“Roger Federer” by y.caradec is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
The sky-high nature of salaries for professional athletes is no secret.
Contract agreements are public knowledge in team sports. Ditto for tournament and seasonal winnings in individual competitions. But did you realize that, for the best of the best, the earnings they glean from their sport represent only a fraction of their salary?
This isn’t true for every pro, be they marquee names or otherwise. For many stars, though, more of their value is entrenched in their marketability. They are worth tens upon millions to certain companies and brands.
Some might wonder how this is possible. How is it that pro athletes are, in many instances, worth more off the court, pitch, field, rink, etc.? It’s a fair question. The answer can be attributed to the popularity of sports and the revenue it generates.
Money is being exchanged hand over fist from all angles. Pro sporting events are no longer about just putting fans in seats. They generate a ton of money from television deals and sponsorships. Teams have their hand in real estate investments. The increased legality and popularity of sports betting across the United States, as can be noted at OnlineSportsBetting.net, has also elevated every aspect of pro sports. Social media exposure has done the same. Today’s athletes are more versed in highly profitable off-court ventures as well—opportunistic investments that stretch across tech companies, media conglomerates, fashion brands and even pro-team ownership in leagues outside their own
Players are now considered lucrative brands unto themselves, and it’s reflected in their net worth. Interest in pro-athlete salaries is likewise higher than ever. Their brands are not just about their sport; they are a part of pop culture—lifestyle celebrities, in many cases, just like movie and reality-TV stars. You are just as likely to recognize, say, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors as you are a member of the Kardashian clan.
In the spirit of keeping up with this financial phenomenon, we’ve put together a list of the highest paid players in sports. These rankings and numbers are accurate as of mid-2020 and taken directly from the extensive research done by the folks over at Forbes.
1. Roger Federer (Tennis)
Endorsements: $100 million
Salary/Winnings: $6.3 million
Total: $106.3 million
At 39, Roger Federer is no longer the inevitable top-ranked tennis player in the world. Such are the effects of age. But he remains relevant in his sport, which is the key to any lucrative net worth.
Without his putting up a fight in battles against Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, he wouldn’t have a pathway to his intense marketability. Tennis is a global sport, and stars like Federer have endorsements with everyone from sports brands to lifestyle brands (think: Gillette shaving).
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Soccer)
Endorsements: $45 million
Salary/Winnings: $60 million
Total: $105 million
Cristiano Ronaldo’s second-place ranking is a balancing act.
Soccer, like tennis, has global appeal. Ronaldo has plenty of endorsement opportunities. But unlike tennis, soccer is the world’s sport. It is more popular than any other option you throw it, and players are handsomely compensated as a result.
In fact, the $60 million he’s making on the pitch alone is among the single largest sport-specific pay grades on this list—a feat buoyed by soccer’s intense popularity and, of course, the absence of a salary cap.
3. Lionel Messi (Soccer)
Endorsements: $32 million
Salary/Winnings: $72 million
Total: $104 million
Contrary to other team sports like basketball, football, baseball and hockey, soccer salaries can mushroom significantly based on winning. Stars are lavishly compensated no matter what, but relevant team showings, including championship victories, can seriously drive up their net worth.
Lionel Messi, 33, is a perfect example of a salary impacted by overall success. His soccer-specific earnings outpaced those from Ronaldo, widely considered the best player in the world, by $12 million.
4. Neymar (Soccer)
Endorsements: $25 million
Salary/Winnings: $70.5 million
Total: $95.5 million
Anyone who came into this exercise doubting soccer’s global appeal should have their perception tilted by now. Neymar is the third star from the pitch to populate the top four.
Though his endorsements fall short of those by Messi and Ronaldo, his status in the sport itself is through the roof. He is one of the most recognizable players in the world, representing both Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and the Brazil national team. While skill helps his case, his being the face of soccer among Brazlians has no doubt beefed up his soccer earnings.
5. LeBron James (NBA)
Endorsements: $60 million
Salary/Winnings: $28.2 million
Total: $88.2 million
A lot of people mistake the NBA for America’s sport now. That’s simply not true. The NFL remains king.
Still, the NBA does have the most marketable, recognizable stars among all North American sports league’s. If we stretched this list to 10, you’d see even more basketball names.
LeBron James is the king of them all. He is among the highest paid players on the court, but his off-hardwood ventures seal his ranking. He has his hand in everything from restaurant chains (Blaze pizza) and production companies, and he also semi-recently signed a lifetime deal with Nike believed to be worth upwards of $1 billion.
6. Stephen Curry (NBA)
Endorsements: $44 million
Salary/Winnings: $34.4 million
Total: $74.4 million
Winning MVPs and championships is the quickest way to vault yourself up pro sports’ pecking order. Stephen Curry is living proof.
The first part of his career was marred by injuries and impressive, albeit undercovered, play on bad teams. But then the Warriors popped, forging a dynasty, and Curry won two MVPs, including the only unanimous award in league history.
And now, well, he’s here, making almost $75 million per year.
7. Kevin Durant (NBA)
Endorsements: $35 million
Salary/Winnings: $28.9 million
Total: $63.9 million
Remember what we were saying about the improving marketability of NBA stars? You shouldn’t need any more proof than this. Kevin Durant is the third of the Association’s players to appear in the top seven.
Having rivaled LeBron for the NBA’s best-player-alive crown for almost a decade, his standing is no surprise. However, as he recovers from a serious Achilles injury, don’t be surprised if he starts to tumble down this list. Returning to MVP form will be crucial to preserving, and increasing, his endorsement money.