A run for the money: the world's highest-paid sports stars

A quick look at the Forbes list of the world's highest-paid sportspersons

Peter Griffin
Published: 08, Jul 2014

I handle the 'Life' section of Forbes India. In previous lives, I was an advertising creative director, voice-over artist, RJ, TV host, web producer and content architect, freelance travel writer, columnist, and consultant to NGOs. I've been blogging since 2003, and co-founded the South-East Asia Tsunami & Earthquake and Mumbai Help blogs (which, with other similar initiatives later became the WorldWideHelp group), and the writers’ community, Caferati. I'm a keen student of collaboration and online culture. I also co-curated the Literature section of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival from 2006 to 2012. Aside from Twitter (link below), you could also follow me on Facebook or Google+.

[caption id="attachment_29414" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Floyd Mayweather Jr., a world title holder in five boxing weight divisions, and undefeated as a professional, is the world's highest-paid sportsperson for the period 1 June 2013 – 1 June 2014. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus Floyd Mayweather Jr., a world title holder in five boxing weight divisions, and undefeated as a professional, is the world's highest-paid sportsperson for the period 1 June 2013 – 1 June 2014. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus [/caption] The Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid sportspersons was released last month. Tiger Woods, last year’s top earner, had been dethroned, and the American boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather, with USD 105 million in earnings had taken his place. (He became the second sports star, after Woods, to make more than a million in a year. Interestingly, all of that was in prize money; Mayweather has no endorsement deals.)

Following him were Cristiano Ronaldo (USD 80m), LeBron James (72.3m), Lionel Messi (64.7m), Kobe Bryant (61.5m), Tiger Woods (61.2m), Roger Federer (56.2m), Phil Mickelson (53.2m), Rafael Nadal (44.5m) and rounding off the top ten, Matt Ryan(43.8m). Messi, Nadal and Ryan are new entrants to the top 10, displacing Drew Breese, Aaron Rodgers, and the now-retired David Beckham.

India’s sole representative on the list was MS Dhoni, dropping from #16 last year to 22 this year, with roughly the same income, 30m. Sachin Tendulkar, who was on the list last year, drops out this year since he has now retired (but more about him below).

The highest-ranking woman was Maria Sharapova, but dropping from 22 last year to #34 this year. Overall, gender was as skewed as ever, with the same three women on the list, all tennis players: Sharapova, Li Na (#41), Serena Williams (#55).

On salary and prize money alone, the top 10 were: Mayweather (105m), Ronaldo (52m), Ryan (42m), Messi (41.7m), Manny Pacquiao (41m), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (36.4m), Radamel Falcao (32.4m), Matthew Stafford (31.5m), Bryant (30.5m), and Fernando Alonso (29m).

Lowest on that count, from the bottom, were Usain Bolt (0.2m), Sharapova (2.4m), Dhoni (4m), Federer (4.2m), Rory McIlroy (4.3m), Mickelson (5.2m), Li Na (5.6m), Woods (6.2m), Adam Scott (8.7m), and Brees (10m).

Some of those low earners wouldn’t be too upset, though. They wind up in the top 10 for endorsements: Woods (55m), James (53m), Federer (52m), Mickelson (48m), Bryant (31m), Nadal (30m), Ronaldo (28m), Dhoni (26m), Messi (23m), and Bolt (23m). (Sharapova comes in at 11, with 22m).

Mayweather’s earnings outside the ring couldn’t get lower. He made nothing from endorsements. Keeping him company, with not even a million dollars of off-field earnings between the lot of them: Branden Albert (.04m), Alfonso Soriano (.05m), Carlos Dunlap (.05m), Geno Atkins (.05m), Zack Greinke (.05m), Jairus Byrd (.1m), Barry Zito (.1m), Vernon Wells (.1m), and Joe Haden (.15m).

Predictably, the US dominated, with 62 US citizens on the list. Next was the UK, with five, Dominican Republic and Spain (four each), Germany and Venezuela (three each), Argentina (two) and, with one each, Australia, Brazil, China, Cote d’Ivoire, France, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Uruguay.

Another ten non-US citizens from that list earn their living in the US, plus there are quite a few others who play sports highly popular in the US.

Baseball’s stars took 27 spots, basketball players 19, and American football players 18. Football the way most of the rest of the world plays has 14 on the list. Motor sports has six, three from Formula 1, and three from US-style racing. The rest: tennis (six), golf (five), boxing (four), and one spot each for athletics and cricket. No prizes for guessing that that means Usain Bolt and MS Dhoni.

Age-wise, footballer Neymar is the youngest, at 22; boxer Canelo Alvarez (23) and footballer Gareth Bale (24) are the two others under 25. 35 of the 100 are under 30.

Three are 40 and over: baseballer Derek Jeter (40), US auto racer Jeff Gordon (42) and golfer Mickelson (44).

Here’s the top 100 list.

Sachin Tendulkar may have dropped out of the list of active sports stars, but he, like David Beckham (who also retired from his sport), got instant entry onto another list: the best-paid retired athletes. They’re doing very well indeed, for gentlemen of leisure, with Beckham raking in 37m and Tendulkar 13m.

Most long-lived by one count would be Pele, who, despite having retired in 1977, still made 15m last year. Golfer Arnold Palmer, at 84, the oldest on the list, made 40m. Standing tall above them all, however, is basketball legend Michael Jordan, who 11 years after retiring, made 90m last year. I.e., more than any active sportsperson except for Mayweather.

Here’s the list.

Also on Forbes.com:

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