Lebron James, Lionel Messi and Floyd Mayweather
Sports offer the people who play them an escape and, depending on how much talent an individual possesses, it can also rescue them from financial hardship.
If an elite-level athlete can stay healthy and successful the chances are they will be able to earn a respectable living and those who participate in the most popular sports can even become millionaires.
Football, boxing, basketball, American football, golf and tennis are among some of the best games to be involved in, in that regard. Goal takes a look at the highest-paid sports stars in the world, as well as the footballers who are most lucratively rewarded for their talents.
Highest-paid sports stars in the world
Boxing can be an unforgiving sport but those at the very top can earn millions from ‘the sweet science’ and no one embodies that reality more than Floyd Mayweather. According to Forbes, Mayweather – aptly nicknamed ‘Money’ – was the best-paid sports star in the world in 2018, earning $275 million (£210m) with a further $10 million (£7.5m) coming through endorsements. The bulk of that fortune came as a result of his 2017 blockbuster bout with UFC fighter Conor McGregor, which Mayweather won via technical knockout in the 10th round.
Lionel Messi follows Mayweather as the second highest paid sports star in the world but there is a considerable gap in their earnings, with the Barcelona captain’s talents bringing in $111 million (£85m) in 2018. Messi is one of the most recognisable athletes in the world and his new contract with Barca – reported to be worth at least €565,000 a week – is a huge factor in his position. The Argentine also earned $27 million from his endorsement deals, with Adidas perhaps being the biggest contract. Interestingly, he could be set to earn even more next season, with reports that Barcelona are eager to ensure he remains at the club for life.
Messi is one part of one of the most captivating sporting rivalries of the past decade and he finds himself ahead of his rival Cristiano Ronaldo this year, though not by much. Ronaldo is third in Forbes’ list with total earnings of $108 million (£82.5m), $61 million (£47m) of which came through his salary. The Juventus star is much more of a commercial success than Messi, however, with $47 million (£36m) in the bank from deals he has with the likes of Nike, EA Sports and more.
McGregor follows Ronaldo in fourth, with earnings of $99 million (£76m) thanks chiefly to his 2017 fight with Mayweather. The Irish mixed martial artist has a long list of lucrative endorsement deals with the likes of Beats, Burger King and HiSmile, as well as business ventures of his own, such as Proper 12 whiskey and August McGregor. His climb up the list is actually one of his famous prophecies, having told Ronaldo in 2016 that he would soon catch up with the Portuguese.
Interestingly, another footballer rounds out the top five highest-paid athletes in the world, with Neymar enjoying a financially rewarding world record transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain. The Brazil superstar earned around $73 million (£56m) from his salary and a further $17 million (£13m) from his various sponsorship agreements, which include Nike, Beats, Gillette and Red Bull.
LA Lakers phenomenon LeBron James is not far behind Neymar with total earnings of $85.5 million (£65m) and it is interesting to note that he actually earns more from endorsements and business ventures – including his investment in Liverpool – than he does from playing in the NBA. Of his 2018 fortune, $33.5 million (£26m) comes from his contract and performance-related bonuses.
Record-breaking tennis icon Roger Federer follows James and the Switzerland native boasts a similarly impressive endorsements profile, which provides the bulk of his wealth. Federer’s deals with Wilson, Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz and others contributed an incredible $65 million (£50m), with his actual on-court heroics earning a relatively meagre $12.5 million (£10m).
Golden State Warriors’ point guard Steph Curry is not far behind his rival James with total earnings of $76.5 million (£60m) in 2018 and he is likely to persist in the charts for the coming years after signing a $200 million contract – the first of its kind in the NBA. American Football stars Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford, of the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions respectively, complete the top 10 highest earning athletes. The likes of Formula One racecar driver Lewis Hamilton, boxer Canelo Alvarez and golfer Tiger Woods are included in the top 20.
While footballers dominate the top five when it comes to athletes overall, there is quite some distance between the top earners and the rest in the sport, though that’s not to say the others are enduring any sort of deprivation.
As outlined, Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar are the top three earning footballers in the world, with the Argentine leading the way ahead of his Portuguese and Brazilian counterparts. Those three are followed by Antoine Griezmann – who, in the summer of 2018, penned a lucrative new deal to remain at Atletico Madrid – and Real Madrid star Gareth Bale. World Cup winner Griezmann earns €44 million (£38m/$49m), while Bale earns €40.2 million (£34.5m/$45m).
European football, with the prestige of competitions such as the Premier League, La Liga and the Champions League tends to be where the biggest earners are based but moving away from the continent doesn’t necessarily harm a player’s salary, as the case of Andres Iniesta shows. The former Barcelona captain made the switch to Vissel Kobe in Japan last summer, but still finds himself one of the game’s biggest earners, with income of €33 million (£28.3m/$37m).
China, too, has become a favoured destination for some of the world’s elite players thanks, in no small part, to the financial rewards on offer. Former PSG midfielder Ezequiel Lavezzi is paid €28.3 million (£24.3m/$31.7m) a year by Hebei China Fortune, while Brazil internationals Oscar and Hulk get €24.3 million (£20.8m/$27.2m) and €23.4 million (£20.1m/$26.2m) respectively from Shanghai SIPG.
Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez is the biggest earner at the club and, indeed, the Premier League, with a cool €30.7 million (£26.3m/$34.4m). The Chile international is followed by Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, who earns €25.8 million (£22.1/$28.9m).
Kylian Mbappe is only at the early stage of his career, but the World Cup-winning striker is already one of the best-paid footballers in the world with an income of €25 million (£21.4m/$28m).