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The 12 Highest Earning Athletes of All Time By Sport

Being an elite professional athlete can result in hundreds of millions of dollars in earnings, but it’s not always what you make on the court or field. The top earners use a combination of sports skills and business savvy to create a diverse portfolio of income. After all, you can’t be at the top of your sport forever, and you need to find a way to keep that money coming in.

From Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods to Peyton Manning, these athletes started earning during their playing days and continue to bring in impressive amounts of money each year. They’re all at the top of their respective sports. Here’s how much they’ve made.

NBA: Michael Jordan — $2.6B

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Michael Jordan is the highest-earning athlete of all-time—but his NBA salary made up only a tiny portion of his career earnings. When Jordan was playing, he made just over $93 million in salary. Of course, players weren’t paid as much back in the 80s and 90s, but Jordan was still very well compensated in his final two seasons. In fact, his 1997-98 salary (his final year with the Chicago Bulls) is $52 million when adjusted for inflation. That would be the highest single-season salary in NBA history.

Jordan has made plenty of money in other endeavors, too. He bought a majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets in 2010 for $175 million; today the team is worth billions of dollars. He’s also had long-lasting partnerships with major companies like Nike, Hanes, and McDonald’s, and his Jordan Brand apparel line has proven lucrative, making $4.7 billion in revenue in 2020. Jordan has made over $1 billion from Nike and Jordan Brand alone.

Golf: Tiger Woods — $2.1B

Tiger Woods is proof that a good brand can carry you far. Sure, he’s done plenty on the golf course — he’s won 82 PGA Tour events (tied for first), 15 men’s major championships (second all-time), and has achieved several golf records. But due to a car accident in February 2021, he hasn’t participated in a match all year long. He’s only made seven starts on the PGA Tour since the 2019-20 season.

Yet despite tumultuous moments throughout his career—several sponsors dropped him after reports of infidelity surfaced in 2009—Woods has maintained key partnerships with companies like Nike and EA Sports. And even without participating in a single event in 2021, Woods’ social media popularity will earn him $8 million this season.

Soccer: Cristiano Ronaldo — $1.24B

Cristiano Ronaldo has had a spectacular on the field career, winning five Ballon d’Or awards and holding records for the most appearances, goals, and assists in Champions League play. 

He’s used his good looks and fashion sense to land solid endorsement deals off the pitch, too. He’s got his own mobile game (Cristiano Ronaldo Heads Up) and social networking app, and has secured deals with apparel and perfume companies.

Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Boxing: Floyd Mayweather — $1.2B

Floyd Mayweather made a ton of money in the boxing ring. He defeated fighters like Oscar de la Hoya, Manny Pacquiao, and Canelo Alvarez en route to a perfect 50-0 record, with 27 knockout victories. His most recent bout came in 2017, when he beat Conor McGregor in a fight that reportedly earned Mayweather more than $300 million.

Though Mayweather earned lots of money in the ring and endorsing companies—even rocking a brand logo on his boxing trunks or a shirt walking into the room could net him millions—he’s found a post-retirement interest in real estate. Mayweather’s goal is to make a billion dollars from real estate investments, and he’s already built a strong portfolio, reportedly owning nine skyscrapers.

Racing: Michael Schumacher — $1.13B

In his prime, Michael Schumacher was the top F1 racer in the game. He held the records for the most wins (91), pole positions (68) and podium finishes (155) by the time he retired in 2012. Additionally, he helped develop the lightweight carbon helmet, has a role in the movie Cars, and has donated more than $1.7 million to UNESCO. 

Since retiring, Schumacher has suffered some tremendous hardships. In December of 2013, he was in a serious ski accident that left him paralyzed, unable to speak, and experiencing memory loss. Though he’s made progress in his recovery, the latest reports are that he’s still struggling to communicate. 

Tennis: Roger Federer — $1.12B

Roger Federer is one of the best tennis players to ever take the court. He’s won 20 men’s singles titles and has been the world’s No. 1 player, per the ATP rankings, for a total of 310 weeks. That included a stretch of 237 weeks in a row (or more than four and a half years) where Federer was the world’s top dog. As a result, he’s earned millions from matches and tournaments.

Yet it’s been Federer’s impressive nose for business that has made him the highest-earning tennis player of all time. The London School of Marketing named Federer the most marketable person in sports, and he has global partnerships and endorsement deals with major companies like Mercedes-Benz, Uniqlo, Credit Suisse, and Gillette. He’s not quite done on the tennis court, but he’s got plenty of business opportunities in the pipeline.

Baseball: Alex Rodriguez — $650M

There’s a significant dropoff between Federer and Alex Rodriguez, and in this case, it’s Rodriguez’s salary that makes up the bulk of his career earnings. A-Rod made just shy of $400 million during his playing days—more than any other athlete has ever made on the field—largely due to a 10-year, $252 million contract he got from the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees.

Since retiring, Rodriguez has made a foray into real estate and attempted to purchase stakes in pro sports teams. He’s also made appearances on Shark Tank, investing in businesses in an attempt to diversify his portfolio.  

Football: Peyton Manning — $570M

Peyton Manning holds several individual NFL records, including MVP awards (5), Pro Bowl appearances (14), 4,000-yard passing seasons (14), single-season passing yards (5,477 in 2013), and single-season passing touchdowns (55 in 2013). He also ended his career in a pretty cool way, winning Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos and name-dropping Budweiser in his post-game speech.

Though he hasn’t thrown a football in a pro game since 2016, Manning is still doing plenty of work with the NFL. He and his brother Eli host the Manningcast on ESPN 2, breaking down Monday Night Football games with special guests and a ton of that Manning charm.

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