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World’s Highest-Paid Athletes 2019: What Messi, LeBron And Tiger Make

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Major League Baseball had a staggering run this year when, over a four-week period, a quartet of its biggest stars—Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Mike Trout—signed blockbuster, long-term deals worth a combined $1.3 billion. They ranked as four of the biggest playing contracts in the history of sports.

The deals will create generational wealth for their families, but only Trout, ranked 17th with $50.6 million, cracks the top 20 of the world’s highest-paid athletes.

The difference: Those four baseball stars generate barely $10 million in combined endorsement income while the top earners in basketball, soccer, tennis and golf all individually bank at least $30 million from sponsors annually; eight of the 11 best-paid athletes come from those four sports.

READ MORE | Lionel Messi Claims Top Spot on Forbes’ 2019 List Of The World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes

Most of the athletes ranked above Trout follow a similar path: Reach the highest levels of a global sport, and marketers swarm with endorsement deals to pitch their wares around the world.

Barcelona soccer legend Lionel Messi leads the way on this year’s list with $127 million, including $35 million off the pitch from partners Adidas, MasterCard, PepsiCo and more. Messi translates into every language.

Messi is only the fourth athlete to land in the No. 1 spot over the past 19 years, joining Tiger Woods (12 times), Floyd Mayweather (4) and Cristiano Ronaldo (2).

Messi succeeds Mayweather, who failed to get in the ring for a pro bout over the past 12 months but is likely still counting last year’s $285 million haul, which he earned largely from his 2017 bout against UFC star Conor McGregor.


READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes


Messi is joined by fellow global soccer icons Cristiano Ronaldo ($109 million) and Neymar ($105 million) at the top this year. It is the first time that soccer players have ranked as the top three earners in sports since Forbes began tracking athlete earnings in 1990.

Elite stars in other global sports are also extremely marketable on any continent. Roger Federer ranks fifth with $93.4 million, including $86 million off the court.

Federer will turn 38 in August and is a dinosaur in tennis years. Yet Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo signed the 20-time Grand Slam winner in 2018 to a 10-year contract worth $300 million. Federer has a dozen sponsors looking to tap the cash-rich tennis fan demographic.

Basketball’s leading trio of LeBron James ($89 million), Stephen Curry ($79.8 million) and Kevin Durant ($65.4 million) rank seventh through ninth, having earned a combined $130 million beyond their respective playing salaries.

READ MORE | The NBA’s Highest-Paid Players 2019: LeBron James Leads With $89 Million

Their shoe deals, with Nike (James, Durant) and Under Armour (Curry), are by far the biggest endorsement for each player and dwarf what an MLB player can earn pitching baseball cleats and gear.

Sportswear brands, including Adidas, have used NBA stars in China for more than a decade to help establish a foothold in the world’s biggest market, sending big names like James and Durant there every summer on promotional tours. The NBA estimates 640 million people in China watched some kind of NBA programming during the 2017-18 season—that’s nearly twice the population of the U.S.

Golf is another sport that reaches almost every corner of the globe, and no golfer has benefited more than Tiger Woods: He has made $1.4 billion during his career from endorsements and appearance fees, more than 10 times his prize money, and his net worth is a staggering $800 million. Woods ranks 11th on this year’s athletes list with earnings of $63.9 million, including $54 million off the course.

Tiger roared back over the past 12 months with his first win in five years (Tour Championship) and his first major title in 11 years (The Masters). Last year, he signed an exclusive multi-year global content partnership with Discovery’s GolfTV. Head-to-head matches are part of the deal, and most will take place outside the U.S.

The 100 highest-paid athletes earned a combined $4 billion over the past 12 months, up 5% over the previous year. The increase jumps to 16% if you strip out the one-time stimulus of the 2017 Mayweather-McGregor fight. Endorsements fueled much of the gains, with sponsor-driven income at $987 million, up 12% from the previous year.

Overall, athletes from 10 sports and 25 countries made the top 100. Basketball (35 athletes) is the most dominant sport, and Americans (62) are the most dominant nationality.

READ MORE | Inside Serena Williams’ Plan To Ace Venture Investing

Tennis ace Serena Williams ranked 63rd with $29.2 million, including $25 million off the court. She is the only woman to crack the top 100 for the second time in three years. 

No female athletes qualified last year, when Williams was just returning to tennis after a 12-month layoff for her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter, Olympia. Williams is lining up her next act with a new clothing line and a venture capital fundfocused on investing in female and minority founders.

Our earnings include prize money, salaries and bonuses earned between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019. Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorships, appearance fees and licensing incomes for the same 12-month period (click here for a more detailed methodology and the numbers behind the top 100).

-Kurt Badenhausen; Forbes Staff

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The NBA’s Highest-Paid Players 2019-20: LeBron James Scores Record $92 Million

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NBA salaries have skyrocketed in recent years, but the biggest stars have earned more off the court than on it to this point in their careers. LeBron James, who tops the ranking for the 2019-2020 season, has made more than twice as much from endorsements than his $270 million in playing salary over his first 16 years. Kevin Durant’s on-court earnings of $187 million in 12 seasons is dwarfed by his current ten-year, $275 million Nike deal.

At $92 million, including salary and endorsements, James is the NBA’s highest-paid player for the sixth straight year. It is a record haul for an active basketball player. Nike is his biggest backer, and the company is naming a new research lab at its Beaverton, Oregon, corporate campus after James. Last month, the 17th iteration of his Nike signature shoe, the LeBron XVII, hit stores.

The four-time NBA MVP added a pair of endorsement deals in 2019 with Rimowa luggage and Walmart, which joined Coca-Cola, Beats By Dre, Blaze Pizza and NBA 2K in his sponsorship stable.

He also has a budding digital media company, Uninterrupted, and a production firm, SpringHill Entertainment, which will release a sequel to the 1996 Michael Jordan vehicle Space Jam in conjunction with Warner Bros. in 2021. All of the off-court work is worth an estimated $55 million for James this season.

The Los Angeles Lakers star’s comments about the NBA’s geopolitical mess in China also reveal the precarious position everyone in the league is in as political unrest in Hong Kong shows no signs of abating.

As the league’s 74th regular season tipped off Tuesday night, the NBA was still reeling from the crisis set off by a tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

Commissioner Adam Silver backed Morey’s right to free speech, but some players didn’t, including James, who called Morey “misinformed or not really educated” on the situation. “We love China,” said Rockets point guard James Harden.

It was a rare misstep for two of the league’s more media-savvy stars, both of whom have close ties to China. Adidas, which has Harden as the face of its basketball business, generated more revenue in China last year than in North America, and the Rockets are China’s most popular team after drafting native son Yao Ming in 2002.

Nike’s China revenue topped $6 billion during the last fiscal year, and the country is a growth leader for the brand. James has represented Nike on 15 off-season trips to China. The sports giant pays James more than $30 million annually to pitch its products around the globe.

And the threat of losing its growth trajectory in China could have far-reaching consequences for team valuations.

But back at home, the financials of NBA franchises remain solid, which is good for player salaries. The league’s salary cap is soaring, fueled largely by the nine-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and TNT signed in 2014.

NBA players are entitled to 51% of the league’s “basketball-related income” as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement. The rich TV deal and budding international business means 46 players will earn a playing salary of at least $25 million this season, according to Spotrac. The $25 million club had zero members five years ago. And unlike in the NFL, every dollar is guaranteed upon signing.

The NBA's Highest-Paid Players
The Highest-Paid NBA Players - Dataviz

On-court salaries in the NBA are capped based on a player’s number of years in the league and accolades earned in cases in which an award like MVP entitles them to a bigger percentage of a team’s salary cap.

So the pecking order for the elite stars is ultimately determined by their off-court income, with the shoe deal the biggest component of those earnings. There are ten active NBA players who will make at least $10 million from their shoe contracts this year, by Forbes’ count.

Stephen Curry comes in at No. 2 on the earnings list this year and is expected to generate $85 million this season, including $45 million off the court. Under Armour represents nearly half of his off-court income.

Curry’s $40.2 million salary from the Golden State Warriors is the highest in the history of the NBA; he’s in the third season of the five-year, $201 million contract he signed in 2017. Curry’s production company, Unanimous Media, has a development deal with Sony Pictures.

Unanimous’ first movie, Breakthrough, was released in April, with Curry playing a role in marketing the Christian-oriented film, which grossed $50 million on a $14 million budget.

Durant has the NBA’s second-biggest annual shoe contract after James’ at an estimated $26 million this season. His total earnings from his playing salary and endorsements is $73 million. Nike sells more KD shoes in China than in North America, according to Durant’s business partner Rich Kleiman.

Like James and Curry, Durant has his own production company, which is co-producing a new basketball-themed drama, Swagger, that is inspired by Durant’s youth basketball experience and will air on the Apple TV+ streaming service.

The NBA’s ten highest-paid players are expected to earn a cumulative $600 million this year, including $250 million from endorsements, appearances, merchandise and media.

A Closer Look At The NBA's Highest-Paid Players
#10: Damian Lillard

Lillard signed a four-year, $196 million supermax extension in July with the Portland Trail Blazers that kicks in for the 2021-2022 season. The final year is worth $54.25 million for the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year and four-time All-Star. Lillard’s Adidas shoe deal is worth roughly $10 million annually.

#9: Giannis Antetokounmpo

The “Greek Freak” is eligible for a five-year, $248 million contract extension next summer with the Milwaukee Bucks. It would be the richest deal in the history of the sport. In June, Nike unveiled the first signature shoe, Zoom Freak 1, for the 2019 NBA MVP.

#8: Chris Paul

Only Curry will earn more on the court this season than Paul, who was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in July. Paul was an early investor and ambassador for Beyond Meat, whose stock price has quadrupled since its initial public offering in May.

#7: Klay Thompson

Thompson’s coach, Steve Kerr, says the sharpshooter is likely to miss the entire season after tearing his ACL during the NBA Finals in June. But he’ll still collect his full $32.7 million salary—almost double last year’s—under the first season of the five-year, $190 million pact he signed in July. Thompson is the basketball face of Chinese shoe brand Anta.

#6: Kyrie Irving

Irving joins his third team in four years this season. His four-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets is worth $136 million and includes an additional $4.3 million in potential incentives. A viral Pepsi ad campaign featuring Irving as the elderly Uncle Drew eventually led to a 2018 feature film; Irving has partial ownership of the character. Irving is another Beyond Meat investor.

#5: James Harden

The 2018 NBA MVP purchased a minority stake in the Houston Dynamo of MLS this summer for $15 million. Harden also holds equity stakes in BodyArmor, Stance socks and Art of Sport. His salary with the Rockets jumps $8 million this season with the start of a contract extension he signed in 2017.

#4: Russell Westbrook

Westbrook’s five-year, $207 million contract is the largest deal in the NBA right now. The eight-time All Star extended his deal with Nike’s Jordan brand in 2017 for another ten years and in 2018 received his first signature shoe, the Why Not Zer0. Westbrook has averaged a triple-double for three straight seasons.

#3: Kevin Durant

Durant is likely to miss the entire season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in June during the NBA Finals. He’ll still pocket his full first-year salary from the Brooklyn Nets under the four-year, $164 million deal he signed in July. He’s invested in more than 30 startups, including Postmates and investing app Acorns.

#2: Stephen Curry

The two-time MVP used some of his hoops money in June to buy a $31 million home in Atherton, California, with his wife, Ayesha. He also made a seven-figure donation this summer to Howard University to help launch a golf program at the school and recently signed an endorsement partnership with Callaway Golf. Curry became the only player to win the NBA MVP unanimously when he won his second of back-to-back awards in 2016.

#1: LeBron James

James signed an endorsement in 2019 with Walmart that is rooted in community work. He worked with the retail giant on its Fight Hunger. Spark Change. initiative, as well as the company’s back-to-school campaign. James is part of an investment group that owns 19 Blaze Pizza franchises across Illinois and Florida.

-Forbes; Kurt Badenhausen

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These Are The Biggest Givers On The Forbes 400

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This has been a year of record-setting in billionaire philanthropy. In September, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of POM Wonderful and Fiji Water, pledged $750 million to the California Institute of Technology for environmental sustainability research.

In June, Blackstone cofounder Stephen Schwarzman donated $189 million to the University of Oxford—the largest single gift to the school since the Renaissance—to fund its work on humanities. The same month, Broadcom billionaire Henry Samueli pledged $100 million to UCLA’s engineering school, the largest gift ever to the department. 

Forbes tracks gifts and pledges like these as part of our ongoing coverage of charitable giving by the country’s richest people.

READ MORE | The World’s Most Generous Billionaires Outside Of The US

For the second year in a row, Forbes tracked the philanthropic giving of the richest 400 individuals in the U.S. and gave each member of The Forbes 400 list a philanthropy score. The score ranged from 1 to 5,  with 5 being the most philanthropic. List members for whom we could find no charitable giving information received an N.A. (not available).

Philanthropy Forbes 400
FORBES

Though the number of the biggest givers—those who scored a 5—stayed flat in 2019, those who received scores of 4 and 3 increased compared with a year ago.

The changes reflect two things: The country’s richest have gotten somewhat more generous, and Forbes had more information to work with this year. Some billionaires were willing to share information on charitable giving for the 2019 list who didn’t in 2018. As a result, four dozen people got higher scores this year than a year ago. 

This year, Warren Buffett led the list of top givers with $38.8 billion in lifetime giving, which is 32% of his net worth, and earned the top score of 5.

He was followed by last year’s biggest giver, Bill Gates, who has donated $38.5 billion so far. Two people who scored a 5 last year—Paul Allen and David Koch—passed away.

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Billionaires like DreamWorks Pictures founder David Geffen and WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton moved up to the top score after each scored a 4 last year. According to the latest tax filings, Geffen gave $38 million to his foundation in 2017, which brought his lifetime giving to about $1 billion.

Acton and his wife Tegan, on the other hand, have been expanding their philanthropic network, Wildcard Giving, which they founded in 2014 after Acton sold WhatsApp to Facebook. The couple has given away more than $1 billion to charitable causes.

2019 Forbes 400 Giving
FORBES

Forty-one billionaires, including Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings and software billionaire Philip “Terry” Ragon, got higher scores this year than last year. Some, like Stephen Schwarzman, earned a higher score thanks to giving in the past year.

Others scored higher because we were able to find more information about their lifetime giving, through new public documents or details provided to us by Forbes 400 members or their spokespeople. In September, a Los Angeles Times report revealed that B.

Wayne Hughes, cofounder of self-storage behemoth Public Storage, had anonymously donated about $400 million to the University of Southern California in his lifetime. Hughes, who scored a 2 last year, jumped up to a 4.

Private equity tycoon Robert F. Smith’s pledge in May to wipe out the student debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College generated lots of headlines but did not end up changing his score because the gift wasn’t big enough to move him up a notch. In many cases, fortunes grew faster than lifetime philanthropic giving. 

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To come up with the information on which we based our score, Forbes reporters looked at tax filings for charitable foundations, annual statements, SEC filings and news about new gifts. When possible, we interviewed Forbes 400 members and executives from their foundations. Some Forbes 400 members said they have chosen to donate anonymously, citing religious or privacy concerns. 

Our score is based on total lifetime giving and what percent of their fortune members had given away. We weighted these two factors equally. Some individuals were then bumped up or down based on several other factors, including whether they had signed the Giving Pledge, whether they had pledged significant donations, how personally involved they were in their charitable giving, and how quickly and effectively their private foundations distributed dollars. We didn’t count pledges or announced gifts that have yet to be paid out, but we took commitment to philanthropy—or lack thereof—into account.

Forbes has been tracking the wealth of the richest Americans since 1982. “Some of [the members] told us to drop dead,” James Michaels, veteran editor of Forbes, told the New York Times in a 1982 story about the list’s debut. “They said they wanted no part of it, that they’d sue us.

This happens in reporting.” At times, our reporting on philanthropic giving received a similar response. “The new philanthropy ranking is fundamentally flawed, in that it is biased in favor of those who make their gifts widely known, and against donors who choose to make their charitable contributions anonymously,” one current Forbes 400 member (who did not wish to be named) wrote to us last year.

-Deniz Çam; Forbes

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The Highest-Paid Tennis Players 2019: Roger Federer Scores A Record $93 Million

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Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are kicking off play at the U.S. Open as the three favorites to win the title and take home a Grand Slam-record $3.85 million payday as the singles champion. The Big Three are a good bet, having captured 53 out of 63 Slams since the start of 2004, including the last 11.

The on-court dominance has produced a combined $373 million in career prize money for the trio, light years ahead of their peers. But the money off the court is even sweeter for Federer, Djokovic and Nadal, to the tune of a cumulative $1.2 billion during their careers from endorsement partners and appearance fees.

Federer is the highest-paid tennis player for the 14th straight year, with $93.4 million from prize money, endorsements and appearance fees in the 12 months ending June 1. It is a record tally by a tennis player.

READ MORE | Inside Serena Williams’ Plan To Ace Venture Investing

His sponsor portfolio is unmatched in sports, with a dozen partners together paying him more than $60 million a year, well ahead of other global sports icons like Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Credit Federer’s long run at the top—his Slam titles span 15 years—and the strong demographics of tennis fans, who spend heavily on equipment, apparel, cars, watches and financial services. The global nature of the sport also allows brands to use the players in marketing around the world.

Federer turned 38 this month, and Father Time will catch up at some point, but Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo is betting $300 million that Federer will continue to resonate with fans long after he hangs up his racket.

READ MORE | Business Is Booming For Tennis Ace Naomi Osaka, On Track To Be The Highest-Paid Female Athlete

After two decades with Nike, Federer signed a ten-year deal with Uniqlo last year that is guaranteed whether he is playing or not. In the coming months, Federer will also likely take back control of his RF logo, which stayed with Nike after their split.

After a two-year Slam drought, Djokovic has roared back to capture four of the past five majors. The titles helped push his 12-month earnings to $50.6 million, including $30 million off the court from appearances and sponsors Lacoste, Head, Asics, Seiko, NetJets and Ultimate Software. He ranks as the second-highest-paid tennis player.

Rounding out the top five players are Kei Nishikori ($37.3 million), Nadal ($35 million) and Serena Williams ($29.2 million).

Tennis is the only major sport in which women and men are in the same zip code in terms of earnings. The U.S. Open was the first Slam to offer equal payouts for the men’s and women’s events, and now each of the four Slams has equal pay. While Williams was the only woman to crack Forbes‘ 100 highest-paid athletes this year, the top ten earners in tennis are split evenly between men and women.

The top ten collectively made $312 million, up 23% from last year, fueled by huge gains by Federer, Djokovic and Naomi Osaka. See the full top ten below.

10. Sloane Stephens

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Total earnings: $9.6 million

Prize money: $4.1 million

Endorsements: $5.5 million

The 2017 U.S. Open champion returns to Flushing Meadows this year wearing a tennis shoe based on the “Aqua” colorway of Nike’s retro Air Jordan VIII. Her Nike pact, which began last year, is one of the biggest in the sport. Stephens recently announced her engagement to soccer star Jozy Altidore.

9. Simona Halep

The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
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Total earnings: $10.2 million

Prize money: $6.2 million

Endorsements: $4 million

Halep has won only one event in 2019, but it was a big one: Wimbledon, and its $3 million payday, her second career Grand Slam title. The Romanian pro counts Nike, Wilson, Mercedes-Benz and Hublot among her sponsors.

8. Angelique Kerber

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Total earnings: $11.3 million

Prize money: $5.3 million

Endorsements: $6 million

Kerber triggered lucrative bonuses from sponsors, namely Adidas, with her 2018 Wimbledon title and year-end rank of second in the world. In addition to Adidas, the German pro has also renewed deals with SAP, Generali and NetJets since Wimbleon and recently inked a new pact with Procter & Gamble’s Head & Shoulders brand. Other endorsements include Yonex, Porsche, Rolex and Lavazza.

7. Alexander Zverev

Rogers Cup Montreal - Day 8
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Total earnings: $11.8 million

Prize money: $6.3 million

Endorsements: $5.5 million

The 22-year-old German is a rising star on the ATP Tour and has 11 career titles, including the 2018 year-end ATP Finals, which was worth $2.5 million in prize money. He has a large deal with Adidas, in addition to endorsements with Head, Peugeot, Richard Mille and Zegna.

6. Naomi Osaka

Western & Southern Open - Day 5
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Total earnings: $24.3 million

Prize money: $8.3 million

Endorsements: $16 million

Osaka will see her endorsement number soar even higher, having signed a series of deals since her 2018 U.S. Open win. The biggest is with Nike, which was inked just ahead of our June 1 cutoff and is worth an estimated $10 million annually. She also recently added a series of endorsement partners—Hyperice, BodyArmor and Muzik—where she received equity stakes in the businesses.

5. Serena Williams

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Total earnings: $29.2 million

Prize money: $4.2 million

Endorsements: $25 million

The world’s highest-paid female athlete four years running had a record year off the court after her return to tennis following the birth of daughter Olympia. She added deals with Pampers, Axa Financial and General Mills to her roster. Williams’ next act is tackling venture investing, focused largely on companies led by women or people of color.

4. Rafael Nadal

Rogers Cup Montreal - Day 10
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Total earnings: $35 million

Prize money: $9 million

Endorsements: $26 million

The Spaniard is one of the biggest draws in tennis and can command appearance fees of more than $1 million a pop. His primary sponsors include Nike, Babolat, Kia Motors, Telefónica, Richard Mille and Mapfre.

3. Kei Nishikori

TENNIS: AUG 07 Coupe Rogers
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Total earnings: $37.3 million

Prize money: $4.3 million

Endorsements: $33 million

Nishikori and Zverev are the only non-Slam winners among the ten highest-paid tennis players. But Nishikori’s robust endorsement portfolio is fueled by his status as the most successful Japanese player ever. He is set to be one of the faces of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. His sponsors Asahi, NTT, Japan Airlines, Lixil, Procter & Gamble and Nissin are all official Olympics partners.

2. Novak Djokovic

Western & Southern Open - Day 6
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Total earnings: $50.6 million

Prize money: $20.6 million

Endorsements: $30 million

There have been ten tennis seasons in which a player won more than $12 million in prize money. Djokovic owns seven of those years. His $135 million in career prize money has him $9 million ahead of Federer. Djokovic’s Lacoste endorsement is one of the richest deals in the sport.

1. Roger Federer

Day Eleven: The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
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Total earnings: $93.4 million

Prize money: $7.4 million

Endorsements: $86 million

In addition to his blockbuster Uniqlo pact, Federer added a multimillion-dollar deal with Rimowa last year. The luggage brand joined Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, Moet & Chandon, Barilla and others in Fed’s endorsement stable.

-Kurt Badenhausen; Forbes

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