Cristiano Ronaldo
Soccer players are the highest-paid athletes on the list of top earners, occupying two of the top three positions.

The list of the world's highest-paid athletes has been unveiled, with soccer stars taking centre stage. But who dethroned LeBron James from the top spot?

A new battleground is emerging, not for on-field dominance or entertainment value, but for who commands the biggest paycheck. Who are the athletes pulling in the most money worldwide? Interestingly, the highest earners come from just three sports: football (American), basketball, and soccer.

Top Earners On The Field

  • Cristiano Ronaldo– $260 million
  • Jon Rahm – $218 million
  • Lionel Messi – $135 million
  • LeBron James – $128 million
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo – $111 million

A Statista graphic breaks down the top eight highest-paid athletes globally, highlighting their estimated earnings. Two athletes based in Saudi Arabia at the top of the list highlight the country's growing financial clout in the world of sports.

The World's Highest-Paid Athletes
Soccer players are the highest-paid athletes on this list, followed by basketball players and golfers. Statista

Including two NBA players on the list speaks volumes about the league's robust financial health. Forbes' annual list reveals a historic milestone: all ten top earners surpassed the $100 million mark for the first time. Notably, four athletes within the top eight, including the top two, received their biggest paychecks from entities backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Football Takes Center Stage

Football dominates the highest earners' list, with two players occupying the top three spots. This isn't surprising. The sport's immense global popularity translates into significant financial rewards. Players in Europe's top divisions and the rising Saudi Pro League command hefty salaries. Additionally, lucrative endorsement deals with major brands further boost their earnings.

Underlining Saudi Arabia's growing financial clout in the sport, the country opened a museum dedicated to football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo last year, celebrating his remarkable career. In 2022, Ronaldo's high-profile move from Manchester United to Al Nassr in the Saudi Pro League sparked initial reports of a staggering $207 million annual contract.

However, the final deal guaranteed him a base salary of $75 million with potential bonuses pushing the total value towards $200 million. Lionel Messi's arrival in Major League Soccer (MLS) has been a boon for both the league and Inter Miami, significantly raising their profiles.

This positive development for MLS comes despite Lionel Messi's recent setback. China recently cancelled two planned friendlies featuring Argentina due to tensions surrounding the star player.

Rising Star Makes A Switch

Spanish golfer Jon Rahm emerged as this year's runner-up, joining the PIF-backed LIV Golf series in December 2023. Previously a vocal critic of LIV, Rahm ultimately signed a lucrative multi-year deal reportedly worth $350 million, with a significant upfront payment, according to Forbes.

Interestingly, only James, Messi, and Antetokounmpo on this list rake in more from endorsements and sponsorships than their playing salaries. LeBron James reigns supreme in off-field earnings, pulling in a staggering $80 million annually, fueled in part by his recent partnership with DraftKings.

While a member of the Fenway Sports Group, the four-time NBA MVP was also involved with the Strategic Sports Group, which recently invested $3 billion in the PGA Tour. This chart further breaks down each athlete's earnings, separating their on-field income from their endorsement deals (off-field).

Take Kylian Mbappé at PSG for instance. His primary income comes from his salary and performance incentives. In contrast, Neymar's earnings are heavily skewed towards endorsements, surpassing his PSG income.

This list showcases some of the world's most phenomenal athletes, renowned for their exceptional talent and remarkable achievements. Their dedication and hard work are richly rewarded, as reflected in their impressive earnings.

This infographic offers a fascinating glimpse into the lucrative world of professional sports, highlighting the immense financial rewards that top athletes can achieve.