The sporting world has seen numerous superstars plying their trade throughout history. From Pele to Michael Jordan, fans and pundits alike have been treated to pure excellence on all fronts. Today is no different, with living legends like Lionel Messi and LeBron James still active and dazzling fans week-in, week-out. However, money is one stark difference between the past and the present. The highest-paid NFL cornerbacks, Jaire Alexander and Denzel Ward, both currently earn between $20 million per year. Meanwhile, Brazilian football legend Pele only pocketed $6 million in three years with the New York Cosmos in the mid-70s.
The industry has seen a major economic boom, with sports betting and general popularity providing some of the basis for this boom. Thus, the following is a list of the current highest-paid athletes in the world who owe a lot to this economic boom.
5. Stephen Curry ($92.8 million) – Basketball
The Golden State Warrior was the highest paid NBA player in salary this past season, earning a whopping $45.8 million, a cool $3.6 million more than counterpart LeBron James. However, the star guard sits below James because of his off-court earnings. While these earnings are immense in their own right, James has managed to rake up more money through his off-court dealings.
Regardless of that, the reigning NBA champion is sitting pretty as the fifth-highest paid athlete in the world. He owes a lot of his earnings to the smart moves he’s made off the court, which include an endorsement deal with FTX, and his production company Unanimous Media signing a development deal with Comcast NBCUniversal.
4. Neymar ($95 million) – Football
The Brazilian superstar raked in an impressive $70 million with club PSG last season, which is more than Cristiano Ronaldo. His off-the-field exploits are not as numerous, but that could change with time as the striker has recently signed with NFT platform NFTSTAR, and is also the subject of a Netflix docuseries which was released earlier this year. Look for Neymar’s earnings to continue to rise over the next few years.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo ($115 million) – Football
Commanding a near-even split of on-field and off-field earnings, the Portuguese star had a decent first season back with Manchester United. However, the club failed to make the Champions League and overall had one of their worst football seasons to date.
This didn’t really affect Ronaldo too much, though, as the prolific footballer has over 690 million followers across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter combined, which has allowed him to dictate the rates that he gets from sponsors like Nike and Herbalife. Ronaldo, the brand, is still very much active and earning.
2. LeBron James ($121.2 million) – Basketball
Although the Los Angeles Lakers had a dismal season on the court, LeBron had one of his best off of it. Not only was he a star in the widely popular Space Jam: A New Legacy last year, but he also moved his show ‘The Shop’ from HBO to YouTube. His off-court efforts also saw him sell a major minority stake in his production company SpringHill for a massive $725 million.
Earlier this year, LeBron made more money moves by signing an endorsement deal with Crypto.com, as well as appearing in a Super Bowl advert. It’s safe to say that although his NBA contract is not the biggest in the league, the King is still dominating on and off the court.
1. Lionel Messi ($130 million) – Football
The Argentinian had his most successful year off the field since 2013, notching endorsement deals with Hard Rock International and Socios, adding to his already colossal portfolio that includes deals with Adidas, Budweiser, and PepsiCo. Messi equaled rival Cristiano Ronaldo’s off-field earnings for the first time since 2013 and picked up the highly-coveted Ballon d’Or in the process.
Although his move from Barcelona to French giants PSG did hamper his on-field earnings, as mentioned above, he more than made up for it off the field. He didn’t have the best first season with PSG, crashing out of the Champions League round of 16 and only managing 9 goals in 28 appearances. However, they did claim the Ligue 1 title in his first season, which is something worth noting.
The sports stars of today are much more than athletes. As you can see above, the off-field dealings and brand marketing movements that players are engaged in far outweigh anything that used to be the case. No longer is it solely about performance (although that still matters a lot), but it’s also about each athlete’s own brand and marketability.
In the age of the internet, big brands and companies are jumping on any sports personality that will give them more exposure. It shouldn’t really be a surprise to any one of us when these superstar athletes continue to earn more and more as each year passes.