How Much do the World’s Highest-Paid Athletes Make?
The media pays a lot of attention to the gargantuan multi-year contracts that star athletes sign with different teams, but did you know that they usually make more money from sponsors than from the teams they play for? Our new visualization captures the different sources of income for the 25 most highly-compensated athletes over the last year.
We adapted a ranking from Forbes into a visualization—the vertical axis represents an athlete’s salary or winnings and the horizontal axis represents endorsement or sponsorship deals. The size of each bubble corresponds to total compensation, while the color indicates a particular sport. We also added each athlete’s photo for easy reference.
Top Ten Highest-Paid Athletes ($M)
1. Floyd Mayweather (Boxing): $285M
2. Lionel Messi (Soccer): $111M
3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Soccer): $108M
4. Conor McGregor (Mixed Martial Arts): $99M
5. Neymar (Soccer): $90M
6. LeBron James (Basketball): $85.5M
7. Roger Federer (Tennis): $77.2M
8. Stephen Curry (Basketball): $76.9M
9. Matt Ryan (Football): $67.3M
10. Matthew Stafford (Football): $59.5M
Our visualization looks different than the one we produced last year thanks in large part to Floyd Mayweather, who clearly stands out at the top of our rankings. That’s because he orchestrated a highly-anticipated boxing match and media circus with Conor McGregor, the 4th-ranked athlete on our list. Mayweather and McGregor are quite exceptional in the sense that their earnings appear to be unrepeatable (unless they have another match). Most of the other athletes in our visualization have multi-year contracts that pay tens of millions no matter what happens. All things being equal, that means they will remain on this list next year, too.
It’s easy to pick out the outliers in our visualization. Basketball has the highest number of athletes (6), but boxing clearly has the most money ($368.5M). Perhaps the most interesting fact about our visualization is what’s missing: baseball players. The original 100-athlete list from Forbes has 3 baseball players in the top 50, but none of them made it into the top 25. The comparably low compensation rates make us wonder why professional players of “America’s Pastime” don’t grumble more about their pay, considering their season consists of a whopping 162 games, compared with 82 in the NBA and a measly 16 in the NFL.
Our visualization reveals a key insight about the sports world: it is much easier to cash in on endorsement deals than normal player/athlete salaries. Look how the bubbles are spread out along the horizontal axis more so than along the vertical axis. This indicates that athletes get more money from sponsors than from actually playing their sports. Part of the reason why has to do with salary caps—for example, NBA teams are restricted in the amount of money they can offer LeBron James this summer. Things are different in tennis, but even still, Roger Federer gets paid a lot more for making sure that his tennis racket is made by Wilson than for what he accomplishes while swinging it.