Professional athletes were back in the spotlight in 2022, putting their best foot forward. This year’s Forbes highest-paid athletes list showcases the greatest in human capacity, but it was the money these sportsmen earned off the field that made headlines.
Lionel Messi, the great footballer for Paris Saint-Germain, was named this year’s highest-paid athlete after earning a whopping $130 million in endorsements and brand deals for 2022.
The pre-tax incomes of the world’s ten highest-paid athletes were $992 million last year. A look at this year’s Forbes list shows that there has been a 6% drop from the previous year, which was led by Connor McGregor ($180 million) who did not make the list this year.
How the top 100 highest paid athletes earned their money this year.
Endorsements vs. Winnings
— Sportico (@Sportico) May 12, 2022
Four sportsmen made over $100 million last year for the first time; this year there are just two — two football legends and a basketball legend.
Pretax earnings in 2018 were the third highest in Forbes history, with the year ending with the highest total ever. In the wake of a global pandemic, 2021 saw the biggest off-field total earnings of all time, but this year fell just a few million short, proving that sportsmen are as shrewd and marketable as they are skilled.
Here is the list of the top 10 richest paid atheletes.
1. Lionel Messi ($130 Million)
In addition to Adidas, Budweiser, and PepsiCo, Lionel Messi has a $20 million-a-year deal with Socios. In a partnership revealed in June, he became Hard Rock International’s first athlete brand ambassador, helping Messi catch Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo in off-field earnings for the first time since 2013.
But after scoring 38 goals in 47 games for Barcelona during his final season, Messi has struggled to find the back of the net for Paris Saint-Germain this season.
Messi won the Ballon d’Or award in 2021 after being named the world’s best men’s soccer player. PSG lost in the Round of 16 of the Champions League, but in Messi’s debut season, the club won the French Ligue 1 championship.
On-Field: $75 Million and Off-Field: $55 Million
2. Lebron James ($121.2 Million)
Off the court, LeBron James has never been as powerful as he has been this season with the Los Angeles Lakers. This past year, he starred in the critically acclaimed sequel to Space Jam: A New Legacy and has recently transferred his chat program, The Shop, to YouTube from HBO.
Forbes estimates that his net worth now stands at $850 million after selling a large minority stake in SpringHill, the production firm behind both films, in October. When James signed an endorsement contract with Crypto.com in January, he starred alongside a computer-generated version of his younger self in a Super Bowl commercial.
In addition, he recently made investments in the virtual reality training products company StatusPRO and the home gym company Tonal.
On-Field: $41.2 Million and Off-Field: $80 Million
3. Cristiano Ronaldo ($115 Million)
With one game remaining in the Premier League season, Cristiano Ronaldo‘s new team, Manchester United, finds itself in sixth place, just like his nemesis Lionel Messi.
Rumors are circulating that Manchester United’s former star Cristiano Ronaldo, who spent six years at the club between 2003 and 2009, could be heading out of Old Trafford this summer. With 690 million followers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, Ronaldo has the potential to demand hefty fees from sponsors like Nike, Herbalife, and Clear shampoo because of his large social media following.
Additionally, he has invested in Tatel eateries, including one in Beverly Hills, and he is the face of ZujuGP, an upcoming app that aims to serve as a digital soccer community for soccer fans.
On-field: $60 Million and Off-field: $55 Million
4. Neymar ($95 Million)
Despite scoring his 400th career goal in November, Neymar was criticized after PSG’s early withdrawal from the Champions League, much like Lionel Messi. In the next months, he’ll focus on the World Cup in Qatar, which he’s hinted could be his final.
His lucrative partnerships include Puma and Red Bull as well as a new Netflix documentary series, Neymar: The Perfect Chaos. In November, he signed with the site NFTSTAR and spent almost $1 million on two Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs in a single day in January. He is also diving into the world of NFTs.
On-Field: $70 Million and Off-Field: $25 Million
5. Stephen Curry ($92.8 Million)
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry earned more money this season than any other NBA player, and he’s owed a raise after signing a four-year, $215 million contract extension last August.
Next season, he’ll earn about $48 million, which will rise to over $60 million in 2025-26. To go along with his ownership position in FTX, Curry released a series of NFTs featuring his sneakers and linked to three metaverse platforms in December. (He promised to donate all of the money he earned.)
Comcast NBCUniversal secured a development deal with Curry’s production business, Unanimous Media, in September, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
On-field: $45.8 Million and Off-field: $47 Million
6. Kevin Durant ($92.1 Million)
Only LeBron James ($32 million) has a shoe deal worth more to an active player than Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant’s annual salary of $28 million. Since signing endorsement partnerships with Coinbase, NBA Top Shot, and Weedmaps, he has expanded his business empire with Boardroom and Thirty-Five Ventures.
Among his recent investments include NFT platform OpenSea, digital fitness firm Future, and SeatGeek’s SPAC merger. This isn’t the first time that Durant and his longtime business partner Rich Kleiman have claimed that they are launching a SPAC.
On-field: $42.1 Million and Off-field: $50 Million
7. Roger Federer ($90.7 Million)
In 2020 and 2021, Roger Federer was only able to compete in six tournaments, and he has yet to return to the court in 2022. If you don’t believe me, just look at what he’s done for firms like Uniqlo and Rolex.
In 2019, he also made a significant investment in the rapidly growing Swiss shoe business On, which went public in September and raised over $600 million. At the time, Federer told Forbes that he and the On team collaborated for 20 days on the creation of the company’s pro tennis shoe.
On-field: $0.7 Million and Off-field: $90 Million
8. Canelo Alvarez ($90 Million)
Canelo Alvarez’s two pay-per-view triumphs last May and November earned him $40 million or more. His defeat by Dmitry Bivol on May 7, 2022, came beyond Forbes’ tracking window for this ranking.
With Hennessy and a taco restaurant in his native Mexico, Alvarez has a rich business outside the ring. According to Alvarez’s announcement from last year, his Canelo Promotions is partnering with Matchroom Boxing and DAZN to organize a series of fights in Mexico.
On-field: $85 Million and Off-field: $5 Million
9. Tom Brady ($83.9 Million)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were relieved that Tom Brady’s retirement this off-season lasted less than six weeks after he turned in a stellar 2021 season at the age of 43. His off-the-field training is clearly paying off.
With Autograph, the platform he launched last year, and Religion of Sports, his production firm with Michael Strahan that he co-founded with filmmaker Gotham Chopra, Skydance Sports announced a content contract in March, Brady has been steadily increasing his stake in the NFT industry.
In addition, 199 Productions is behind the upcoming road-trip movie 80 for Brady and he has a new apparel line called BRADY. And when he ultimately hangs up his cleats, Brady has already lined up a lucrative post as a Fox Sports pundit.
In the New York Post’s estimation, the deal will pay him more than he has made on the field in 22 seasons in the NFL—$375 million over ten years.
On-field: $31.9 Million and Off-field: $52 Million
10. Giannis Antetokounmpo ($80.9 Million)
Only Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will be 30 in February, is still in his 20s among this year’s top ten players. In December 2020, the two-time NBA MVP of the Milwaukee Bucks signed a five-year, $228 million contract, the NBA’s richest contract to date in terms of the total value.
Among the investors in WatchBox’s $165 million fundraising round announced in November, he has also struck a licensing agreement with NFTSTAR and endorsed WhatsApp and Google’s Pixel 6 phone. Rise, the movie about Antetokounmpo’s life, will be published on Disney+ in June and tells the basketball star’s narrative.
On-field: $39.9 Million and Off-field: $41 Million
Between May 1, 2021, and May 1, 2022, Forbes’ on-the-field earnings figures include all prize money, salary, and bonuses. In leagues like the NBA and European soccer, where regular-season play has already ended by May, Forbes assigns the whole season’s compensation to the players.
Based on interviews with industry insiders, off-the-field earnings numbers for the 12 months leading up to May 1, 2022, as well as cash returns from any enterprises managed by the athlete, are estimated.
Forbes does not include interest payments or dividends, but it does take into account the stock investments sportsmen have sold and the money they have received as a result.