Sport is all about putting in the hard yards and having the ability to translate them into a win on the field. An athlete who is supremely skillful and has held on to the highest echelons of his or her respective sport creates enough opportunities for making money off the field.
And if the athlete is blessed with great looks and a demeanor to die for, he or she becomes a magnet for brand endorsements that can run into years and millions of dollars. In most cases, sportspersons end up earning more through endorsements than their earnings on the field.
10. Kobe Bryant
Total Earnings – $49.5 million; Sport: Basketball
On field Earnings: $26.5 M | Endorsements: $26 M
The 17-time All Star and 5 time NBA Champion has been able to play only 41 games, owing to injuries, over the last two seasons. However, he has been laughing his way to the bank. For the fifth straight year, Kobe Bryant is the highest paid NBA player at $23.5 million. Sexual assault charges derailed his endorsement deals and marketing pundits vowed that he would never achieve the same level of endorsements again.
The charges were eventually dropped. By leading the Lakers to two consecutive Championships in 2009 and 2010, Bryant achieved one of the biggest marketing comebacks in the history of sports. His deals with Nike, Lenovo, Hublot and Panini have helped him stay put as one of the top 10 richest athletes in 2015.
9. Tiger Woods
Total Earnings – $50.6 million; Sport: Golf
On field Earnings: $0.6 M | Endorsements: $50 M
The Thanksgiving of 2009 saw the life and career of the World’s greatest golfer fall apart. That night Tiger Woods, one of the World’s highest paid athletes for several years, was chased around by his wife with a golf club.
Exposed as a serial cheater, Woods had no place to hide. Overnight he lost deals with Nike, Gatorade, Gillette and Accenture. Gillette and Accenture alone earned him about $25 million a year. Following this revelation that shook the sporting world, though Woods’ game fell apart he earned $54 million which was roughly half of what he earned before the scandal.
His comeback in the game was a pretty muted one. However that has not stopped this 14-time Major winner from picking new endorsement deals with MusclePharm and Hero Motorcycles. His golf course design business has picked up since 2014 and has been making waves in Mexico, China and Dubai.
8. Phil Mickelson
Total Earnings – $50.8 million; Sport: Golf
On field Earnings: $2.8 M | Endorsements: $48 M
Nicknamed ‘Lefty’, Phil Mickelson is an American professional golfer who has won 42 events on the PGA Tour, 5 Major Championships, 3 Masters titles, a PGA Championship and an Open Championship. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.
Mickelson earns more than $40 million annually from endorsement partners Callaway, Barclays, KPMG, Exxon Mobil, Rolex and Amgen. His partnership with Callaway, which began in 2004, got a shot in the arm last year when Mickelson signed a multi-year deal. His $77 million career prize money ranks him second all time.
7. Kevin Durant
Total Earnings – $54.1 million; Sport: Basketball
On field Earnings: $19.1 M | Endorsements: $35 M
Kevin Durant, described as the “Scoring Prodigy” by John Hollinger,has won the NBA scoring title four times in his career. This 26-year-old, who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, stands 6 feet, 9 inches tall. He also stands mighty tall as far as his bank balance is concerned.
Durant signed a deal worth $85 million in 2010 with Oklahoma City Thunder. The Season of 2015-16 will be the final year of this deal. Durant holds the distinction of inking the richest endorsement deal of any active athlete. In 2014, he signed a 10-year-deal with Nike which is estimated to be worth $300 million, including royalties.
Apart from Nike his other sponsors include BBVA, Sprint, Sonic, Panini, 2K Sports and Skullcandy.
6. LeBron James
Total Earnings – $64.8 million; Sport: Basketball
On field Earnings: $20.8 M | Endorsements: $44 M
He was the third highest paid athlete in 2014. He is down to No.6 this year. Nevertheless, LeBron James is witnessing a burgeoning endorsement portfolio. He recently added Kia Motors to an already impressive portfolio that included Nike, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Samsung, Beats by Dre, Upper Deck, Tencent and Audemars Piguet.
James is the first NBA player to achieve a streak of five straight appearances in the NBA Finals. He is a four time MVP (Most Valuable Player) whose signature Nike shoes generated sales of $340 million, the highest among all active players.
5. Roger Federer
Total Earnings – $67 million; Sport: Tennis
On court Earnings: $9 M | Endorsements: $58 M
Be it on the tennis court or the coveted Forbes List, even at the ripe age of 33 he shows no signs of stopping.
Roger Federer has achieved every possible miracle, whether on court or off court. On court, he stands aloof at the pinnacle of the Sport with 17 Grand Slam titles. Off court, he is a role model for a lot of other tennis players.
2014 in particular was a great year for Federer as he climbed up to No.2 and won five titles along with a Semi Final appearance or better in 3 out of 4 Grand Slams. He and Mirka welcomed their second set of twins last year. Though the odds could be a moot point, the internet suggests that the chances of parents having two sets of twins range from 3000-1 to 700,000-1.
His longevity in the sport, his Swiss roots, his aura that transcends boundaries and his impeccable demeanor have boosted his moneymaking potential year after year. His long term deals with blue chip companies like Nike, Credit Suisse, Rolex, Mercedez Benz and Sunrise fetch him a sum of $40 million annually.
4. Lionel Messi
Total Earnings – $73.8 million; Sport: Football
On field Earnings: $51.8 M | Endorsements: $22 M
He is one of the most gifted players in football and a darling of the media. Lionel Messi, at the age of 27, is a humble antidote to Christiano Ronaldo’s in-your-face bravado.
The Argentine, by virtue of his superhuman talent, holds various records. He has the most number of goals in La Liga competitions, most number of goals in Barca competitions, most goals scored in a calendar year and most hat-tricks scored.
Deals with Gillette, WeChat, Ooredoo and Samsung have ensured his place among the most marketable athletes. Owing to his talent, his sponsor Samsung cast him as Iron Man in their ad to promote the Avengers film.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
Total Earnings – $79.6 million; Sport: Football
On field Earnings: $52.6 M | Endorsements: $27 M
Social media goes ga-ga about this man, and he is possibly the world’s most popular athlete. With 102 million Facebook fans and 35 million Twitter followers, Christiano Ronaldo ranks #3 among the richest athletes in 2015.
His goal scoring prowess on the field has earned him the FIFA best player award three times. He is the reigning FIFA best player of the year too, and he has scored 60 or more goals in each of the last four years.
To add to this amazing streak, he nearly scores a goal every game for his club Real Madrid. Till 2018 his salary, along with his bonuses, per year is more than $50 million. Considered the most marketable athlete in the world, Ronaldo has cashed in on his looks and fame by bagging mega sponsorships with Nike. He also has his own underwear and shirt line CR7.
2. Manny Pacquiao
Total Earnings – $160 million; Sport: Boxing
On field Earnings: $148M | Endorsements: $12 M
$125 million! That’s how much Manny Pacquiao earned for his bout against Floyd Mayweather.
One of the most anticipated bouts of all time, Pacquiao earned four times his previous high earnings for his bout against Chris Algieri. Endorsement deals with Nike, Footlocker, Nestle’s Butterfinger, Wonderful Pistashios and a host of other deals in the Phillippines have boosted his income.
He is also expected to run for President of the Phillipines sometime in the future.
1. Floyd Mayweather
Total Earnings – $300 million; Sport: Boxing
On field Earnings: $285 M | Endorsements: $15 M
Floyd Mayweather has held on to his numero uno position from last year among the World’s richest athletes. His bout on May 2nd against Pacquiao was the fifth bout in the 30 month, 6 fight deal Mayweather signed with Showtime in 2013. This fight is estimated to gross more than $600 million.
Riding on a 48-0 winning streak, Floyd Mayweather plans to retire after his sixth and final fight in September.
Shifting the focus back to this year’s earnings, Mayweather with $300 million has broken the record for athlete earnings. The previous highest was that of Tiger Woods in 2008 when he earned a whopping $115 million. Ahead of his May bout against Pacquiao, Mayweather inked deals with Hublot, FanDuel and Burger King.