earnings reflect the widespread public appetite for sports entertainment. As long as people passionately follow their favorite athletes and teams, the sky-high player salaries will likely continue unchecked. Expect to see more athletes reach the ultra-elite financial stratosphere in the coming years.