• 24 Jun, 2024

The Highest Earning Athletes Across Multiple Pro Sports

The Highest Earning Athletes Across Multiple Pro Sports

After a frustrating year and a half with Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr on a massive new contract in January, virtually increasing his annual playing wage to an estimated $75 million. Last year, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson left the PGA Tour for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, which offered tens of millions of dollars in upfront guarantees. Lionel Messi is reportedly considering a move to Saudi Arabia this summer and already serves as the country's tourism ambassador, a multimillion-dollar arrangement that resulted in a two-week suspension from his current club, Paris Saint-Germain, on Tuesday after he missed practice due to an unapproved promotional trip.PSG, of course, is also the home of Kylian Mbappé and has its own Gulf connection, with its ownership group a subsidiary of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund.   

Athletes' salary has already skyrocketed in recent years due to increased league TV rights agreements and off-field opportunities, but Middle Eastern money is adding fuel to the flames. In total, the world's 10 highest-paid athletes earned an estimated $1.11 billion before taxes and agent fees in the last year, up 12% from last year's $990 million and 5% off the $1.06 billion record established in 2018.   

The 2018 total was skewed by an extreme outlier, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., who earned $285 million that year, the second-highest salary for an athlete in the Forbes list's 33-year history. However, the 2023 top ten is impressive from top to bottom. Ronaldo leads the way with an estimated $136 million in earnings, including $46 million from his playing salary and incentives and $90 million from endorsements, appearances, licensing revenue, and other business ventures. Mbappé, at 24, ranks third with $120 million, and Johnson, at sixth with $107 million, make eye-popping top-ten debuts.   

These three are among eight athletes who earned more than $100 million in the last 12 months, more than any prior year. Ronaldo, Messi, and LeBron James have previously earned $130 million and $119.5 million, respectively. However, Mbappé and Johnson, along with boxing champion Canelo Álvarez ($110 million), Mickelson ($106 million), and NBA sharpshooter Stephen Curry ($100.4 million), earned nine figures for the first time. Only seven other athletes have ever joined this exclusive club.   

Tennis ace Roger Federer—No. 9 on this year's earnings list—is one among them, and he didn't miss the mark by much in 2023, earning a projected $95.1 million, nearly all off the court. His earnings would have made him the world's highest-paid athlete as recently as 2017, when Ronaldo headed the pack with $93 million. Kevin Durant rounds out the top ten in 2023, earning $89.1 million, a 10% increase from the previous year's record of $80.9 million.   

The participation of the two golfers could be the most unexpected development in 2023. Mickelson is 52 years old and, with the exception of a spectacular run at the Masters last month, no longer resembles the player who ranked in the top ten in earnings for 11 consecutive years from 2006 to 2016. (He was 31st on last year's list, with $45.3 million.) Johnson, meanwhile, missed the top 50 in earnings last year and has seen his off-course salary drop to a projected $5 million from $29 million in 2022, as sponsors are wary of LIV Golf's performance.   

Cristiano Ronaldo  
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$136 million  
Ronaldo left Manchester United in November and joined Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr in January, increasing his annual playing wage to an estimated $75 million and creating additional marketing opportunities in his new home. (Forbes' on-field estimate combines his two contracts for the season and adjusts for his brief layoff.) Rumors circulate that he may try to return to Europe this summer, but in the meanwhile, the pay increase has him atop the athlete earnings list for the first time since 2017, and the third time overall, while also setting an all-time high for a soccer player with a total of $136 million.    

Lionel Messi  
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$130 million  

Messi's future is a topic of much discussion, with reports circulating that he could return to Barcelona, join Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia, or even play in the MLS with Inter Miami. His bank account should be secure nonetheless. His earnings total matches his top spot from the previous two editions of the list, and he has a long list of lucrative endorsements, including Adidas, Budweiser, and PepsiCo. His contract with Socios, a blockchain-based fan site, alone pays him an estimated $20 million per year, and the opportunities should keep flowing after he guided Argentina to a World Cup victory last December. In October, he started Play Time, an investing firm.   

Kylian Mbappé  
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$120 million  
Mbappé, who finished 35th on the earnings list last year, makes his top ten debut and is the only member under the age of 30. He earns the highest playing wage in soccer, which appears justified after falling one win short of a second consecutive World Cup title with France in 2022 and finishing close behind his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Lionel Messi for the Best FIFA Men's Player Award. In June, he became the first player ambassador for Sorare, a cryptocurrency-based fantasy game, and later that summer, he used his rising power in a disagreement with the French Football Federation.    

LeBron James  
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$119.5 million  
Today's greatest sportsmen are also successful inventors and investors, and James, who became Forbes' first active athlete billionaire in June, exemplifies that entrepreneurial spirit well. In addition to his huge endorsement portfolio, the Los Angeles Lakers forward is the founder of sports nutrition business Ladder and the SpringHill business, which creates and produces TV and other entertainment material, and he was a producer on House Party, a 2023 film set in his estate. He also has a stake in Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool FC, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he recently invested in a Major League Pickleball franchise while expressing his goal to someday own an NBA expansion team in Las vegas.   

Canelo Álvarez  
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$110 million  
Álvarez's battles against Dmitry Bivol and Gennadiy Golovkin have earned him tens of millions of dollars over the past year. (The Forbes list is valid through May 1, thus the forthcoming payout from his May 6 bout with John Ryder is not included.) Álvarez has few traditional endorsements, teaming with Hennessy and Michelob Ultra. However, he has signed with Excel Sports Management to expand his marketing relationships and is also an entrepreneur.  

Dustin Johnson  
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$107 million  
Johnson was the first star to join LIV Golf last May, and he completed 2022 with a tour-high $35.6 million in prize money, including $18 million for winning the season-long individual championship. The move may have cost him sponsors, including Royal Bank of Canada, but it also made him the biggest winner of the year: he did not even make the list of 2022's 50 highest-paid athletes. He is now working on establishing the brand of 4Aces GC, the LIV team he captains and co-owns, whose emblem has replaced Adidas' on his shirt at recent tournaments. The guaranteed cash from LIV's no-cut format also helps—he's earned $3.3 million across five LIV events in 2023.  

Phil Mickelson  
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$106 million  
Mickelson, who reached $1 billion in career pre-tax earnings last year, has lost sponsors since joining LIV Golf, but he remains active off the course. He is a cofounder of For Wellness, which produces coffee supplements, and he was one of the investors who just purchased a vast plot of property outside Phoenix. Mickelson gave his new tour a reason to be proud at the Masters last month, shooting a final-round 65 to tie for second with his LIV Golf teammate Brooks Koepka. As a result, they received a $1.6 million payment.  

Stephen Curry  
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$100.4 million  

Curry, who won his fourth NBA title in June, is set to earn more than $100 million in his first year. His $48.1 million contract was the biggest in the NBA this season, and he will be the league's first $50 million man in 2023-24, earning $51.9 million. When FTX crashed, the Golden State Warriors guard lost a big sponsor, and he has since been involved in a lawsuit alleging the cryptocurrency exchange's celebrity endorsers of misleading clients in advertisements.But he has filled the vacuum and then some. In March, he inked a long-term deal with Under Armour that would last until his retirement from basketball, and he has a new collaboration with Chase Bank. His multimedia firm, Unanimous Media, is one of the producers of a documentary on him that will premiere on Apple TV+ in July, and he plans to release a graphic novel series next year. He has recently invested in Golf+, a VR platform, and TMRW Sports, a firm created by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy with the goal of creating a technology-infused golf league.  

Roger Federer  
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$95.1 million  

Federer announced his retirement from competitive tennis in September and put up his racket after playing one final match with Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup, an international team tournament he helped establish in 2017. His roster of more than a dozen long-term collaborators remains intact as he embarks on his second act, and last week he signed a licensing agreement for his RF brand with eyewear manufacturer Oliver Peoples. He also owns a large share in the rapidly expanding Swiss shoe business On.   

Kevin Durant  
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$89.1 million  
Federer announced his retirement from competitive tennis in September and put up his racket after playing one final match with Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup, an international team tournament he helped establish in 2017. His roster of more than a dozen long-term collaborators remains intact as he embarks on his second act, and last week he signed a licensing agreement for his RF brand with eyewear manufacturer Oliver Peoples. He also owns a large share in the rapidly expanding Swiss shoe business On.He also owns a developing media empire with Boardroom and one of the NBA's most valuable sneaker deals with Nike, which was recently extended to a lifetime commitment. The only other two NBA players to receive lifetime contracts from the shoemaker are Michael Jordan and LeBron James.