The world’s highest-paid athletes earn huge salaries, hefty endorsement deals, and major media attention. These elite athletes are at the top of their respective sports, dominating them with exceptional ability, talent, and dedication. From basketball to soccer, tennis to golf, this list of the world’s highest-paid sportsmen attests to sports’ global popularity and the enormous financial benefits that come with achievement at the highest level.
Facts About Highest-Paid Athletes
- A widely used annual list published since 1990 by Forbes lists the highest paid athletes in the world.
- The list typically includes athletes from various sports, including soccer, basketball, American football, tennis, golf, Formula 1 racing, and boxing.
- Cristiano Ronaldo topped the list of the highest-paid athletes in the world in 2023, with earnings of $136 million.
- Lionel Messi came in second on the Forbes list, with earnings of $130 million.
- The third-highest-paid athlete in the world was Kylian Mbappé, with earnings of $120 million.
- Kylian Mbappé has the highest playing salary in all of soccer.
- In recent years, football players have often dominated the top spots, as the sport has a massive global following and lucrative endorsement opportunities.
- The majority of the earnings for these athletes come from endorsements and sponsorships rather than just their salaries or prize money.
- NBA players are, on average, the highest-paid athletes in the world.
What are the top 10 highest-paid athletes in the world for 2023?
The following are the top 10 highest-paid athletes according to Forbes:
1. Cristiano Ronaldo ($136 million)
Cristiano Ronaldo is a professional footballer who plays as a forward for the Portugal national team and the Saudi Professional League club Al Nassr. He’s been known to be one of the best football players in history. Ronaldo has received five Ballon d’Or/FIFA Ballon d’Or awards, the most for a European player. Apart from having the highest number of goals scored and assists in the UEFA Champions League, 140 and 42, respectively, he also has the most goals in the UEFA European Championship (14).
Cristiano Ronaldo is the world’s highest paid athlete, with $136 million earned in 2022-2023. $46 million of his earnings were on the field, while $90 million came from other endeavours. He has sponsorships with Altice, Binance, Delivery Hero, Herbalife, Nike, Panini, and Therabody.
For the 1st time since 2017 and the 3rd time in his career, Ronaldo is the highest paid athlete in the world, with a total of $136 million, setting an all-time record for a soccer player. Ronaldo has the largest fan base of any athlete in the world, with 850 million followers across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. One of the most recent sponsors to join his squad is the cryptocurrency exchange Binance, which has contributed to his off-field earnings reaching an estimated $90 million over the past 12 months. In addition, Ronaldo is making money off the pitch with his CR7 branded clothing, accessories, hotels and fitness facilities, and a lifetime contract with Nike.
2. Lionel Messi ($130 million)
Lionel Messi is a professional player of Argentina and captain of the Argentine national soccer team who plays for French Ligue 1 club Paris Saint Germain as a forward. He’s been regarded as one of the greatest players in history. In his professional career, Messi has accomplished many great things. Some of his well-known achievements include winning the Ballon d’Or award seven times, winning the FIFA World Cup with Argentina in 2022, and winning the Copa América with Argentina in 2021. In addition, he is the most goals scorer in La Liga (474).
Lionel Messi is the second world’s highest paid athlete, with $130 million earned in 2022-2023. $65 million of his earnings were on the field, while $65 million came from other endeavours. He has sponsorships with Adidas, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Bitget, Byju’s, Cirque du Soleil, Gatorade, Hard Rock Cafe Inc., Konami, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Mastercard, Ooredoo, PepsiCo, and Socios.com.
There’s a huge list of big endorsements for Messi, such as Adidas, Budweiser and PepsiCo. His contract with blockchain-based fan network Socios alone pays him approximately $20 million a year. The opportunities expect to continue after he leads Argentina to win the world cup in December 2022. He also launched an investment firm called Play Time in October. In 2019 he launched his clothing range and opened the first retail store in Barcelona, The Messi Store. He’s also got an Adidas contract for the rest of his life.
3. Kylian Mbappé ($120 million)
Kylian Mbappé is a French footballer who plays as a forward for Paris Saint Germain in the French league and is captain of the French national team. He’s considered one of the world’s greatest players and is famous for his dribbling skills, exceptional speed, and finishing. Mbappe, who is only 24 years old, has emerged as the face of French soccer, winning 3 Ligue 1 Player of the Year Awards, dominating the league in scoring four times in a row and positioning himself to win a fifth scoring crown in 2022–23.
Kylian Mbappé is the third world’s highest paid athlete, with $120 million earned in 2022-2023. $100 million of his earnings were on the field, while $20 million came from other endeavours. He has sponsorships with Electronic Arts, Hublot, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Nike, Oakley, Panini, and Sorare.
Mbappé, who ranked No. 35 on the earnings list a year ago, enters the top ten and is the only participant under 30. The fact that he came just behind his teammate Lionel Messi for the Best FIFA Men’s Player Award and went one win short of winning the World Cup with France in 2022 seems to justify that he earns the highest playing wage in all soccer. In June, he was appointed as the first player ambassador for the fantasy game Sorare, which uses cryptocurrencies. He’s been associated with a number of brands, including Nike and Hublot. EA Sports picked him to appear on the cover of “FIFA 21” in 2020, and he was one of the youngest who had ever covered this brand’s front page.
4. LeBron James ($119.5 million)
LeBron James is an American basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA. He’s considered to have been one of the greatest basketball players in history, often compared with Michael Jordan when it comes to debating about the greatest NBA player ever. James’s the all time greatest scorer in NBA history and ranks 4th on his career assists. He has won four NBA championships and has competed in 10 NBA Finals.
LeBron James is the fourth world’s highest paid athlete, with $119.5 million earned in 2022-2023. $44.5 million of his earnings were on the field, while $75 million came from other endeavours. He has sponsorships with AT&T, Beats Electronics, Calm, CRYPTO.com, GMC, Nike, PepsiCo, Sony, and Tonal.
James is the first active NBA player to become a billionaire, with Forbes estimating his net worth at $1 billion in June 2022. In addition to his remarkable list of endorsements, the Los Angeles Lakers forward is involved with the SpringHill Company, which creates TV shows and other entertainment products. He was also a producer on the company’s 2023 movie House Party, which takes place at his estate. He also owns a minority share in Fenway Sports Group, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool FC and Pittsburgh Penguins. And as he proclaimed his desire to buy an NBA expansion team in Las Vegas, he’d just acquired another Major League Pickleball team. In addition, James had been an early investor in Lobos 1707 tequila. Over the last year, he’d invested in Canyon Bikes, Climate Conscious dairy company Neutral Foods, and Mitchell & Ness sports clothing.
5. Canelo Alvarez ($110 million)
Canelo Álvarez is a professional boxer from Mexico. He is known for his impressive record of 59 wins, two losses, and two draws. He has won in four weight classes and multiple World Championships and is considered by many to be one of the world’s best boxers.
Canelo Álvarez is the fifth world’s highest paid athlete, with $110 million earned in 2022-2023. In addition, $100 million of his earnings were on the field, while $10 million came from other endeavours. He has sponsorships with ANHEUSER BUSCH INBEV SA SPON, LVMH Moët Hennessy, and Louis Vuitton.
Every time Alvarez steps into the ring, he racks up millions of dollars, and over the past 12 months has struck big with blockbuster battles against Dmitry Bivol and Gennady Golovkin. Having partnered with Hennessy and Michelob Ultra, Alvarez has a very small list of traditional endorsement partnerships for an athlete of his calibre. However, he joined Excel Sports Management in September to expand his marketing agreements, and he is also active as an entrepreneur. The boxer created the sports drink Yaoca, the fitness app I Can, the Canelo Energy gas station chain, his own clothing line, and a branded credit card. He introduced the canned drink brand VMC in September.
6. Dustin Jhonson ($107 million)
American golfer Dustin Johnson has won two major tournaments, the 2020 Masters Tournament with a record score of 268, 20-under par, and the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club with a score of 276 that was 4-under par. In addition, he recently won the LIV Golf Tulsa in Oklahoma for his first win this year.
Dustin Johnson is the sixth world’s highest paid athlete, with $107 million earned in 2022-2023. Additionally, $102 million of his earnings were on the field, while $5 million came from other endeavours. He has sponsorships with BodyArmor, Hublot, NetJets, Perfect Practice, and TaylorMade.
Johnson joined LIV Golf in May of last year and completed 2022 with a tour-best of $35.6 million in prize money, including $18 million for winning the individual season championship. Johnson was the first big name to join LIV Golf. The decision may have cost him sponsors like the Royal Bank of Canada, but it also made him the year’s biggest winner: He didn’t even make the list of the top 50 athletes in terms of pay for 2022. He is presently focusing on growing the reputation of 4Aces GC, the LIV team he co-owns and captains, whose emblem has replaced Adidas’ on his shirt in recent competitions. He has accrued $3.3 million throughout five LIV tournaments in 2023, which also helps from the guaranteed money provided by the no-cut style of LIV.
7. Phil Mickelson ($106 million)
Phil Mickelson is an American professional golf player who won a total of 45 events on tour, including six major titles: 3 Masters wins in 2004, 2006 and 2010; 2 PGA Championships in 2005 and 2021; and 1 Open Championship. He is also the oldest player to finish in the top five of a Masters at age 52.
Phil Mickelson is the seventh world’s highest paid athlete, with $106 million earned in 2022-2023. $104 million of his earnings were on the field, while $2 million came from other endeavours. He has sponsorships with Grayhawk Golf Club, Intrepid Financial Partners, Melin, Mizzen+Main, Rolex, and VistaJet.
Mickelson, who surpassed $1 billion in career pre-tax earnings last year, has shed sponsors since joining LIV Golf, but he is staying busy off the course. He’s the co-founder of For Wellness, a company that makes coffee supplements and was one of the investors to buy some land in Phoenix recently. At the Masters last month, Mickelson gave his new tour a performance to remember, playing a final-round 65 to tie for second with fellow LIV Golf member Brooks Koepka. This resulted in a cheque for $1.6 million.
8. Stephen Curry ($100.4 million)
Stephen Curry is an American NBA basketball player with the Golden State Warriors. In the history of the NBA, he’s regarded as one of the greatest shooters. He has been selected for nine NBA All-Star games and nine All-NBA teams, including four times on the first team. He has also won four NBA titles, been named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) twice, and received MVP awards for both the NBA Finals and the NBA All-Star Game.
Stephen Curry is the eighth world’s highest paid athlete, with $100.4 million earned in 2022-2023. $48.4 million of his earnings were on the field, while $52 million came from other endeavours. He has sponsorships with 2K Sports, Callaway Golf, CarMax, Google, JPMorgan Chase, Panini, Rakuten, and Under Armour.
A new company named SC30 was created by Curry in 2017 to manage his investment, brand partnerships and philanthropy. In order to compete with Nike’s Jordan, Under Armour announced the introduction of its Curry brand in November 2020. In March 2023, he signed a long-term contract extension with the clothing company that would allow him to retire from basketball. In September 2021, a development deal was signed with Comcast NBCUniversal by Curry’s production company, Unanimous Media. And, with an agreement with Audible, it entered the podcasting world in November 2020.
9. Roger Federer ($95.1 million)
Former professional tennis player Roger Federer from Switzerland held the top spot in the ATP world rankings for 310 weeks, including a record 237 consecutive weeks, and five times at the end of the year. In ATP tournaments, he was the 2nd most successful player with 103 singles titles, along with 20 major men’s Singles Titles. He’s also a winner of eight Wimbledon Championships.
Roger Federer is the ninth highest paid athlete in the world. In 2022-2023, he earned $95.1 million – about $95 million of it from the off-field.
Federer’s got one of the most impressive sponsorship portfolios in sports. He became the world’s richest athlete for the first time in his career in 2020. The Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo, which locked him up in 2018 under a 10-year $280 million contract, is the biggest deal at his stable. In his career, Federer has won $130 million in prize money, but his off-court income from appearances and endorsements dwarfs that total. The tennis legend’s stake in Swiss athletic gear company On, which went public in September 2021, maybe his biggest financial windfall yet. Since its inception, the Foundation of his name has raised over $50 million and educated about 1.5 million children in Africa.
10. Kevin Durant ($89.1 million)
Kevin Durant is a basketball player from the United States of America who earned an NBA Most Valuable Player award in the 2013–14 season and was considered one of his generation’s best when he had just turned twenty. His skills, scoring ability, versatility, and overall impact on the court have made him highly sought after by teams and sponsors.
Kevin Durant is one of the world’s highest-paid athletes in 2023. He came in at No. 10 on the list with $89.1 million. $44.1 million of his earnings were on the court, while $45 million came from other endeavours.
Kevin Durant has played big in the endorsements world. His numerous endorsements account for about half of his net worth. The human sniper has endorsements deals with Nike, Google, Alaska Air Group, BBVA, and Sparkling Ice. His numerous other endorsements are Panini, NBA 2K, Gatorade, Coinbase, NBA Top Shot, Weedmaps, Sonic Drive-In, Skullcandy, and Sprint.
Kevin Durant has invested in more than 80 companies through his firm 35V. He is also behind the media brand Boardroom and was a producer on “Two Distant Strangers,” which took home an Oscar in 2021. In 2020, Durant purchased a stake in Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union. He added stakes in the NWSL’s Gotham FC and a Major League Pickleball franchise in 2022.
Lastly, being a professional athlete can lead to an incredibly lucrative career. The world’s richest athletes have achieved the pinnacle of their sports and become household names and icons around the globe. While earnings may fluctuate, professional athletes who regularly achieve top performance are guaranteed substantial financial returns on endorsements, sponsorship and prize money. It’s obvious that the world’s finest athletes are not simply skilled and talented at their sport but also smart businessmen who know how to exploit success both in competition and outside of it.
1. Who is the richest athlete of all time?
With $3.3 billion in earnings, Michael Jordan is the richest athlete of all time.
2. What is the highest-paid sport in the world?
The average salary of the National Basketball Association in 2023 is nearly $10.5 million, making basketball one of the world’s highest-paid sports.
3. Who is the highest-paid female athlete?
Naomi Osaka is the highest-paid female athlete, with $51.1 million in earnings in 2022.
4. Who is the highest-paid footballer?
Cristiano Ronaldo is the highest-paid footballer, with $136 million in earnings in 2023.
5. Who is the top 5 richest athletes of all time?
1. Michael Jordan ($3.3 billion)
2. Tiger Woods ($2.5 billion)
3. Arnold Palmer ($1.7 billion)
4. Jack Nicklaus ($1.63 billion)
5. Cristiano Ronaldo ($1.58 billion)