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Top 20 Highest Paid Athletes in the World (2018)

Taking into account the high levels of dedication, sacrifice and pressure involved, the life of an elite athlete can be extremely demanding. Yet it can also be hugely rewarding, too, with those at the peak of their global powers able to command the kind of earnings that could fund a small economy.

In an effort to determine who sits atop the pile (quite literally, in terms of cash earnings), we’ve compiled the latest publicly available information; the results may or may not surprise you. We’ve only included currently active sportspeople (so boxing legend Floyd Mayweather misses out, even though his last opponent makes the cut), and taken into account sponsorship and endorsement revenue as well as base salaries and/or prize monies.

Without further ado, these are the top 20 highest paid athletes of 2018…

 


 

20. Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso Shutterstock

Sport: Motor racing
Nationality: Spanish
Salary: $30 million (£21.5 million)
Endorsements: $2 million (£1.4 million)
Total Earnings: $32 million (22.9 million)

Former double world champion Alonso may be starting to wind down his illustrious career, but the Spanish racer still commands an enviable salary from his current employer, McLaren. The Oviedo-born driver has also been trying his hand at a range of alternative motorsport disciplines (including the Daytona 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hour race), alongside the ongoing development of his business venture, Kimoa.

 

19. Conor McGregor

Conor McGregor Yahoo7 Sport

Sport: Mixed martial arts
Nationality: Irish
Salary: $27 million (£19.3 million)
Endorsements: $7 million (£5 million)
Total Earnings: $34 million (£24.3 million)

Famed just as much for his fiery personality and instantly recognisable appearance, UFC star McGregor actually made the entire bulk of his last year’s salary competing in a totally different sport, as he took on boxing legend Floyd Mayweather in a highly lucrative one-off special event. The Kildare native also received income through sponsorship deals with a number of high-profile brands, including Budweiser and Beats by Dre.

 

18. Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke Medium

Sport: Baseball
Nationality: American
Salary: $34 million (£24.3 million)
Endorsements: $500,000 (£360,000)
Total Earnings: $34.5 million (£24.7 million)

Although starting to approach the twilight of his highly decorated career, Florida native Greinke still commands the big bucks. In 2015, he signed a six-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks worth over $200 million (£143.4 million), making him the highest paid player in the franchise’s history.

 

17. Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy South China Morning Post

Sport: Golf
Nationality: British
Prize Money (2018): $2 million (£1.4 million)
Endorsements: $34 million (£24.3 million)
Total Earnings: $36 million (£25.8 million)

After exploding onto the golf scene in 2007 as a raw 17-year-old, the Northern Irishman has undoubtedly made good on his early potential; even after a relatively barren 2017 in terms of silverware, McIlroy's mammoth endorsement deals with Nike and TaylorMade have seen him comfortably retain his position as one the highest paid players in golf.

 

16. Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw SB Nation

Sport: Baseball
Nationality: American
Salary: $35.6 million (£25.5 million)
Endorsements: $800,000 (£575,000)
Total Earnings: $36.4 million (£26 million)

An ever-present for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2008, starting pitcher Kershaw saw his loyalty rewarded in 2013 with one of the largest contracts ever presented in Major League Baseball. The Texas native is keen on giving back to the community, too, becoming heavily involved in various charity projects with his wife Ellen. In addition, he holds various minor sponsorship deals with the likes of Under Armour, Topps and Mercedes-Benz.

 

15. Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin ESPN

Sport: Basketball
Nationality: American
Salary: $29.5 million (£21.1 million)
Endorsements: $8 million (£5.7 million)
Total Earnings: $37.5 million (£26.8 million)

Following a 9-year stay at the Los Angeles Clippers, power forward Griffin put pen to paper on a highly lucrative contract with the Detroit Pistons in January 2018, making himself one of the highest paid players in the NBA in the process. The 6ft 10in Oklahoma native also boasts additional endorsements with Nike, Red Bull and Google’s parent company Alphabet.

 

14. Mike Trout

Mike Trout For The Win / USA Today

Sport: Baseball
Nationality: American
Salary: $36 million (£25.8 million)
Endorsements: $2.5 million (£1.8 million)
Total Earnings: $38.5 million (£27.6 million)

Under contract with long-time employers, the Los Angeles Angels, until 2020, centre fielder Trout has amassed numerous personal accolades over the last seven years. This is reflected in his lucrative salary, as well as the various endorsements that the New Jersey native is affiliated to, including Subway, Nike and SuperPretzel.

 

13. Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook SB Nation

Sport: Basketball
Nationality: American
Salary: $28.5 million (£20.4 million)
Endorsements: $12 million (£8.6 million)
Total Earnings: $40.5 million (£29 million)

As point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Westbrook has seen his stock continue to rise throughout his illustrious career; in 2017, he received the NBA’s prestigious Most Valuable Player (MVP) trophy, resulting in the award of a new five-year, $205 million contract. The Long Beach native is also heavily involved in several endorsement campaigns, including representation for the likes of Mountain Dew and Nike.

 

12. Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen The National

Sport: Motor racing
Nationality: Finnish
Salary: $40 million (£28.7 million)
Endorsements: $2 million (£1.4 million)
Total Earnings: $42 million (£30.1 million)

Renowned for his ice-cool persona and aggressive driving style, former Formula One world champion Raikkonen still commands one of the highest base salaries in the sporting world, having just penned a huge $40 million (£28.7 million) contract with Ferrari for the 2018 season. The thrill-seeking Finn also boasts additional endorsement revenue through agreements with the likes of Wrangler and Oakley.

 

11. Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson Golf Channel

Sport: Golf
Nationality: American
Prize Money (2018): $4 million (£2.8 million)
Endorsements: $40 million (£28.6 million)
Total Earnings: $44 million (£31.5 million)

Despite his long and distinguished career in the sport, much of Mickelson’s income is actually earned away from the green; the San Diego native often utilises his wholesome image to endorse large multinationals such as KPMG, ExxonMobil and Rolex. At 47 years old, the golfing legend may be the oldest entrant on this list, but neither his prowess on the golf course nor his huge revenue streams show any sign of decreasing soon.

 

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10. James Harden

James Harden NBA

Sport: Basketball
Nationality: American
Salary: $28.3 million (£20.3 million)
Endorsements: $20 million (£14.3 million)
Total Earnings: $48.3 million (£34.6 million)

Following a spell with the Oklahoma City Thunder, All-Star regular Harden signed for the Houston Rockets in 2012; his highly consistent performance levels were subsequently rewarded with a four-year, $120 million (£86 million) contract extension in 2016. In addition, the Los Angeles native signed a $200 million (£143.4 million) endorsement deal with Adidas in 2015, on top of existing agreements with Footlocker, Beats and New Era.

 

9. Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton Sky Sports

Sport: Motor racing
Nationality: British
Salary: $50 million (£35.8 million)
Endorsements: $8 million (£5.7 million)
Total Earnings: $58 million (£41.6 million)

As a four-time world champion, it’s no surprise that the Stevenage-born racer sits so highly on this list; his team, Mercedes, seemingly share this sentiment, offering Hamilton a 25% pay rise to retain his services for the 2018 Formula One season. Endorsement deals with Monster Energy, Puma and Bose provide additional income.

 

8. Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel Shutterstock

Sport: Motor racing
Nationality: German
Salary: $60 million (£43 million)
Endorsements: $500,000 (£360,000)
Total Earnings: $60.5 million (£43.4 million)

Hamilton is not the highest paid driver in Formula One, though – that title goes to fellow four-time champion Sebastian Vettel. The German speedster is renowned as being one of the most reliable pairs of hands on the track, with employers Ferrari prepared to pay Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen a combined $100 million (£71.7 million) for the 2018 season.

 

7. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant SB Nation

Sport: Basketball
Nationality: American
Salary: $26.6 million (£19 million)
Endorsements: $34 million (£24.4 million)
Total Earnings: $60.6 million (£43.4 million)

As a player who has won everything there is to win in the NBA, small forward Durant has little left to prove on the basketball court. His achievements – as well as his philanthropy – have made him a hugely popular figure off the court, too, a status that is reflected in the highly lucrative endorsements he is able to attract. These include deals with Foot Locker, Nike and 2K Sports, while his agent happens to be rapper and media mogul Jay-Z.

 

6. Roger Federer

Roger Federer Le Courrier Australien

Sport: Tennis
Nationality: Swiss
Prize Money (2017): $6 million (£4.3 million)
Endorsements: $58 million (£41.6 million)
Total Earnings: $64 million (£46 million)

Tennis legend Federer was meant to be winding down quietly to retirement, but a hugely surprising 2017 season saw the Swiss maestro roll back the years, winning his eighth Wimbledon title and returning to the summit of the rankings – all at the grand old age of 36. Despite this renaissance, though, Federer’s main source of income continues to be his highly lucrative sponsorship deals; he works closely with the likes of CreditSuisse, Rolex, Nike and Mercedes-Benz.

 

5. Neymar Jr

Neyman Jr Shutterstock

Sport: Football
Nationality: Brazilian
Salary: $44.9 million (£32.2 million)
Endorsements: $22 million (£15.7 million)
Total Earnings: $66.9 million (£48 million)

Known for his frequently changing hairstyles and carefree approach to playing, Brazilian superstar Neymar made huge waves in August 2017 when he left Spanish giants Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in a world record €222 million (£194 million) deal. The highly talented forward is also adept at generating revenue away from the football pitch, too, signing a variety of endorsement deals with the likes of Nike, Panasonic and Volkswagen.

 

4. Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry HoopsHype / USA Today

Sport: Basketball
Nationality: American
Salary: $34.7 million (£24.9 million)
Endorsements: $42 million (£30.1 million)
Total Earnings: $76.7 million (£55 million)

Widely regarded as one of the greatest shooters in basketball history, the two-time NBA Champion and MVP has enjoyed a highly successful playing career with the Golden State Warriors. It’s also been a lucrative one, supported by his sponsorship deals with Under Armour, Chase and, more recently, a pioneering multimedia deal with Sony Pictures.

 

3. LeBron James

LeBron James CNBC

Sport: Basketball
Nationality: American
Salary: $33.3 million (£23.9 million)
Endorsements: $52 million (£37.3 million)
Total Earnings: $85.3 million (£61.2 million)

As one of the most famous names in American sport, as well as one of the most decorated (including three NBA Championships, four MVP Awards and three Finals MVP Awards), the Ohio-born small forward has amassed a huge fortune over his 15-year playing career. This has resulted in lucrative endorsement deals with the likes of Coca-Cola, Intel and Nike, as well as the holding and management of several active business interests; James' ambition shows no sign of abating, either, recently announcing his desire to own his own NBA franchise in the future.

 

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo Shutterstock

Sport: Football
Nationality: Portuguese
Salary: $58 million (£41.6 million)
Endorsements: $35 million (£25.1 million)
Total Earnings: $93 million (£66.7 million)

Widely regarded as one of the most talented players of all time, the Portuguese forward has amassed multiple club and individual awards for both former club Manchester United and current employers Real Madrid; he has also firmly established the CR7 brand (after his playing number), with an entire museum and airport dedicated to him on his home island of Madeira. Despite his perceived flashiness, Ronaldo is also lauded for his relentless work ethic, his constant pursuit of perfection and for his philanthropy; the Sporting Lisbon youth product also possesses a shrewd business mind, signing lucrative deals with the likes of Nike, Herbalife and Tag Heuer.

 

1. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi Goal.com

Sport: Football
Nationality: Argentinian
Salary: $71 million (£50.9 million)
Endorsements: $27 million (£19.3 million)
Total Earnings: $98 million (£70.2 million)

Until recently, Ronaldo himself was the highest paid sportsman in the world; this changed in January 2018, though, when Messi penned a contract extension with his club, Barcelona, which saw him overtake his great rival. He’s arguably worth every penny, too, with many proclaiming the Argentinian forward as the greatest player of all time. Like Ronaldo, Messi has won an absolute multitude of personal and team awards and continues to break various records on a seemingly weekly basis; despite a conviction for tax fraud in 2016, he is still one of the most marketable athletes on the globe, penning significant sponsorship deals with the likes of Adidas, Huawei and Turkish Airlines.

 


 

As you can see, a career at the pinnacle of professional sport is handsomely rewarding, with the NBA, in particular, paying eyewatering salaries. The marketing opportunities on offer also provide the chance for top performers to supplement their income significantly.

You may have noticed the lack of female stars on this list, too; although established tennis stars like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova earn the same prize money as their male counterparts – and household names like Ronda Rousey attract lucrative sponsorship deals – there’s still clearly some way to go when it comes to pay disparity.

Either way, don’t be fooled by the figures here in general. Every single name on this list arrived where they are today through hard work and good decision making, just as much as natural talent. Indeed, even if your shot at sporting glory may have passed you by, don’t worry: with the same attitude, there are other lucrative industries where willingness and desire can take you just as far as any of these sporting icons.

What would you do with these kinds of salaries? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Salary and endorsement figures are attained from Forbes, TMZ Sports and Statista. Conversions are based on rates supplied by XE.com on 25 April 2018.