Home Sports Forbes: Eight athletes made $100M-plus last year, twice as many as any previous year

Forbes: Eight athletes made $100M-plus last year, twice as many as any previous year

by Ivy June

The sports industry is booming, and the finest players on the field are reaping the benefits.

On Tuesday, Forbes published its annual list of the highest-paid athletes. Eight people made more than $100 million in the preceding year, which is twice as many as in any previous year. Expected names appear on the list, with international soccer stars near the top. The NBA is very well represented, as is golf, thanks to the inflow of Saudi money to LIV Golf.

Forbes built its list on on-field and off-field earnings between May 1, 2022 and May 1, 2023. It took into account salary, bonuses, and prize money won for on-field earnings. It evaluated “sponsorship deals, appearance fees and memorabilia and licensing income” in addition to “cash returns from any businesses operated by the athlete” for off-field earnings.

Investment income, such as interest and dividends, was not taken into account. Before taxes and agent fees were deducted, the figures were totaled.

World’s top 10 athlete earners

So who earned the most for the 2023 list? That honor belongs to Cristiano Ronaldo, who checked in with $136 million in earnings, the most ever for a soccer player. A pay jump to $75 million when he left Manchester United for Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr put him over the top, though that number was prorated for the timeframe. Ronaldo’s $90 million in off-field income made up the bulk of his earnings for this list.

Up next, unsurprisingly, is Lionel Messi. The Argentinian soccer star made $65 million both on and off the field for a 2023 tally of $130 million. He may be on the verge of shattering next year’s list. He’s reportedly in talks to earn roughly $400 million annually by leaving Paris Saint-Germain to play soccer in Saudi Arabia. Saudi money continues to be a running theme.

France’s Kylian Mbappé is third on the list with $120 million ($100 million on-field, $20 million off-field) in earnings, rounding out a list topped be three soccer superstars.

Up next is basketball’s biggest star and the first U.S. entry on the list. LeBron James earned $119.5 million, with his off-field earnings ($75 million) eclipsing his substantial paychecks with the Los Angeles Lakers ($44.5 million). James previously joined Michael Jordan as the only NBA player, past or present, to become a billionaire.

Mexican boxing star Canelo Alvarez is up next at the No. 5 spot with $110 million. His commanding box office draw accounted for $100 million, while he earned $10 million out of the ring.

LIV Golf contributes to the next two spots on the list after Saudi Arabia opened up the vault to lure big names from the PGA Tour. The effort was widely criticized as an attempt to sportswash the nation’s human rights violations. It proved lucrative for Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson (among others), who showed up as the world’s No. 6 and No. 7 earners for 2023.

Johnson tallied $107 million to check in at No. 6 with his $102 million earned on the course dwarfing his $5 million in earnings off it. Mickelson is seventh with $106 million and a similar ratio. He earned $102 million of it on the course. Playing Saudi golf is great for the bank overall but not so much for procuring endorsement checks.

Stephen Curry joins the list at No. 8 as the last 100-millionaire on the list. He breaks the 9-figure threshold for the first time with $100.4 million ($48.4 million on-court, $52 million off-court) in earnings.

Retired tennis star Roger Federer checks in at No 9. He’s the first player outside the $100 million-plus threshold with $95.1 million in earnings. Don’t cry for him, though. He’s cracked $100 million mark before. And he made the top 10 this year despite not playing any meaningful tennis. Federer made all but $100,000 of his $95 million off the court thanks to a lucrative endorsement portfolio he earned while winning 20 grand slam titles.

Kevin Durant rounds out the top 10 as the third NBA player on the list. The Phoenix Suns star made $89.1 million with an almost even split on ($44.1 million) and off ($45 million) the court. He’s made multiple investments in other sports leagues, including the Premier Lacrosse League, League One Volleyball, women’s sports league network Athletes Unlimited and a Major League Pickleball expansion team.

In total, the top 10 athletes earned an estimated $1.11 billion in the past year, breaking the all-time record for the Forbes list, including 2018 when Floyd Mayweather tilted the scales with $285 million in earnings.

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