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Richest Athletes in the World – The Billionaire Club

Many athletes have set themselves up for life through sport, but only a few have been fortunate enough to earn more than $1 billion.

Using salary and sponsorship income, just seven athletes have broken through that landmark earnings barrier (figures not adjusted for inflation).

Without further ado, let’s look at the Billionaire Club and assess who amongst the current list of highest-paid athletes may be next to join them.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan has raked in more than $2bn in earnings, despite ending his illustrious playing career nearly 20 years ago.

Most of his wealth has come from off-court endorsements from global brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Wheaties, Hanes and Chevrolet.

However, Jordan’s long-standing link-up with Nike has proved to be his most lucrative, with the former NBA star continuing to bank millions of dollars each year from the sportswear brand.

He also bought the Charlotte Hornets for around $275m in 2010 – the NBA franchise is currently worth approximately $1.6bn.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods broke through the billion-dollar barrier in 2009 and has since taken his career earnings from golf to around $1.7bn.

He earned over $121 million in prize money – more than any other professional golfer in history – but this accounts for less than 10% of his overall tally.

Most of Woods’ income comes from endorsement deals with brands such as Nike, Monster Energy and TaylorMade.

He also has a golf course design business and a television deal with Discovery’s GolfTV streaming service, which should keep his bank manager happy for the foreseeable future.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo became the first active team-sport athlete to surpass $1bn in career earnings in 2020, and his wealth has continued to rise since then.

He was the first person in the world to reach 500 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in 2021, making him a marketer’s dream.

In addition to a lifetime deal with Nike, Ronaldo makes plenty of money from his CR7-branded clothing, accessories, hotels and gyms.

He is currently in third place on the annual earnings list behind Lionel Messi and LeBron James, but that is unlikely to worry him.

Floyd Mayweather Jr

Never one to hide his love of money, Floyd Mayweather Jr claimed his net worth surpassed $1.2bn in 2021.

Mayweather, who retired with a 50-0 record, says he made $300m when he defeated Manny Pacquiao and $350m in a crossover fight against Conor McGregor.

Since retiring from competitive boxing, the 45-year-old has switched his attention towards building an impressive business portfolio.

His interests include real estate and ownership of a team in the NASCAR Cup Series named The Money Team Racing.

LeBron James

While James has earned less than half the amount of money fellow NBA star Jordan has, he is the first basketball star to top $1bn while still playing.

He will have been paid more than $400m in salary by the time he finishes playing, while his off-court earnings continue to mount up.

James signed a lifetime deal with Nike in 2016 that brings in $30m every year, while endorsements with PepsiCo, AT&T, Walmart, Beats, Blaze Pizza and GMC add another $100m annually.

He has also joined Fenway Sports Group as a partner, giving him an ownership stake in Liverpool Football Club, Boston Red Sox and other subsidiaries.

Lionel Messi

The man who nearly brought Barcelona to their knees is unsurprisingly another athlete who has achieved billionaire status from sport.

Messi’s mind-boggling 2017 contract with the La Liga giants gave Messi an average base annual salary of around $168m.

The club also gave Messi a renewal fee of about $140m simply for signing the new deal, plus a loyalty bonus of $94.6m.

With multi-year deals with top brands such as adidas and PepsiCo also in the bag, it is fair to say that Messi will not struggle for money when he hangs up his boots.

Roger Federer

Despite winning 20 Grand Slams and more than 100 ATP Tour titles, Federer’s on-court career earnings amount to around $130m.

However, his sponsorship portfolio is the envy of many other sports stars and made him the world’s highest-paid athlete in 2020.

He is currently seventh on the list, having topped up his meagre $700,000 tennis earnings with a whopping $90m in endorsements.

The biggest deal in his portfolio is Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo, which tied him to a ten-year $300 million contract in 2018.

The Highest-Paid Athletes in the World 2022

The top sports stars continue to bank staggering amounts of cash each year – here is the current top 10 highest-paid athletes in the world (includes on-field and off-field earnings):

1. Lionel Messi – Soccer – $130m

2. LeBron James – Basketball – $121.2m

3. Cristiano Ronaldo – Soccer – $115m

4. Neymar – Soccer – $95m

5. Stephen Curry – Basketball – $92.8m

6. Kevin Durant – Basketball – $92.1m

7. Roger Federer – Tennis – $90.7m

8. Canelo Alvarez – Boxing – $90m

9. Tom Brady – American Football – $83.9m

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Basketball – $80.9m

Four of the current ten highest-paid athletes in the world are members of the Billionaire Club, and it would be no surprise to see any of the other six join them in the future.

However, a left-field shout could be Major League Baseball star Mike Trout, who signed a 12-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels worth $426.5m in 2019.

He banked a massive windfall from his equity stake in Bodyarmor when Coca-Cola bought the sports drink brand last year.

As one of baseball’s most marketable stars, Trout could break through the billion-dollar barrier if he adds some endorsement deals over the next few years.