Sports have been popular since history can remember. The entertainment factor is the most important one. However, the concept suffered a lot of changes over time. For example, the first serious mention of sports competition in history books can be placed in ancient Greece. Olympic games have been organized as some kind of religious expression, and it meant that the athletes are offering a tribute to gods.
Later, the concept was put aside for a couple of centuries, and there haven’t been any seriously-organized competitions. It can be said that the 19th century was a perfect some for this kind of competition to be hosted once again. For instance, the Olympics were reintroduced. In the early 20th century professional sports were born, and so were the national competitions. This was the time when the seeds for what we have today were planted.
Nowadays, there are millions of athletes from all over the globe, and the global sports industry generates billions of dollars every year. Furthermore, we can see that sports created some other kinds of branches who also generate high amounts of money. One of these is online sports betting. In case you would like to see how it looks like, be sure to visit onlinesportsbetting.net.
Every athlete strives to achieve the best possible results. Sure, only a small number of them have actually succeeded at the end of the professional career. Making it to the top of your game in any field opens to door to being wealthy. This is the case when it comes to professional sports, where athletes can earn unfathomable riches.
The world’s five athletes with the biggest income earned more than $560 million between them in 2024 alone! To put that amazing figure into context, that is more than the Gross Domestic Product of countries including Austria, Belgium, Ireland, and Sweden! Who are these mega-rich icons? Keep reading this article below to find out more information on it.
1. Lionel Messi
The recent Forbes rich list placed Argentina and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi in third place, claiming his contract with FC Barcelona earns the diminutive forward $80 million per year. This report, however, was compiled before Messi’s contract was leaked to the Spanish press. Thankfully, now we have an even better insight into his contract.
If the leak report is accurate – the fact Barcelona is taking legal against suggests it is – the 33-year-old soccer star’s four-year contract weighed in at $673.8 million, meaning the Argentinian earns up to $168.5 million per year with bonuses and image rights included, which immediately puts him onto the first place of best-earners among athletes.
Messi’s contract expires on June 30, 2024, and while the man who has scored more than 650 goals in Spain’s top division is much sought after, few teams can afford his services. Rumors of Messi joining English Premier League outfit Manchester City or joining Neymar at Paris St. Germain are rife. However, neither of these rumors have been confirmed so far. So, all we can do is wait for something to happen in the future.
2. Roger Federer
What needs to be said about Roger Federer besides the fact that he is the best tennis player of all time? So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he is in second place on this list. Switzerland’s Roger Federer has earned more than $130 million in prize money on his way to becoming the greatest athlete in his sport of all time. Federer’s record of 1,242 victories from 1,513 professional matches equates to an 82.1% win-rate, which is nothing short of incredible.
Earning $130 million from the game you love must feel amazing, but Federer’s off-court earnings dwarf that incredible sum. Add to that the fact that he has some of the most profitable endorsements ever. Talking about all the companies who were interested in having him promoting them is really long. So, we will provide you only with the most important ones.
Federer’s business acumen has led to him enjoying an unmatched portfolio of lucrative endorsement contracts. Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz, and 11 other partners help Federer earn $100 million per year from sponsorship alone. Federer earned $106.3 million in 2024, a figure that would have been much higher had COVID-19 not curtailed the tennis season.
He signed a deal with Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo in 2018 that is worth a quite ridiculous $300 million over 10-years. When you look at these numbers you will understand why he is on this list of ours. Remember, there are way more endorsements.
Federer is extremely generous with his wealth and set up the Roger Federer Foundation. Through this charity, Federer has elevated more than $50 million and provided education for 1.5 million children in Africa. We believe that this is one of the best ways athletes can give some of their wealth to people who need it the best. Without a doubt, Federer’s generosity is one of the best examples.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo comes in at number three thanks to earning an eye-watering $105 million. Ronaldo took a salary reduction when he moved to Italian soccer giants Juventus from Spanish rivals Real Madrid, but his income is still worth $64 million annually. Even though he was among the athletes with the highest income while he was in Real Madrid, it can be said that these numbers got are close to those after his move to Turin.
Ronaldo got his hands on an extra $45 million from his sponsorships for companies such as Altice, Herbalife, and his long-running deal with Nike. Furthermore, he started his CR7 brand, which includes clothing and even a chain of hotels.
The 36-year-old has an enormous presence on social media, too. He has managed to build a significant following on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Juventus star has 500 million followers across his social media channels, including 261 million Instagram followers; only Instagram’s account boasts more fans. His total fanbase is larger than the entire population of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom’s populations combined!
This huge Instagram following means Ronaldo charges upwards of $1.35 million per sponsored post, vastly boosting his earning potential. Just take a look at some of his posts and you will see how many people he got engaged with each one of them. Only Kylie Jenner comes close to Ronaldo’s earning potential with a $1.2 million fee per sponsored post.
“Cristiano Ronaldo” by AFP is licensed under CC BY 3.0
4. Neymar Jr.
Neymar Jr. Became the world’s most expensive soccer player when he transferred from Barcelona to Paris St. Germain in 2017. PSG paid a world-record $263 million to secure the services of the Brazilian.
Neymar signed a five-year contract with PSG worth $350 million, meaning he earns $70 million a year just for stepping onto the field. The Brazilian’s sponsorship deals net him an additional $25.5 million per year, a figure that is set to grow. While all the predictions stated that he will be one of the best players of his generation, almost nobody believed that he will reach these heights. However, he proved them all wrong.
The Brazilian superstar enjoys a lucrative sponsorship with the online poker site PokerStars. It earns him $2.41 million per year for a mere two tweets, two Facebook posts, a couple of photoshoots, and attending at least one live event annually. Not bad work if you can get it.
He has more than 250 million followers across his social media channel, making him the second most popular athlete behind only Cristiano Ronaldo.
5. LeBron James
LeBron James is the only American sports star to earn a place in the top five rich list. The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player put pen to paper on a $153 million four-year contract in 2018 when he joined his current team, Los Angeles Lakers.
James is either an astute businessman, has some great advisors, or a combination of both because he has an amazing endorsement portfolio raking in $60 million annually. James also owns SpringHill Entertainment, Uninterrupted LLC, and has 19 Blaze Pizza franchises in South Florida and Chicago.
His LeBron James Family Foundation is planning to spend more than $41 million by supports underprivileged children who want to go to college. The foundation opened its first elementary school in 2018. Surely, we can expect many more generosities from this wonderful man and a top-notch athlete.
American sports stars make up the rest of the top 10 and deserve an honorable mention here.
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors bags $74.4 million while fellow NBA star Kevin Durant pulls in $63.9 million from his salary and a long list of endorsements.
Tiger Woods “only” earned $2.3 million on the golf course last year, but raked in an incredible $60 million from his various sponsorships.
Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins makes the top 10 thanks to signing a new contract that earned him a $30 million signing bonus. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz’s signing of a new contract earned him a $16.4 million signing bonus plus a $30 million optional bonus.