Given the high levels of dedication, sacrifice and pressure involved, a career in professional sport can be pretty demanding. It is also 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, for example), and taken into account sponsorship and endorsement revenue as well as base salaries and/or prize monies.
So, without further ado, here are the top 10 highest paid athletes of 2019.
10. Russell Westbrook
Estimated Salary: $38.2m
Estimated Endorsement Earnings: $18m
Total Earnings: $56.2m
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.
9. Lewis Hamilton
Sport: Formula One
Estimated Salary: $57m
Estimated Endorsement Earnings: $9m
Total Earnings: $66m
As a five-time world champion (including back-to-back victories in 2017 and 2018), it’s no surprise that the Stevenage-born racer sits so highly on this list; his team, Mercedes, seemingly share this sentiment, making Hamilton the highest-paid driver on the circuit for the 2019 F1 season. Endorsement deals with Monster Energy, Puma and Bose provide additional income.
8. Kevin Durant
Estimated Salary: $31.5m
Estimated Endorsement Earnings: $35m
Total Earnings: $66.5m
As a player who has won everything there is to win in the NBA (including 2 Championships with the Golden State Warriors), 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 can attract. These include deals with Foot Locker, Nike and 2K Sports, while his agent happens to be rapper and entrepreneur, Jay-Z.
7. Saul “Canelo” Álvarez
Estimated Salary: $65m
Estimated Endorsement Earnings: $2.5m
Total Earnings: $67.5m
A three-weight world champion renowned for his ferocious body shots and intuitive counter-punching, Álvarez enters the top 10 this year primarily due to the lucrative earnings of his fight with Gennady Golovkin in late 2018. Since then, the Mexican middleweight has also successfully defended his titles against challengers Rocky Fielding and Daniel Jacobs, while a record-breaking third bout with Golovkin remains a possibility. Álvarez also penned a five-year, $365m broadcasting deal with sports streaming provider DAZN in October 2018.
6. Roger Federer
Prize Money (May 2018-May 2019): $6.8m
Estimated Endorsement Earnings: $65m
Total Earnings: $71.8m
Tennis legend Federer was meant to be winding down quietly to retirement, but has undergone something of a renaissance in the last two years, winning three majors and returning to the summit of the rankings – all at the grand old age of 37. Federer’s primary source of income continues to be his highly lucrative sponsorship deals, though; he works closely with the likes of CreditSuisse, Rolex, Nike and Mercedes-Benz.
5. Christiano Ronaldo
Estimated Salary: $35m
Estimated Endorsement Earnings: $47m
Total Earnings: $82m
Widely regarded as one of the most talented players of all time, the Portuguese forward has amassed multiple honours and individual awards for former clubs Manchester United and Real Madrid, as well as winning the Serie A title in his first season with Italian giants Juventus.
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 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.
4. Stephen Curry
Estimated Salary: $35m
Estimated Endorsement Earnings: $47m
Total Earnings: $82m
Widely regarded as one of the greatest three-point shooters in basketball history, the three-time NBA Champion and two-time 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.
At the time of writing, Curry looks on course to add to his (and the Warriors’) recent haul of titles, too, with the San Francisco-based franchise clear favourites to make it three NBA Championships in a row.
3. Neymar Jr
Estimated Salary: $73m
Estimated Endorsement Earnings: $17m
Total Earnings: $90m
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 €222m ($249m) 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.
2. LeBron James
Imaginechina-Editorial / Deposit Photos
Estimated Salary: $37.4m
Estimated Endorsement Earnings: $53m
Total Earnings: $90.4m
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 lengthy 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. His 2018 switch from Cleveland to the LA Lakers, meanwhile, serves to underline his Hollywood ambitions; James is touted to star in the much-anticipated sequel to Michael Jordan’s Space Jam in 2021.
1. Lionel Messi
Estimated Salary: $84m
Estimated Endorsement Earnings: $27m
Total Earnings: $111m
Sat atop of the list, though, is an Argentine phenomenon; widely regarded as the greatest footballer of all time, Messi penned a four-year contract extension with his club, Barcelona, in November 2017 (including a $785m buyout clause) to secure a salary befitting of his status.
Like his long-time rival 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, too, 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 eye-watering 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!