Eight sports. Fifteen nationalities. And 50 stars making a minimum of $45.2 million each.
By Brett Knight, Forbes Staff
The world’s 50 highest-paid athletes had their best year ever, raking in nearly $3.5 billion over the last 12 months (before taxes and agents’ fees). That adds up to a remarkable 16% jump from 2022, itself a record year.
The numbers are jaw-dropping up and down the list. Here’s what you need to know about the massive paydays.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s 12-month total, landing him at No. 1 overall this year and setting a record for a soccer player by bettering the $130 million his rival Lionel Messi posted the last two years. Ronaldo collected an estimated $90 million off the field, making him only the fourth athlete ever to hit that mark, after Roger Federer (who has done so five times), Tiger Woods (three times) and Conor McGregor (once, in 2021, after the sale of his whiskey brand, Proper No. Twelve).
10 YEARS OF THE 50 HIGHEST-PAID ATHLETES, BY TOTAL EARNINGS
The amount this year’s top 50 collected off the field from endorsements and their other business endeavors, edging last year’s all-time high of $1.06 billion. Six athletes (Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Tiger Woods and Stephen Curry) would have cracked the top 50 with only their off-field earnings.
The amount this year’s top 50 collected on the field from their salaries, bonuses and prize money. That, too, is a record, up an astonishing 24% from the $1.91 billion mark set just last year. Ever-increasing media rights deals are pushing up revenue in leagues like the NBA and the NFL, which then trickles down to the players. Meanwhile, LIV Golf has been handing out huge bonuses to entice star golfers to defect from the PGA Tour. Forbes estimates that the seven LIV golfers in this year’s top 50 combined to make $499 million on the course over the last 12 months.
10 YEARS OF THE 50 HIGHEST-PAID ATHLETES, BY CUTOFF
The cutoff to rank among the top 50, set by the recently retired Tom Brady. That’s an all-time high, demolishing 2022’s threshold of $37.6 million. It also roughly doubles the $22.7 million cutoff from 2014.
The number of athletes in this year’s top 50 who did not appear in last year’s. That includes 11 true newcomers: Cameron Smith, Brooks Koepka, Kyler Murray, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, Erling Haaland, Orlando Brown Jr., Luka Doncic, Scottie Scheffler and Sergio García. There are also six others (Dustin Johnson, Max Scherzer, Anthony Joshua, Derek Carr, Aaron Donald and Jordan Spieth) who missed out in 2022 but had appeared in previous rankings. The list always has a healthy amount of turnover, in large part because NFL contracts generally pay out a big slice of their value upfront in the form of signing bonuses. For instance, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford was No. 13 in 2022 with a total of $72.3 million—$69.8 million on the field and $2.5 million off the field. But with his $60 million signing bonus coming off the books for 2023, his on-field earnings dropped to $27.5 million over the last 12 months, keeping him out of the top 50.
THE WORLD'S 50 HIGHEST-PAID ATHLETES BY SPORT
The number of sports represented on the list. The NBA leads the way with 15 athletes, although that number is down from 18 in 2022. The big gainer is golf, which places 12 athletes on this year’s list, up from three a year ago, thanks to the big upfront guarantees dished out by the Saudi-backed LIV Golf. Football (ten athletes), soccer (six), boxing (two), Formula 1 auto racing (two), tennis (two) and baseball (one) round out the list. Other sports—including cricket, hockey and Nascar—do not have an athlete represented.
The age of the list’s youngest athlete, Manchester City forward Erling Haaland. Sixteen members of the list are under 30, although just five are 25 or younger. The average age across the list is 33.
The age of the list’s oldest athlete, Phil Mickelson, who by the time Erling Haaland was born, in 2000, had been a pro golfer for eight years. Six members of the list are over 40, including the recently retired Tom Brady, Roger Federer and Serena Williams.
THE WORLD'S 50 HIGHEST-PAID ATHLETES BY NATIONALITY
The number of player nationalities represented on the list. The U.S. has the most ranked athletes by far, with 33. The U.K. (golfer Rory McIlroy, Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and boxer Anthony Joshua) and Spain (golfers Jon Rahm and Sergio García) are the only other countries that have more than one.
Serena Williams’ 12-month total, making her the only woman to rank in the top 50. (Fellow tennis pro Naomi Osaka was sidelined for much of the past year by injuries and pregnancy, denting her earnings potential after two straight years at more than $50 million.) Since Williams published an essay in Vogue in August that was widely interpreted as a retirement announcement, she has teased a possible return to tennis at some point in the future, but assuming she has indeed hung up her racket for good, she will drop off the list next year, along with the recently retired Tom Brady and Roger Federer.
The number of athletes who surpassed $100 million in total earnings over the last 12 months: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, LeBron James, Canelo Álvarez, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Stephen Curry. No previous edition of the athletes list featured more than four at once, and only seven others in the 33 years Forbes has tracked athlete earnings have ever accomplished the feat while still active in their sports: Roger Federer, Floyd Mayweather, Conor McGregor, Neymar, Manny Pacquiao, Dak Prescott and Tiger Woods.
The number of consecutive years Tiger Woods had ranked as the world’s highest-paid golfer before dropping behind Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy on this year’s list. (Mickelson and McIlroy also beat him out in 2017.) Don’t feel too bad for Woods, though: Despite winning only $59,560 in prize money over the last 12 months, he picked up $15 million from the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program and pushed his total including endorsements to $75.1 million, his best mark since he topped the 2013 list with $78.1 million.
The lowest on-field earnings figure among the 50 highest-paid athletes, belonging to Roger Federer, whose only competitive event over the last 12 months was September’s Laver Cup. (Tiger Woods made less in prize money than Federer—just $59,560—but his $15 million bonus from the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program is counted as on-field earnings.) On the flip side, as Federer settles into retirement, he still makes more from endorsements and other business endeavors than anyone else on the athletes list—a whopping $95 million over the last 12 months.
Russell Westbrook’s 12-month total. The Los Angeles Clippers point guard is winding down his NBA career while working tirelessly to build a business empire. Forbes now estimates his net worth to be $375 million. “I want to be a billionaire,” he says. “Sooner than later.”
Information about the methodology Forbes uses to compile the list, which captures income the athletes collected between May 1, 2022, and May 1, 2023, can be found here.
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