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The World's Highest-Paid Athletes


This article is published in collaboration with Statista

by Anna Fleck


After leaving Manchester United for a two-and-a-half year contract with Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr team, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has become the highest paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes’ latest ranking. The 38-year-old earned a total of $136 million over the past twelve months, having pulled in $46 million for his work on the pitch and $90 million off it, between May 1, 2022 and May 1, 2023.


This year, eight sports professionals have made it into the $100 million club. Rounding off the top three comes two more soccer legends: Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who took home $130 million last year, followed by France’s Kylian Mbappé, with $120 million.


Looking at on- versus off-the-field earnings yields quite different results depending on who you look at. For instance, the two U.S. golfers, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, took home the top salaries from on the field performances, partly thanks to having both received substantial sign-on fees for the Saudi-backed series LIV golf, but rank in sixth and seventh place overall due to earning comparatively lower figures off-field. Ronaldo took home by far the highest pay package off-pitch at $90 million, from business through endorsements, licensing income and appearances, followed by U.S. basketball star LeBron James with $75 million earned in addition to his gameplay.


In ninth position comes Swiss tennis champion Roger Federer, who, despite retiring in September of last year, pulled in $0.1 million on the court and $95 million off it. He is followed by U.S. basketball star Kevin Durant who earned $89.1 million in total. Forbes notes that the playoff bonuses are included for the 2022 NFL season and the 2021-22 NBA season.


This year’s top ten is again notable for its lack of female representation - not a single woman appears on the list, across any sport. In the most recent edition of Forbes’ Highest Paid Female Athletes (usually published in December) Japan’s tennis star Naomi Osaka championed first place, with $51.1 million in earnings - not even half of Ronaldo’s yearly sum.


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