Being an athlete requires determination, discipline, hard work, and sacrifice. Athletes are also some of the most influential individuals, especially youth, making them great endorsers and ambassadors for many brands. So, it is no wonder that sports are one of the highest paying careers out there.
Many athletes earn some of the world’s highest salaries, with millions and even billions of dollars in yearly earnings. This article will tackle the top 10 sports with the highest annual earnings over the past years and salary histories and the sport with the largest contracts. Specifically, it will talk about the following:
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Ice Hockey
- Auto Racing
- American Football
10. Mixed Martial Arts
Mixed martial arts gained popularity and have become on par with other fighting sports such as boxing. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and other similar organizations paved the way toward this success. Along with this accomplishment, mixed martial artists have also risen to the list of highest-paid athletes worldwide.
Conor McGregor from the Republic of Ireland is one of the most notable fighters with salary and winnings of $85 million and endorsements of $14 million, making his 2018 earnings a total of $99 million.
In terms of 2020 salaries only, Khabib Nurmagomedov has the highest earnings in 2020 with $6,090,000 followed by McGregor at $3,060,000, Junior dos Santos with $1,560,000, and Israel Adesanya with $1,230,000.
9. Ice Hockey
The ninth on this list is Ice Hockey. It has millions of fans across the globe, especially in cold places. It is popular in Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, and Switzerland. It is a fast-paced game that catches the fancy of many sports fans.
Ice hockey players are some of the richest athletes in the world. With the rise of Wayne Gretzky in 1994, he became one of the highest-paid hockey players with a total income of $13.5 million. His success launched the sport into a lucrative career.
Today, a lot of other players rose to the top with millions in earnings. Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs earned $16 million in the 2019 to 2020 season. This is followed by Auston Matthews ($15.9 million in 2019 to 2020 and 2020 to 2021 seasons) and John Tavares ($15.9 million in 2019 to 2020 season).
Golf is known for being a sport of the elite, so it is expected to pay a lot. True enough, it is easily in the top 10 sports that have the highest salary. In 2012, Phil Mickelson earned $47.8 million, and Tiger Woods earned $59.4 million.
The two consistently entered the top 10 until 2015. In 2016, Mickelson remained on the list with $52.9 million, but he is joined by Jordan Spieth, who earned $52.8 million. In 2020, Woods once again entered the list with a total earning of $60.5 million comprised of $2.3 million in salary and winnings and $60 million in endorsements.
He is also the highest-paid golfer of all time ($1.85 billion) with Arnold Palmer ($1.7 billion) and Jack Nicklaus ($1.2 billion). Regardless, Spieth has the highest salary for his 2016 income, in which he earned $20.8 million in salary and winning and $32 million in endorsements.
Tennis has become one of the most followed sports, especially by fans with various superstar players like Andre Agassi and Roger Federer. In 1992, Tennis entered the Forbes list of Richest Players with Agassi in the 6th place with a total income of $11 million.
The sport slowly gained its momentum over the years. Jim Courier was in 9th place in the 1992 Forbes list with an income of $12.6 million. Tennis saw a huge jump in salaries with Roger Federer, who ranked 6th place in the 2008 Forbes list with a salary of $35 million. He again entered the list in 2010 with $43 million and 2013 with $71 million.
Federer remains the highest-paid tennis player in 2020 with a total of $106.3 million composed of $6.1 million in salary and winnings and $100 million in endorsements. However, Novak Djokovic earned $21.8 million in salary winnings in 2016.
6. Auto Racing
Auto racing may be one of the most luxurious sports on this list, especially as the equipment to pursue the sport can cost millions. It is popular among car enthusiasts and general fans of the sport.
In 2017, Lewis Hamilton got the most money among all racers, with a total earning of $46 million. This is composed of $38 million in salary and winnings and $8 million in endorsements. Hamilton is the most recent racer to be included in the top 10 list.
He is also recognized as the biggest earner from 2010 to 2019. Entering the list at the 10th spot, he earned $400 million during that time. However, Michael Schumacher is the highest-earning racer of all time with an earning of $1 billion.
Once considered America’s favorite sport, baseball matches were big events for fans and casual followers. Today, it remains to be one of the favorite sports of Americans. In 1993, baseball became a highly paid sport in the world when Cecil Fielder reached 8th place in the Forbes list of Richest Players. He had a total income of $12.7 million.
Throughout the years, baseball players slowly increased their salaries. In 2019, Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees had an earning of $36 million. This is followed by Stephen Strasburg of Washington Nationals with $35 million and Mike Trout of Los Angeles Angels with $33,325,000.
Trout, however, has the highest contract covering 12 years from 2019 to 2030 with a value of $503 million averaging $41,916,667 per year and $2,629,791 per game.
4. American Football
American football takes the next spot on this list. It is currently America’s number one favorite sport. Just think of the Super Bowl as one of the most awaited sports events every year. In 2012, Peyton Manning was regarded as having the 10th largest earning in the sports world with total earnings of $42.4 million composed of $32.4 million in salary and winnings with $10 million in endorsements.
American Football players’ earnings constantly rose throughout the years, with Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees raking in $49 million and $51 million in 2013, Cam Newton with $53 million in 2016, Carson Wentz with $59.1 million in 2020.
The largest earner as of 2020 is Kirk Cousins, with a salary and winnings of $58 million and endorsements of $4 million for a total of $60.5 million.
This European sport is popular in Europe and many parts of the world, including the Americas and some parts of Asia, such as South Korea. Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham entered the 2012 top 10 list with earnings of $42.5 million and $46 million. The two are joined by Lionel Messi in 2013, who earned $41.3 million. Messi and Ronaldo are consistently in the top 10 over the years.
Ronaldo remains the highest-earning football player in 2020 with $105 million in total with a salary and winning of $60 million. However, Messi takes the title of the highest salary and winnings with $72 million. He also recorded the highest salary in 2019 with $92 million.
This is followed by Neymar, who earned $70.5 million in salary and winnings and $25 million in endorsements for a total of $95.5 million. For the highest-earning association football player of all time, David Beckham takes the title with an earning of $800 million.
Next is boxing, a widely popular sport in the United States and other countries, especially in the Philippines. In fact, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. had the highest earnings in 2012 with $62 million and $85 million, respectively. The two periodically appeared in the top 10 list over the years.
In 2019, Canelo Alvarez earned $94 million, making him the most recent biggest earner to make the top 10 list. His earnings are comprised of $92 million in salaries and winnings and $ million in endorsements.
However, it is important to note that Mayweather is the highest earning boxer of all time, with earnings of $735 million. He also has the highest salary and winning in 2018 with $275 million.
While boxing looks like the most lucrative sport in this list, the largest earners from 2010 to 2020 are basketball players. Stephen Curry may have the highest salary and winnings ($37.8 million) among the Forbes lists’ baskeball players.
However, they are consistently on the lists. In fact, there are always two or three basketball players on each list. In 2020, LeBron James earned a total of $88.2 million ($28.2 in salary and winnings), followed by Curry with $74.4 million ($30.4 million in salary and winnings).
James is the highest earner in 2019, with a total of $89 million. However, Michael Jordan is the highest-paid basketball player of all time with a total of $1.85 billion, followed by Kobe Bryant ($800 million) and Shaquille O’Neal ($735 million).
With the sacrifice and hard work required to be a professional athlete, it is only understandable that athletes are paid millions. This list sheds light on basketball as the highest-paying sport, especially with endorsements and other deals.