A couple of years ago, Floyd Mayweather’s big money (and hugely disappointing) fight with Manny Pacquiao inspired countless “rich” lists on magazines and newspapers worldwide. Journalists reveled in the general public’s disbelief that one person could earn over $200 million for less than 60 minutes’ work.
Mayweather topped all of those lists then, but that was a one off. He still earns a little cash here and there for endorsements and business deals, but in 2017—and even in 2016—he’s not the highest paid sportsman.
Which begs the question, who is? In this list we’ll look at the highest paid sportsmen from the highest paying sports, before finishing off with a final list of the richest overall.
The world’s most expensive and prestigious motor sport pays its drivers tens of millions of dollars to race around in cars worth over $1 billion. If baseball and soccer are the sports of the people, then Formula 1 is the sport of royalty. These stars don’t always make as much money as the average NBA, NFL or soccer star. However, when you compare salaries and nothing else, the amounts are very similar.
That’s because Formula 1 drivers are not as marketable as soccer or basketball players. In fact, the average person would struggle to recognize any of the highest paid drivers, yet they wouldn’t hesitate if you showed then a list of faces from the NBA. Despite this lack of marketability, this is a hugely lucrative sport. Manufacturers go out of their way to win. This impresses the sponsors, which in turn increases the earnings.
Lewis Hamilton is often cited as the richest driver. In 2016 he signed a contract for $140 million, which would see him through just 3 years. Once you add bonuses and endorsements to that, he becomes one of the richest sports stars in the world.
As for the richest F1 drivers:
- Lewis Hamilton
- Sebastien Vettel
- Nico Rosberg
This global sport has always attracted big money. The game’s biggest leagues, including the Spanish La Liga and the English Premier League, generate billions in advertising and TV rights and the players are paid hundreds of thousands a week. However, only when these players are signed by clubs outside of the league does the big money really exchange hands.
This was thought to begin with David Beckham’s move to LA Galaxy in 2007. But in truth the $250 million deal was actually a PR stunt. That figure was the amount he was set to earn over 5 years and included everything form signing-on fees and salary, to merchandising and more. In truth, he was earning a salary of just $6.5 million a year, which was on par with other top earners at the time.
It really began in 2011, with Eto’o’s move to relatively obscure Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala. They made him the highest paid player in the world when they paid him the equivalent of around $23 million a year. In later years, China became the big spenders as they tried to take the world’s best from Europe to the Chinese Super League. Players like Hulk make around $25 million a year, whereas even players considered relatively “average”, such as Graziano Pelle, are paid close to $20 million a year.
These figures are only a fractional less than the amounts earned by the world’s best players, Ronaldo and Messi.
- Christian Ronaldo
- Lionel Messi
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic
- Graziano Pelle
Technically, the richest basketball player of all time is Michael Jordan. He has a net worth of over $1 billion, and many would agree that he’s worth every penny. Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal are also high on the all-time list. But what about the current crop of superstars?
Well, few will be surprised to learn that Lebron James is at the top, earning a staggering amount of money inside and outside the sport. In 2014 his 1 percent share of Beats Audio earned him a $30 million payday, but that still didn’t come close to his salary and endorsements for that year.
Kobe Bryant isn’t too far behind James, but his fortunes off the basketball court haven’t been as great.
Focusing just on modern players, this is what the top 5 list looks like in 2017:
- Lebron James
- Kobe Bryant
- Kevin Garnett
- Tim Duncan
- Dirk Nowitzki
It won’t come as much of a surprise to learn that 5-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady is one of the highest paid in the NFL. He averages around $50 million a season, most of which comes from his salary. When you focus purely on salary, however, Brady isn’t number one.
Towards the end of 2016, prior to the recent New England Super Bowl success, it was reported that Drew Brees was earning the biggest paycheck, followed by fellow quarterback Andrew Luck. Olivier Vernon was one of the highest non-quarterback players, while even Joe Flacco was earning more than Brady.
Based just on that list of salaries, this is what the top ten looked like:
- Drew Brees
- Andrew Luck
- Olivier Vernon
- Joe Flacco
- Tom Brady
- Fletcher Cox
- Von Miller
- Justin Houston
- Muhammad Wilkerson
- Philip Rivers
The Highest Paid Athlete of All Time
It isn’t easy to determine who makes what. These days the average superstar makes more money from endorsements and advertising than they do from actually playing sport. There are also exchange rates and tax rates to contend with. But based on the information we have available, and taking all earnings into consideration, this is what the list would look like across all sports:
- Cristiano Ronaldo (Soccer), $88 Million
- Lionel Messi (Soccer), $77 Million
- Lebron James (Basketball), $77 Million
- Roger Federer (Tennis), $67 Million
- Kevin Durant (Basketball), $56 Million
- Novak Djokovic (Tennis), $55 Million
- Cam Newton (Football), $53 Million
- Phil Mickelson (Golf), $52 Million
- Jordan Spieth (Golf), $52 Million
- Kobe Bryant (Basketball), $50 Million