Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @cristiano

WHILE SUBJECT TO extreme competitiveness and requiring immense devotion, it’s pretty clear: few – if any – jobs pay better than professional sports.

Around the world, the business of sport is booming. Domestic leagues like the English Premier League, the NBA and the NFL now draw international attention, while tennis, F1 and golf have developed global tours spanning just about every continent. As a result, viewership figures are skyrocketing, participation has never been higher and exorbitant sponsorship deals have followed. As you’d expect, the superstar athletes driving much of this growth are being remunerated accordingly.

If you can make it in the big leagues, a salary in the millions is almost a certainty, but the big hitters would scoff at such a paltry sum. The world’s top athletes now earn hundreds of millions every year through their salaries, endorsement deals, and investments. And the savviest of the bunch now boast net worths numbering in the billions.

Today, we’re taking a look at the athletes possessing the most mind-boggling of riches. From global icons at the peak of their powers to little-known players who have made incredibly smart business decisions, these are the athletes raking in the most yearly earnings, and the stars with the highest net worths. Sure, money isn’t everything – they say it can’t buy happiness – but it’s doubtful anyone on this list sees it that way.

What athletes have the highest yearly earnings?

The athletes with the highest earnings and those with the highest net worths make up two entirely different lists, although there is some crossover. Here, we’ll be looking at both, beginning with the highest yearly earners. No single sport dominates the rankings, with entries from basketball, soccer, American football, golf and F1.

This data comes from Sportico, combining salaries with other revenue generators like sponsorships and brand partnerships. All figures are in AUD and are accurate as of April 2nd 2024.

Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @maxverstappen1

10. Max Verstappen

Yearly earnings: $116 million

Similar to his on-track performance, there’s some distance between Max Verstappen and the next highest salaried F1 driver. Verstappen’s long-term contract with Red Bull has been well-earned and will likely keep him on this list for the foreseeable future. Not that the champion racer is short on cash, but if he wants to move a few more places up this list, he’ll need to attract more revenue from sponsorships, which account for just $8 million of his whopping $116 million total.

Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @patrickmahomes

9. Patrick Mahomes

Yearly earnings: $130 million

The ruler of the NFL’s most prolific current dynasty, Patrick Mahomes has already established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in history. Mahomes has delivered three Super Bowl victories to the Kansas City Chiefs since 2020, and he’s been more than fairly compensated for it. Mahomes’ contract nets him around $92 million a year, but he’s not the owner of the NFL’s largest contract – that honour belongs to reigning MVP Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens. Where Mahomes really shines is his sponsorship earnings, with which he far surpasses his peers. Mahomes’ endorsement lineup includes deals with Adidas, Subway, State Farm and Oakley, earning him close to $40 million on the side.

Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @giannis_an34

8. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Yearly earnings: $136 million

The Greek Freak is widely recognised as one of the best basketball players on the planet right now, claiming two MVP awards and leading his Milwaukee Bucks to a championship back in 2021. Antetokounmpo is the first athlete on this list whose earnings from endorsements outweigh those from his contracted salary. Like many NBA players, much of that sponsorship money comes from a signature line of shoes. In Antetokounmpo’s case, it’s from a deal with Nike.

Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @stephencurry30

7. Stephen Curry

Yearly earnings: $152 million

Although he’s not the highest earning NBA player on this list, Steph Curry does possess the largest contract of any basketballer. Curry’s contract earns him a stratospheric $75 million per year, and he nets even more through endorsements with Under Armour – the creators of his signature line of shoes – Nissan, Sony, Chase and JP Morgan.

Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @neymarjr

6. Neymar

Yearly earnings: $187 million

The first soccer player to appear on this list, but assuredly, he won’t be the last. Neymar has benefitted greatly from the Saudi sportswash, recently swapping the iconic blue tones of Paris Saint-Germain for the exceedingly less iconic shades of blue adopted by Al-Hilal. Neymar has the requisite talent to play for any club in the world and at 32, still has plenty left in the tank, but he opted for a less popular route. Neymar recently joined perennial Saudi Arabian contenders who offered him what was, at the time, the second biggest contract in the history of his sport. Neymar has only made five appearances for his new club since joining in August of 2023, due to a series of nagging injuries. How’s that for a poor return on investment?

Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @k.mbappe

5. Kylian Mbappé

Yearly earnings: $193 million

Prodigal French sensation Kylian Mbappé turned down innumerable offers from Europe’s biggest clubs and wasn’t swayed by the deep pockets of Middle Eastern teams when he signed a new contract with Paris Saint-Germain in 2022. For now, Mbappé remains with PSG, but with his contract expiring this year, his future is uncertain. Mbappé is on a monstrous nine-digit wage and looks set to be the face of his sport for years to come.

Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @kingjames

4. LeBron James

Yearly earnings: $194 million

LeBron only beats out Mbappe by a measly million here. A staggering amount for an everyday 9-5er liker you or I, but chump change for athletes of this stature. LeBron doesn’t have the biggest contract of any NBA player – as we mentioned earlier, Steph Curry owns that deal – but his off-court revenue and business acumen puts others to shame. Endorsements with Nike, AT&T, Pepsi and Walmart, as well as part-ownership of a pizza franchise and English football team Liverpool, earn LeBron nearly two-thirds of his yearly revenue.

Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @leomessi

3. Lionel Messi

Yearly earnings: $200 million

After leaving Europe for Inter Miami in 2023, Messi signed a new contract worth $100 million per year. That’s no small sum, but it’s less than what the two other soccer players who have already appeared on this list earn. So, how does Messi make his millions? With more than 500 million Instagram followers, Messi is one of the most influential people on the planet. He’s used his platform to promote everything from Adidas and Budweiser to Pepsi and Air Europa – who have all paid him handsomely for his efforts.

Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @jonrahm

2. Jon Rahm

Yearly earnings: $313 million

Jon Rahm is likely not to be a name you expected to rank so highly on this list, and a year ago he was nowhere near the top 100. The defending Masters champion recently received quite the pay rise, courtesy of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. The Spaniard defected to renegade league LIV at the end of 2023 for an undisclosed fee reportedly worth up to $900 million. Sportico puts the figure at $280 million per year, which, coupled with a handful of winnings from the world’s premier golf tournaments, put Rahm head and shoulders above every other athlete on the planet – bar one.

Richest athletes
INSTAGRAM | @cristiano

1. Cristiano Ronaldo

Yearly earnings: $424 million

The first eight entries on this list were relatively close in earnings. Then, we took a $100 million jump from Messi to Rahm, and now we’re taking another $100 million jump from Rahm to Cristiano Ronaldo. While Messi may have surpassed his Portuguese counterpart in soccer’s GOAT debate, he can’t hold a candle to Ronaldo’s yearly earnings. Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr landed him the most lucrative contract in the history of sports. But even if he didn’t earn a cent from his on-field success, Ronaldo would still only just miss the top ten of this list, as his revenue from endorsements and sponsorships is similarly jaw-dropping. In all likelihood, Ronaldo’s children’s children, and even their children in turn, will never have to work a day in their life.

What athletes have the highest net worth?

Now we switch our attention to the athletes with the highest net worths. This is where millions turn to billions. While a high-profile sporting career undoubtedly confers a glamourous lifestyle with a plethora of opportunities for revenue expansion, the window for making the most of those opportunities is brief. An athlete’s career will seldom last more than a decade and a half, and injuries can shorten that timeframe even further. For that reason, many athletes continue their pursuit of funds after they’ve called time on their sporting careers.

A handful of athletes have managed to expand their on-field success into off-field profit with savvy investments, brand ownerships and product launches. Not all of these high-earners were incredibly well-known during their athletic careers, but they’ve all found immense financial success nonetheless.

This data comes to us from New Trader U. Again, all figures are in AUD and are accurate as of April 2nd 2024.

10. Junior Bridgeman

Net worth: $925 million

Unless you’re amongst the hardest of hardcore NBA fans, you could be forgiven if you hadn’t heard the name Junior Bridgeman before now. The six foot five swingman was the eighth pick in the 1975 draft and had a respectable career with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers spanning 13 years, but he was nothing special. In his best season, Bridgeman averaged a little under 18 points per game, and he never earned any major accolades. As you might’ve guessed, most of Bridgeman’s net worth did not come from his time on the court, especially because he played in an era predating the modern age of mouth-watering contracts. Bridgeman made his millions as a Wendy’s and Chilli’s franchisee, a Coca-Cola investor, and as the owner of the Ebony and Jet magazines.

INSTAGRAM | @leomessi

9. Lionel Messi

Net worth: $1 billion

Cristiano Ronaldo may have trumped Lionel Messi on the yearly earnings list, but the Argentinian has the best of his closest rival in terms of net worth. Messi’s total net worth has now surpassed $1 billion, owing to numerous real estate and business investments. Expect him to continue rising up this list, as his recent exposure to the American market could lead to a number of future opportunities.

INSTAGRAM | @michaelschumacher

8. Michael Schumacher

Net worth: $1.2 billion

During his legendary F1 career, Michael Schumacher was consistently ranked as the world’s highest paid athlete. With nearly three decades of experience in racing, Schumacher racked up a litany of sponsorships and winnings, which are responsible for most of his net worth.

INSTAGRAM | @therock

7. Dwayne Johnson

Net worth: $1.23 billion

Can we count Dwayne Johnson as an athlete? Yes, The Rock was once a decent football player and became one of the greatest pro wrestlers of our time, but he made most of money elsewhere. The Rock has previously been touted as the highest paid man in Hollywood, headlining some of the film industry’s biggest blockbusters in recent years. It should be no surprise then that he ranks highly here, even if his on-screen presence, rather than his on-field output, is responsible for most of his money.

INSTAGRAM | @kingjames

6. LeBron James

Net worth: $1.54 billion

A repeat entry from the highest yearly earners, LeBron James is already one of the richest athletes by net worth, and he’ll continue to rise up this list. As we mentioned earlier, LeBron has made the most of his many sponsorship deals in addition to some astute investments over the years.

INSTAGRAM | @tigerwoods

5. Tiger Woods

Net worth: $1.7 billion

As the winner of many prestigious tournaments over a career spanning three decades, Tiger Woods’ winnings far outweigh those of any other golfer in history. Woods was also the beneficiary of an extremely lucrative endorsement deal with Nike, who paid the golfer an estimated $700 million over his career. Woods’ Nike partnership came to an end earlier this year, though we doubt he’s strapped for cash as a result.

INSTAGRAM | @magicjohnson

4. Magic Johnson

Net worth: $1.85 billion

As one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson made a decent share of his net worth during his playing days, although his business mind rivals his on-court abilities. Magic runs Magic Johnson Enterprises, a vast conglomerate worth upwards of $1 billion. Magic has made the most of his sporting reputation to expand into the business world, and he’s one of the richest athletes in the world as a result.

INSTAGRAM | @futuredressage

3. Anna Kasprzak

Net worth: $2.25 billion

Now we’re starting a detour into athletes you’ve likely never heard of. First, Anna Kasprzak, a Danish equestrian champion and former Olympian. Kasprzak has finished as high as fourth at the Olympics in equestrian dressage and claimed a silver medal at the 2017 European Equestrian Championships, but that’s not where she made her millions. Kasprzak is the granddaughter of Karl Toosbuy, the founder of footwear brand ECCO. Kasprzak now serves as part-owner of the brand.

Getty Images

2. Ion Țiriac

Net worth: $3.28 billion

Another name we’ll forgive you for being unfamiliar with, Ion Țiriac was once a high-level ice hockey and tennis player, he even won the 1970 French Open in men’s doubles. After retiring, Țiriac became a sports agent and managed legendary tennis players like Ilie Năstase, Boris Becker and Marat Safin. He was also the head of the Romanian Olympic Committee for six years and remains an organiser of major WTA and ATP tennis events. Most of Țiriac’s riches comes from founding Romania’s first post-communist bank and a number of ventures in retail, real estate, insurance and airlines.

INSTAGRAM | @jumpman23

1. Michael Jordan

Net worth: $4.62 billion

There’s a debate to be had over whether Michael Jordan is the greatest athlete of all time, but what isn’t up for debate is the fact that he has the highest net worth of any athlete – and by a wide margin. Jordan’s initial wealth came from his playing days, when he was the most marketed athlete in history. Jordan’s endorsements, and his role in Space Jam, netted him a considerable amount of his current net worth, but the majority of his riches comes from the royalties he receives from the Jordan brand, which has grown to become a global enterprise. The Jordan brand generates over $8 billion in revenue every year, and Michael Jordan receives enough of that money to ensure he’ll never have to work for the rest of his life, if he so pleases.


The richest F1 drivers: who is the highest paid man on the grid?

These are the 10 richest footballers of all time