The World’s 15 Highest Paid Athletes…Can You Guess Who #1 Is?
With so many important and essential careers in the world—whether they be in medicine, law, technology, education, etc.—it can be a bit shocking that most of the highest paid professionals are in fact athletes, who technically play a game for a living.
Yet this is the reality, and professional athletes can make so much money from endorsements alone in a single year that it makes one’s head spin. The highest-paid athletes in the past year have made a total of $3.2 billion, which is a 17% increase from the previous year.
Here are some of the most celebrated and highly paid athletes of all time.
15. Lewis Hamilton
Total Earnings: $39 million
Salary/Winnings: $36 million
Endorsements: $3 million
Lewis Hamilton is a British Formula One racing driver from England, and is the 2008, 2014, and 2015 Formula One World Champion. Beginning his career at the humble age of ten, he reportedly approached the team principal of McLeren, Ron Dennis, telling him, “I want to race for you one day.” This bold move seemed to work out well for Hamilton, who ended up driving for McLaren in 2007, twelve years after this initial encounter.
After signing a three-year contract extension in May with the Mercedes’ F1 team, Hamilton could reportedly make more than $140 million in 2016, including bonuses.
The fact that Hamilton was able to sign such a lucrative deal is based largely on the fact that he won his third F1 World Championship in 2015, and moved to the Mercedes brand in 2013 specifically for the unique sponsorship opportunities they provide.
14. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Total Earnings: $39.1 million
Salary/Winnings: $33.1 million
Endorsements: $6 million
This Swedish professional footballer, who plays as a striker for Paris Saint-Germain and the Sweden national team of which he is captain, began his career in the late 1990s before being signed by Ajax, where he started to make a name for himself. In December 2013, Ibrahimovic was ranked by The Guardian as the third-best player in the world, behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (soon to come on our list).
Ibrahimovic has consistently led Paris Saint-Germain in goals and to the French league title, and there’s a great deal of speculation as to whether or not he will move to MLS after his contract is up this year.
Apparently Zlatan isn’t desperate for endorsement deals, since he has been known to wear cleats with the Nike symbol (his long-term sponsor) barely visible, in what many call a snub to the establishment.
13. Novak Djokovic
Total Earnings: $48.2 million
Salary/Winnings: $17.2 million
Endorsements: $31 million
Djokovic is a Serbian tennis player who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world for men’s single tennis by the Association of Tennis Professionals, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time—having won eleven Gran Slam singles titles, and having held the No. 1 spot in the ATP ranking for a total of 198 weeks.
Since just 2001, Djokovic has earned roughly $59 million in prize money alone, and he is the second all-time earner of prize money in the history of the sport with roughly $79 million in total prizes. He’s also signed numerous lucrative sponsorship deals with brands such as Jacob’s Creek, Peugeot, and Seiko.
12. Rory McIlroy
Total Earnings: $48.3 million
Salary/Winnings: $16.3 million
Endorsements: $32 million
This Northern Irish golfer is a member of both the European and PGA Tours. McIlroy was world No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for 95 weeks straight, and is a four-time major champion—winning the 2011 U.S. Open with a tournament record lowest score under par (-16).
He also had a highly successful amateur career, having topped the World Amateur Golf Ranking for an entire week at the age of seventeen in 2007. And in 2012, McIlroy became the youngest player to reach $10 million in career earnings on the PGA tour.
These numerous wins over the years have helped McIlroy pocket roughly $16.3 million in prize money, as well has a handful of lucrative bonuses and endorsements from Nike, Omega, and Upper Deck. He even replaced Tiger Woods as the face of the Electronic Arts golf video game. Not too shabby.
11. Ben Roethlisberger
Total Earnings: $48.9 million
Salary/Winnings: $46.4 million
Endorsements: $2.5 million
Roethlisberger, nicknamed “Big Ben” is an American football quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, having been drafted in the first round (11th overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft. He earned the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2004, and became the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback in NFL history. He also became the first player to throw for 500 yards in two different games.
Roethlisberger has also been one of the most efficient passers in NFL history, and currently ranks 9th all-time in NFL passer ratings. He signed a four-year, $87.4 million extension with the Steelers in March, which came with a $31 million signing bonus.
In his personal life, however, Roethlisberger has been involved in several high-profile incidents, including a serious motorcycle accident in 2006 and being accused of sexual assault in 2008 and then again in 2010.
10. Kobe Bryant
Total Earnings: $49.5 million
Salary/Winnings: $23.5 million
Endorsements: $26 million
Bryant’s fame is almost unparalleled in the United States, having played his entire twenty-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA, after joining directly out of high school. He’s won five NBA championships, is an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, and a 12-time member of the All-Defense team.
Bryant also led the NBA in scoring during two seasons, and ranks 3rd on both the league’s all-time regular season scoring and all-time postseason scoring lists.
He also had the highest NBA salary for the fifth straight year in 2015, with $23.5 million a year (although he had to take a $7 million pay cut on his Lakers salary last season, in order to extend it into the next). Bryant’s consistently high-paying salaries, along with a string of high-profile endorsement deals with brands such has Nike, Lenovo, Hublot, and more, have made Bryant one of the highest paid athletes in history.
9. Tiger Woods
Total Earnings: $50.6 million
Endorsements: $50 million
Tiger Woods, known by many as simply “Tiger” is among one of the most successful golfers of all time, and is one of the highest-paid athletes in the entire world.
After a wildly outstanding amateur career, Woods went pro when he turned twenty in 1996. By 1997 he had already won his first major during the 1997 Masters tournament—winning by an astounding twelve strokes. Woods remained an unstoppable force throughout the 2000s.
All this overwhelming success seems to have gotten to Woods’ head, however, and he took a leave from golf in 2009 in an attempt to rebuild his shattered relationship with his then-wife, Elin Nordegren, after it was revealed that he had cheated on her with multiple women.
8. Phil Mickelson
Total Earnings: $50.8 million
Salary/Winnings: $2.8 million
Endorsements: $48 million
Phil Mickelson is one of only sixteen professional golfers in history to win at least three of the four professional majors (the only missing piece being the U.S. Open). Mickelson has also spent over seven hundred weeks in the top-ten of the Official World Golf Ranking, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.
Known by many by his nickname “Lefty” due to his left-handed swing (even though he is otherwise right-handed), Mickelson earns roughly $40 million a year from appearances and endorsements alone. Prominent brands such as Callaway, Exxon Mobil, Rolex, and Barclays, have all thrown their weight behind the talented golfer, and his $77 million in career prizes ranks as the second largest payout of its kind of all-time.
7. Kevin Durant
Total Earnings: $54.1 million
Salary/Winnings: $19.1 million
Endorsements: $35 million
This American basketball player has made quite a name for himself playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA—having won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award, four NBA scoring titles, the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, and an Olympic gold medal.
After attending the University of Texas for one season, he was selected second overall in the 2007 NBA draft by the Seattle SuperSonics, which eventually relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. Durant played a major role in the Thunder’s victory over the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.
All this talent led to Durant inking a ten-year deal with Nike in 2014, which is reportedly worth roughly $300 million—making it the most lucrative endorsement deal of any active athlete.
And while so much success can often go to peoples’ heads, Durant seems to have remained humble and grateful throughout all the fame, and is known for his kind and warm demeanor towards fans in the Oklahoma City area, as well as a great deal of charity work.
6. LeBron James
Total Earnings: $64.8 million
Salary/Winnings: $20.8 million
Endorsements: $44 million
As one of the most celebrated and recognized basketball players in American history, LeBron James has won two NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, two NBA Finals MVP Awards, and two Olympic gold medals.
LeBron began his basketball career after being selected as the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft by the Cavaliers, although he eventually left for the Miami Heat, where he played four seasons while winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013. In 2013, James led Miami on a 27-game winning streak—the third longest in NBA history.
Endorsed by a plethora of high-profile companies including Nike, Coca-Cola, Samsung, and more, LeBron added Kia Motors to his portfolio in 2014.
Sales of his signature Nikes shoes raked in roughly $340 million in U.S. sales in 2014 alone.
5. Roger Federer
Total Earnings: $67 million
Salary/Winnings: $9 million
Endorsements: $58 million
Roger Federer, one of the most well-known tennis players of all time, is currently ranked No. 2 in the world by the Association of Tennis Professionals. Federer turned pro in 1998 and has been continuously ranked in the top ten since October of 2002.
Some of his numerous accomplishments include winning seventeen Grand Slam singles titles, reaching the Wimbledon final ten times, and being one of only seven men to capture a career Grand Slam. He is also the only male player to win five consecutive US Open titles.
Given Federer’s unyielding success, it’s no wonder that he’s captured some of the most lucrative endorsement deals from some of the world’s biggest brands, including Nike, Rolex, and Credit Suisse. He also holds the record for the most career prize money, which is estimated to be around $90 million.
4. Lionel Messi
Total Earnings: $73.8 million
Salary/Winnings: $51.8 million
Endorsements: $22 million
Often considered to be the best footballer in the world, Lionel Messi plays as a forward for Spanish club Barcelona and the Argentina national team. Messi is the only football player in history to win the FIFA World Player of the Year/FIFA Ballon d’Or five times, and the first player to win three European Golden Shoes.
Lionel was born with a growth hormone deficiency as a child, and when he was thirteen he relocated to Spain from Argentina, where he could receive better medical treatment.
All of Messi’s talent and hard work paid off, and in 2014, Barcelona awarded him a $9 million raise for his 7th contract since 2005—bring the grand total of his pay to $50 million a year all the way through 2018.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
Total Earnings: $79.6 million
Salary/Winnings: $52.6 million
Endorsements: $27 million
Talented, handsome, and immensely popular, this Portuguese footballer plays for Spanish club Real Madrid and the Portugal national team as a forward. Ronaldo is consistently ranked as one of the best players in the world (some say of all time), and was named the best Portuguese player of all time by the Portuguese Football Federation in 2015. He was also the first player to win four European Golden Shoe awards.
Ronaldo began his club career playing for Sporting CP in 2002, but by 2003 he had already signed with Manchester United for a reported 15 million Euros. He holds the record for the most goals scored in a single UEFA Champions League season, and became the fastest player to score 200 goals in La Liga. Ronaldo is also the only player in the history of football to score fifty or more goals in a reason on five consecutive occasions.
Cristiano is also the world’s most popular athlete, with over 102 million Facebook and 35 million Twitter followers.
2. Manny Pacquiao
Total Earnings: $160 million
Salary/Winnings: $148 million
Endorsements: $12 million
Now a Filipino politician, Manny Pacquiao is a former world champion professional boxer, who has also dabbled in basketball, acting, and singing.
Most consider Pacquiao to be one of the greatest boxers of all time, as he is the first and only eight-division world champion in the sport. He has won ten world titles, and was the first to win the lineal championship in five separate weight classes. Manny is also the third fighter in history to win three “Glamour Division” titles, and according to Forbes, he was the second highest paid athlete in the world as of 2015.
Pacquiao received $120 million to go up against Floyd Mayweather, which was four times his previous payout for a match. He has added to his massive fortune by signing endorsement deals with brands such as Nike, Foot Locker, Butterfinger, and more.
1. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Total Earnings: $300 million
Salary/Winnings: $285 million
Endorsements: $15 million
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a former American professional boxer who is undefeated, and can claim twelve world titles as well as the lineal championship in four different weight classes. He is the only boxer to hold lineal titles simultaneously in two divisions, and is a two-time winner of the Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year award.
Countless sporting news outlets have crowned Mayweather the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world in a span of just ten years, and he has topped the Forbes and Sports Illustrated lists of the fifty highest-paid athletes of all time—having generated over $1,311,000,000 in pay-per-view revenue alone.
Mayweather’s $300 million salary in a single year blows away other records, including those previously held by Tiger Woods (who took home $115 million in 2008).
Due probably to a lack of necessity, Mayweather has seemed to shy away from endorsement deals, but the famous fighter has indeed inked deals with Hublot, Burger King, and more, which has added to his already exorbitant wealth.