The influence and impact of the professional athlete have changed over time. Some athletes reach superstar status in their sport and have recognized the influence and reach that they possess. It makes them an instant magnet for higher salaries on the court but also opens up endorsement and sponsorship opportunities.
The highest-paid athletes come from different sports and also earn in different ways. Some athletes like tennis superstar Roger Federer primarily make their income from endorsement deals, while other athletes such as Tom Brady and Russell Westbrook take home more in salary. Here are the highest-paid athletes in the world at the moment.
*Forbes, Spotrac, and Sports Reference were used for salary and off the field earnings information.
Salary/Winnings: $22 million, Endorsements: $158 million
One of the top fighters in the MMA realm, Conor McGregor did well for himself in business. He founded Irish whiskey distiller Proper No. Twelve in 2018 which he sold earlier in 2021 for $150 million. McGregor is also a major box office draw in the fighting arena. He made $22 million for fighting Dustin Poirier in January of 2021.
Salary/Winnings: $97 million, Endorsements: $33 million
Lionel Messi has accomplished a lot and then some in the sport of soccer. He’s won FIFA’s Player of the Year a record six times. The captain of Barcelona as well as the Argentina national team, Messi’s huge earnings mainly come from his salary. He reportedly has a contract with Barcelona that pays him $168.5 million per season. Deals with Anheuser Busch, Adidas and Gatorade also contribute to his status as a top-two earning athlete.
Salary/Winnings: $70 million, Endorsements: $50 million
In the middle of a four-year, $64 million contract with Juventus, Cristiano Ronaldo is an unrivaled brand name in sports. A five-time Ballon d’Or award-winner with 770 career goals, Ronaldo also has a lifetime deal with Nike and has earned over $1 billion in career earnings. The 36-year old forward has sponsorship deals off the field with Unilever, DAZN and MTG.
Salary/Winnings: $97.5 million, Endorsements: $10 million
A former fourth round pick, Dak Prescott exceeded expectations for his career, making two Pro Bowls in his five-year career. Though he’s still on the mend from a season-ending ankle injury last year, Prescott signed a four-year contract extension worth $160 million.
Prescott has also been a major marketing tool in the NFL with endorsement deals with the likes of PepsiCo, Beats Electronics and AT&T. He also just recently agreed to terms with Jordan Brand on a contract.
Salary/Winnings: $31.5 million, Endorsements: $65 million
With four NBA titles and three NBA MVPs, LeBron James is in rare company and at 36-years old has a slight chance at breaking the NBA’s career scoring record. Off the court, James is still a mega hit, raking in earnings from deals with brands like PepsiCo, Nike and Beats Electronics.
The 17-time All-Star has built his own media empire with the development of production company SpringHill Entertainment and media company Uninterrupted. James’ portfolio doesn’t stop with a 2018 launch with several other athletes in Ladder, a health and wellness company as well as investments in the Blaze Pizza franchise.
Salary/Winnings: $76 million, Endorsements: $19 million
There aren’t many soccer players that can measure up to Neymar on the pitch. The forward is just as lethal off the field with sponsorship deals with Puma, Qatar Airways and Redbull. He also added more attention to his name with an appearance in popular video game Fortnite. Neymar has won the Samba Gold award four times in his career. He also recently signed a contract extension with PSG worth around 30 million Euros.
Salary/Winnings: $30K, Endorsements: $90 million
Endorsements are a game-changer for Roger Federer compared to most of his peers on this list. The 20-Grand Slam men’s singles title winner takes in most of his earnings from endorsements. Federer has a 10-year, $300 million deal with Uniqlo, and also has contracts with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Barilla, and Mercedes-Benz.
Salary/Winnings: $70 million, Endorsements: $12 million
Arguably the most significant name in Formula 1 Racing, Lewis Hamilton has endorsement deals with Puma, Mercedes-Benz and Tommy Hilfiger. Most of his earnings come from his racing success. He holds the joint-record of seven World Drivers’ Championship titles. Hamilton also has his name in the history books with the most wins (98), pole positions (100) and podium finishes (169). Considered the greatest driver of all time, Hamilton’s influence in the sport is a huge factor in his place on the list.
Salary/Winnings: $45 million, Endorsements: $31 million
A seven-time Super Bowl champion, Tom Brady is just as creative off the field as he is on. Brady has endorsement deals with T-Mobile, Under Armour and Fanatics. The 43-year old quarterback recently signed a contract extension with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He will make over $41 million in salary for next season and also has branched out with his TB12 lifestyle brand, Autograph, an NFT company and 199 Productions, a media imprint.
Salary/Winnings: $31 million, Endorsements: $44 million
In the second year of a four-year, $164 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets, NBA star Kevin Durant has successfully recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon that cost him a full NBA season. The two-time Finals MVP has sponsorship contracts with Nike and Degree. He’s showcased a passion for entrepreneurship, investing in companies like Postmates, Coinbase, and Acorn while fronting his own media outfit with Thirty-Five Ventures.
Salary/Winnings: $34.5 million, Endorsements: $40 million
Despite the Golden State Warriors missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season, guard Stephen Curry had a great individual season. The former two-time MVP was a finalist for the award and led the NBA in scoring with 32 points per game. The three-time champion’s brand off the court has grown with his own individual line for Under Armour, deals with Google and CarMax, and an equity partnership with beverage brand Oxigen.
Salary/Winnings: $5 million, Endorsements: $55 million
At the age of 23, Naomi Osaka has already made her mark in tennis. She is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion and is the first Asian player to hold the top tennis ranking in singles. Osaka has used her platform well, earning over $50 million in endorsements this past year while addressing mental health awareness and racism.
Salary/Winnings: $200K, Endorsements: $60 million
Tiger Woods is tied for first in PGA history in PGA Tour wins and is second in men’s major championships. The golfer is on the mend from a car accident earlier this year that caused multiple fractures in his right leg. Woods earns $60 million in endorsement deals with brands like Nike, Bridgestone and Monster Energy. He just added another deal, signing a contract with EA Sports to add his likeness and name to the PGA Tour 2K franchise.
Salary/Winnings: $33 million, Endorsements: $26 million
A player who puts up video game-adjacent numbers, Russell Westbrook is a triple double threat every night. The majority of Westbrook’s annual earnings comes from his NBA contract. The 2017 NBA MVP is still on the five-year, $207 million max deal that he signed back in 2017. A nine-time All-Star, Westbrook also has a signature shoe deal with Jordan Brand and owns several car dealerships in Los Angeles.
Salary/Winnings: $32.5 million, Endorsements: $22 million
A Super Bowl champion, Patrick Mahomes has achieved more than most NFL quarterbacks in a short amount of time. With just four seasons under his belt, Mahomes has played in two Super Bowls. The three-time Pro Bowler upped his earnings after signing a ten-year, $503 million deal last summer. Mahomes also has endorsement deals with many brands including Adidas, Bose, Electronic Arts, and BioSteel.