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Ronaldo, LeBron Top The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes Of 2017

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LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003 out of high school and within three years established himself as the most dominant force in the game. He’s racked up four MVP awards and 11 first-time All-NBA selections. But it was not until the 2016-17 season that James had the NBA’s top salary.

James signed a three-year, $100 million contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers in July after leading the club to their first NBA title in franchise history a month earlier. His $31 million salary this season made him just the third NBA player after Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to earn $30 million. The salary bump pushed his total earnings, including endorsements and playoff bonuses, to $86.2 million.

James has become a global icon in a sport with massive worldwide appeal, but he still can’t quite match the earnings of the biggest star in the most popular sport on the planet. Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo banked $93 million over the past 12 months to retain the crown of the world’s highest-paid athlete for the second straight year. James moves up one spot to second this year with his career-high haul.

Ronaldo has had 12 months for the ages. He was named FIFA’s best player in the world for the fourth time, scored his 600th career goal and secured a contract extension with Real that will pay more than $50 million annually for the next four years. Ronaldo inked a lifetime deal with Nike worth upward of $1 billion, and on Sunday he led Real to a second straight Champions League title. Real is the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles.

Ronaldo earned $58 million from Real in salary and bonuses, while sponsors kicked in another $35 million. The Portuguese forward has endorsements deals with Nike, Tag Heuer, Herbalife, Abbott Labs and others. Meanwhile, his growing line of CR7 branded products now include shoes, underwear, fragrance, jeans and a line of hotels.

Sponsors get a good bang for their buck from Ronaldo thanks to his 277 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. His 121 million Facebook fans are more than any other person in the world. Ronaldo posts actively with mentions or logos of his sponsors displayed. His posts highlighting Nike generated $500 million in media value alone for the sportswear giant during 2016, according to Hookit, which tracks the social engagement of athletes.

James’ salary jumped $8 million this year and his off-court income is up slightly to $55 million. He replaced Samsung and Tencent in his endorsement portfolio with Intel and Verizon. Other sponsors include Nike, Coca-Cola, Beats by Dre and Kia Motor. His business empire is growing through his production company, SpringHill Entertainment. He is also part of an investment group in the fast-growing Blaze Pizza chain with 17 franchises in Chicago and South Florida. James has made $680 million during his 14-year NBA career, with only 29% from his playing salary.

See Highest Paid Athletes List Here

Rounding out the top five highest-paid athletes are Lionel Messi ($80 million), Roger Federer ($64 million) and Kevin Durant ($60.6 million). The top five is the same as last year with only James and Messi swapping places.

The 100 highest-paid sports stars earned a cumulative $3.11 billion over the past 12 months, down 1% from last year. But the threshold to make the list rose $600,000 to $21.4 million.

Our earnings figures include salaries, prize money and bonuses earned between June 1, 2016, and June 1, 2017. Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorships, appearance fees and licensing incomes for the same 12-month period based on conversations with dozens of industry insiders. We do not deduct for taxes or agents’ fees, and we don’t include investment income (click here for a more detailed methodology and the numbers behind the top 100).

Athletes from 21 countries are represented among the top 100, but Americans dominate the list with 63 entries thanks to soaring salaries in the NBA, NFL and MLB. A record 32 NBA players made the cut, up from 18 in 2016. Credit the league’s new $24 billion TV contract, which pushed the salary cap up 34% this season. Twenty-nine NBA players made at least $20 million in salary during the 2016-17 season.

Endorsements and appearance fees make up 29% of the total pie for the top 100 athletes with Nike the more prolific with 48 athletes under contract. The Swoosh has committed $9.4 billion in future endorsement contracts to athletes, teams and leagues per its 2016 financial filings.

The makeup of athletes’ earnings run the gamut. Take golfer Tigers Woods (No. 17, $37.1 million). He generated 99.7% of his earnings from sponsors with only $107,000 in prize money as the 14-time Majors winner was sidelined by injuries. Similarly, track star Usain Bolt (No. 23, $34.2 million) earns $32 million from sponsors, accounting for 94% of his income. On the other end of the spectrum is pitcher Zack Greinke (No. 67, $24.1 million), who makes only $50,000 off the field or 0.2% of his income.

The top 100 athletes are a boys’ club more than ever. Two or three female tennis players qualified each year since Forbes expanded its athlete ranking to 100 names in 2012, but Serena Williams (No. 51, $27 million) is the lone female athlete to make the cut this year. Mainstay Maria Sharapova failed to make the grade after reductions in her endorsement contracts due to her 15-month suspension for a failed drug test.

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The World’s 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019

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The Dallas Cowboys kick off training camp this weekend as the defending NFC East champions. Last season ended with a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams, which marked 23 straight years the Cowboys were shut out of the NFC Championship game. Only the Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions have longer title-game droughts.

But America’s Team remains the biggest must-see show in sports. Nine of the 50 highest-rated sports TV broadcasts in 2018 were regular season Cowboys games, helping goose ratings for CBS, NBC and Fox (the Patriots were the only other team with more than four games among the top 50).

Cowboys fever helps owner Jerry Jones generate an estimated $340 million in sponsorship and premium seating revenue at AT&T Stadium, twice as much as any other team.

While Jones’ team has come up short on the field the past 20-plus years, the Cowboys are the world’s most valuable sports franchise for the fourth-straight year at $5 billion. Jones has capitalized on the insatiable appetite for all things Cowboys.

READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2019: Messi, Ronaldo And Neymar Dominate The Sporting World

“On and off the field, in season and out of season, there is a small soap opera going on every day,” Jones told my colleague Mike Ozanian last fall during a taping of ForbesSportsMoney on the YES Network. “Everyone knows that marketing, especially in this day and time, is just another way to promote the circus, so to speak.”

Jones has always been a visionary since he bought the Cowboys for $150 million 30 years ago. He revolutionized stadium sponsorships; broke away from the NFL’s shared merchandise revenue system; launched a stadium-management firm, Legends Hospitality, with the New York Yankees; and opened a $1.5 billion practice facility in 2017.

The New England Patriots' Tom Brady
The New England Patriots’ Tom Brady MADDIE MEYER/GETTY IMAGES

The result: Dallas sits atop the globe’s richest sports league with profits, in the sense of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, of $365 million in 2017, a record for any sports team.

The cutoff to rank among the world’s 50 most valuable sports teams is $2.075 billion, up $125 million from last year and $1.2 billion from five years ago. The values of sports teams have skyrocketed on the backs of ballooning media rights deals and more owner-friendly collective bargaining agreements that restrain player costs. There are 52 teams across all sports worth at least $2 billion, up from one, Manchester United, in 2012.

The NFL is still the most dominant sports league when it comes to the worth of its franchises. More than half of the top 50 are football squads. Credit the monster media-rights deals with the likes of CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and DirecTV that paid out more than $260 million per team last year. The TV haul is a nice cushion to easily cover teams’ biggest expense item, player costs, before any tickets, sponsorships, beer or replica jerseys are sold. The cap on player salaries was $177 million last season (each team is also on the hook for $40 million annually in player benefit costs).

READ MORE | Simidele Adeagbo: What I Learned From The Most Terrifying Winter Olympics Sport

The New York Yankees moved up three spots to just behind the Cowboys with a value of $4.6 billion, up 15%. The Bronx Bombers head seven MLB teams that made the top 50. The Yankees are surging on and off the field. They own the best record in the American League this season, after posting 100 wins last year. Attendance at Yankee Stadium jumped 10% last year to 3.5 million fans, the highest for the club since 2012. Viewership of Yankees games on the YES Network was 57% higher than any other baseball franchise in 2018.

Real Madrid ranks third at $4.2 billion and highest among the eight soccer clubs in the top 50. The La Liga club was the last sports team deemed the world’s most valuable before the Cowboys secured the title starting in 2016. Real banked more than $100 million for winning its second-straight Champions League crown last year.

Don’t look for Real Madrid to set any records with regard to the richest sports team sale, currently $2.3 billion for the sales of the Carolina Panthers in 2018 and the Brooklyn Nets in 2019. Real is owned by its more than 90,000 members, who elect a club president. It’s a similar structure at rival Barcelona, which ranks fourth overall with a value of $4.02 billion.

The Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry
The Golden State Warriors’ Stephen CurryGREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES

NBA teams have made the most dramatic moves this decade. The New York Knicks headline nine hoops teams in the top 50 this year. Their $4 billion value, up 11%, ranks fifth among all sports teams. The Los Angeles Lakers ($3.7 billion) and Golden State Warriors ($3.5 billion) also cracked the top 10. In 2012, the Lakers were the most valuable NBA team at $900 million and ranked 35th out of all sports franchises. The Knicks were the only other NBA team in the top 50 in 2012.

Three NBA franchises have been sold for at least $2 billion since 2014 (Nets, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers). The prior NBA-record sale price was $550 million for the Milwaukee Bucks, which closed three months before Steve Ballmer’s $2 billion blockbuster purchase of the Clippers.

READ MORE | The 10 Most Notable New Billionaires Of 2019

Investors salivate at the NBA’s international prospects, with 300 million basketball players in China and annual revenue growing outside the U.S. at a rate in the high teens. The 2016 CBA locked in player costs at 50% of the league’s surging revenue, and league-wide profits are up tenfold over the past seven years by Forbes’ count.

The world’s richest sports teams are almost all swimming in cash these days. Barcelona, which lost $37 million due to excessive player costs, was the only top-50 team to post a loss on an operating basis, and every other team turned a profit of at least $25 million. More than half of the teams made more than $100 million, led by the Cowboys at $365 million.

The franchise values below are based on Forbes’ published valuations over the past 12 months. Team values reflect enterprise values (equity plus debt). No teams from the NHL, Nascar, MLS or Formula One made the top 50. The highest-ranking franchise outside of the NBA, NFL, MLB and European soccer was the New York Rangers at 72nd with a value of $1.55 billion.

Gridiron Rules

The NFL remains the most dominant sports leagues with more than half of the 50 most valuable sports franchises, but the other major sports chipped away at its dominance during the past year.

More Than a Game

The discount bin is empty when shopping for teams in the major sports leagues. Every NFL, NBA and MLB franchise is now worth at least $1 billion.

Candlestick Chart
Trophy Assets

Manchester United was the world’s only pro sports team worth more than $2 billion in 2012. Now there are at least 50, including almost every NFL team.

Pictograph 1
The World's 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams
RICH SCHULTZ/GETTY IMAGES, ADAM GLANZMAN/MLB VIA GETTY IMAGES, BOB LEVEY/GETTY IMAGES

50 New Orleans Saints (NFL)

  • Value: $2.08 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owner: Gayle Benson
  • Operating Income*: $115 million

49 | Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL)

  • Value: $2.08 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Shahid Khan
  • Operating Income: $63 million

47 (tie) | Kansas City Chiefs (NFL)

  • Value: $2.1 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owners: Lamar Hunt Family
  • Operating Income: $60 million

47 (tie) | St. Louis Cardinals (MLB)

  • Value: $2.1 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 11%
  • Owner: William DeWitt Jr.
  • Operating Income: $65 million

46 | Arizona Cardinals (NFL)

  • Value: $2.15 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Wiliam Bidwill
  • Operating Income: $74 million

45 | Liverpool (Soccer)

  • Value: $2.18 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 12%
  • Owners: John Henry, Tom Werner
  • Operating Income: $128 million

44 | Los Angeles Clippers (NBA)

  • Value: $2.2 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 2%
  • Owner: Steve Ballmer
  • Operating Income: $40 million

43 | Dallas Mavericks (NBA)

  • Value: $2.25 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 18%
  • Owner: Mark Cuban
  • Operating Income: $99 million

42 | Arsenal (Soccer)

  • Value: $2.27 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 1%
  • Owner: Stanley Kroenke
  • Operating Income: $102 million

41 | Los Angeles Chargers (NFL)

  • Value: $2.28 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owners: Spanos Family
  • Operating Income: $48 million

38 (tie) | New York Mets (MLB)

  • Value: $2.3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 10%
  • Owners: Fred & Jeff Wilpon, Saul Katz
  • Operating Income: $30 million

38 (tie) | Carolina Panthers (NFL)

  • Value: $2.3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: David Tepper
  • Operating Income: $62 million

38 (tie)| Houston Rockets (NBA)

  • Value: $2.3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 5%
  • Owner: Tilman Fertitta
  • Operating Income: $103 million

37 | Brooklyn Nets (NBA)

  • Value: $2.35 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 2%
  • Owners: Mikhail Prokhorov, Joe Tsai
  • Operating Income: $53 million

36 | Indianapolis Colts (NFL)

  • Value: $2.38 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: James Irsay
  • Operating Income: $67 million

35 | Minnesota Vikings (NFL)

  • Value: $2.4 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Zygmunt Wilf
  • Operating Income: $90 million

34 | Oakland Raiders (NFL)

  • Value: $2.42 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 2%
  • Owner: Mark Davis
  • Operating Income: $25 million

33 | Miami Dolphins (NFL)

  • Value: $2.58 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Stephen Ross
  • Operating Income: $56 million

32 | Chelsea (Soccer)

  • Value: $2.58 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 25%
  • Owner: Roman Abramovich
  • Operating Income: $127 million

31 | Seattle Seahawks (NFL)

  • Value: $2.58 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 6%
  • Owners: Pat Allen Trust
  • Operating Income: $71 million

30 | Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL)

  • Value: $2.59 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 5%
  • Owners: Daniel Rooney Trust, Art Rooney II
  • Operating Income: $85 million

29 | Baltimore Ravens (NFL)

  • Value: $2.59 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owner: Stephen Bisciotti
  • Operating Income: $107 million

28 | Atlanta Falcons (NFL)

  • Value: $2.6 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 5%
  • Owner: Arthur Blank
  • Operating Income: $113 million

27 | Green Bay Packers (NFL)

  • Value: $2.63 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 3%
  • Owners: shareholder-owned
  • Operating Income: $62 million

26 | Denver Broncos (NFL)

  • Value: $2.65 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 2%
  • Owners: Pat Bowlen Trust
  • Operating Income: $106 million

25 | Manchester City (Soccer)

  • Value: $2.69 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 9%
  • Owner: Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Operating Income: $168 million

24 | Philadelphia Eagles (NFL)

  • Value: $2.75 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owners: Jeffrey Lurie
  • Operating Income: $114 million

22 (tie)| Boston Celtics (NBA)

  • Value: $2.8 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 12%
  • Owners: Wycliffe & Irving Grousbeck, Robert Epstein, Stephen Pagliuca
  • Operating Income: $100 million

22 (tie)| Houston Texans (NFL)

  • Value: $2.8 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Robert McNair
  • Operating Income: $161 million

21 | New York Jets (NFL)

  • Value: $2.85 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owner: Robert Wood Johnson IV
  • Operating Income: $130 million

19 (tie) | Chicago Bears (NFL)

  • Value: $2.9 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 2%
  • Owners: McCaskey family
  • Operating Income: $100 million

19 (tie) | Chicago Bulls (NBA)

  • Value: $2.9 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 12%
  • Owner: Jerry Reinsdorf
  • Operating Income: $115 million

18 | San Francisco Giants (MLB)

  • Value: $3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 5%
  • Owner: Charles Johnson
  • Operating Income: $84 million

17 | Bayern Munich (Soccer)

  • Value: $3.02 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: -1%
  • Owners: Club members
  • Operating Income: $129 million

16 | San Francisco 49ers (NFL)

  • Value: $3.05 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owners: Denise DeBartolo York, John York
  • Operating Income: $106 million

14 (tie) | Chicago Cubs (MLB)

  • Value: $3.1 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 7%
  • Owners: Ricketts family
  • Operating Income: $87 million

14 (tie) | Washington Redskins (NFL)

  • Value: $3.1 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Daniel Snyder
  • Operating Income: $122 million

12 (tie) | Los Angeles Rams (NFL)

  • Value: $3.2 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 7%
  • Owner: Stanley Kroenke
  • Operating Income: $68 million

12 (tie) | Boston Red Sox (MLB)

  • Value: $3.2 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 14%
  • Owners: John Henry, Thomas Werner
  • Operating Income: $84 million

10 (tie) | Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB)

  • Value: $3.3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 10%
  • Owners: Guggenheim Baseball Management
  • Operating Income: $95 million

10 (tie) | New York Giants (NFL)

  • Value: $3.3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owners: John Mara, Steven Tisch
  • Operating Income: $149 million

9 | Golden State Warriors (NBA)

  • Value: $3.5 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 13%
  • Owners: Joe Lacob, Peter Guber
  • Operating Income: $103 million

| Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)

  • Value: $3.7 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 12%
  • Owners: Jerry Buss Family Trusts, Philip Anschutz
  • Operating Income: $147 million

7 | New England Patriots (NFL)

  • Value: $3.8 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 3%
  • Owner: Robert Kraft
  • Operating Income: $235 million

| Manchester United (Soccer)

  • Value: $3.81 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: -8%
  • Owners: Glazer family
  • Operating Income: $238 million

5 | New York Knicks (NBA)

  • Value: $4 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 11%
  • Owner: Madison Square Garden Company
  • Operating Income: $155 million

| Barcelona (Soccer)

  • Value: $4.02 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: -1%
  • Owners: Club members
  • Operating Income: –$37 million

| Real Madrid (Soccer)

  • Value: $4.24 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owners: Club members
  • Operating Income: $112 million

| New York Yankees (MLB)

  • Value: $4.6 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 15%
  • Owners: Steinbrenner family
  • Operating Income: $30 million

| Dallas Cowboys (NFL)

  • Value: $5 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owner: Jerry Jones
  • Operating Income: $365 million

Forbes; Kurt Badenhausen

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The World’s 100 Highest-Paid Celebrities

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The pop singer Taylor Swift lands the number 1 spot on the Forbes 2019 Celebrity 100 list, her highest earnings year yet.


RankNameAgeEarningsCategory
#1Taylor Swift29$185 MMusicians
#2Kylie Jenner21$170 MPersonalities
#3Kanye West42$150 MMusicians
#4Lionel Messi32$127 MAthletes
#5Ed Sheeran28$110 MMusicians
#6Cristiano Ronaldo34$109 MAthletes
#7Neymar27$105 MAthletes
#8The Eagles$100 MMusicians
#9Dr. Phil McGraw68$95 MPersonalities
#10Canelo Alvarez28$94 MAthletes
#11Roger Federer37$93.4 MAthletes
#12Howard Stern65$93 MPersonalities
#13J.K. Rowling53$92 MAuthors
#14Russell Wilson30$89.5 MAthletes
#15Dwayne Johnson47$89.4 MActors
#16Aaron Rodgers35$89.3 MAthletes
#17LeBron James34$89 MAthletes
#18Rush Limbaugh68$87 MPersonalities
#19Elton John72$84 MMusicians
#20Jay-Z49$81 MMusicians
#20Beyoncé Knowles37$81 MMusicians
#22Ellen DeGeneres61$80.5 MPersonalities
#23Stephen Curry31$79.8 MAthletes
#24Chris Hemsworth$76.4 MActors
#25Drake32$75 MMusicians
#26Kim Kardashian West38$72 MPersonalities
#27Ryan Seacrest44$71.5 MPersonalities
#28Sean Combs49$70 MMusicians
#28James Patterson72$70 MAuthors
#30Metallica$68.5 MMusicians
#31Robert Downey Jr.54$66 MActors
#32Kevin Durant30$65.4 MAthletes
#33Akshay Kumar51$65 MActors
#34Tiger Woods43$63.9 MAthletes
#35Gordon Ramsay52$63 MPersonalities
#36Rihanna31$62 MMusicians
#37David Copperfield62$60 MMagicians
#38Kevin Hart40$59 MComedians
#39Jackie Chan65$58 MActors
#39Travis Scott28$58 MMusicians
#41Katy Perry34$57.5 MMusicians
#41Justin Timberlake38$57.5 MMusicians
#43BTS$57 MMusicians
#43Bradley Cooper44$57 MActors
#43Pink39$57 MMusicians
#43Adam Sandler52$57 MActors
#47Scarlett Johansson34$56 MActresses
#48Ben Roethlisberger37$55.5 MAthletes
#49Lewis Hamilton34$55 MAthletes
#49Anthony Joshua$55 MAthletes
#49Khalil Mack28$55 MAthletes
#52Russell Westbrook30$53.7 MAthletes
#53Billy Joel70$52 MMusicians
#54Bruno Mars33$51.5 MMusicians
#55Novak Djokovic32$50.6 MAthletes
#55Mike Trout27$50.6 MAthletes
#57Jimmy Buffett72$50 MMusicians
#57Eminem46$50 MMusicians
#59Fleetwood Mac$49 MMusicians
#59Judy Sheindlin76$49 MPersonalities
#61Phil Mickelson49$48.4 MAthletes
#62Ariana Grande26$48 MMusicians
#62Paul McCartney77$48 MMusicians
#64James Harden29$47.7 MAthletes
#65Conor McGregor30$47 MAthletes
#66DeMarcus Lawrence27$46.9 MAthletes
#67Sean Hannity57$46 MPersonalities
#67The Chainsmokers$46 MMusicians
#69Steve Harvey62$45 MPersonalities
#70Bryce Harper26$44.5 MAthletes
#71Guns N’ Roses$44 MMusicians
#72Chris Paul34$43.8 MAthletes
#73Chris Evans$43.5 MActors
#74Kyrie Irving27$43.3 MAthletes
#75Giannis Antetokounmpo24$43.2 MAthletes
#76Jennifer Lopez49$43 MMusicians
#76Sofía Vergara47$43 MTelevision actresses
#78Luke Bryan42$42.5 MMusicians
#79Drew Brees40$42.4 MAthletes
#80Simon Cowell59$42 MPersonalities
#81Aaron Donald28$41.4 MAthletes
#82Damian Lillard28$41.1 MAthletes
#83Paul Rudd$41 MActors
#83Jerry Seinfeld65$41 MComedians
#83Rolling Stones$41 MMusicians
#86Sebastian Vettel32$40.3 MAthletes
#87DJ Khaled43$40 MMusicians
#87Marshmello27$40 MMusicians
#87The Weeknd29$40 MMusicians
#90Lady Gaga33$39.5 MMusicians
#91Blake Griffin30$39.1 MAthletes
#92Dave Matthews Band$39 MMusicians
#92Rory McIlroy30$39 MAthletes
#94Paul George29$38.6 MAthletes
#95Zac Brown Band$38.5 MMusicians
#95Calvin Harris35$38.5 MMusicians
#95Kendrick Lamar$38.5 MMusicians
#98Brandin Cooks25$38 MAthletes
#98Shawn Mendes20$38 MMusicians
#100Celine Dion51$37.5 MMusicians

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Hip-Hop’s Next Billionaires: Richest Rappers 2019

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Back in 2007, Jay-Z made a bold statement in song about both his lyrical prowess and his future financial fortunes: “I’m already the G.O.A.T.–next stop is the billie.”

Sure enough, Forbes declared him hip-hop’s first billionaire earlier this month. The news caught the attention of observers around the world—not only due to the breadth of Jay-Z’s financial achievement, but because of what it means for others looking to follow in his footsteps.

“Jay-Z’s entire life is the real blueprint,” says hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, longtime host of the show Yo! MTV Raps. “He’s one of the best examples in our lifetime of one who’s truly achieved the American dream and billionaire status.”

Naturally, Jay-Z tops this year’s ranking of hip-hop’s richest stars. Who will be the next billionaire from the rap world? The answer is almost certainly one of the names below.

richest rappers Drake
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5. Drake

$150 million

The 32-year-old Canadian is the youngest on this list by a decade, but he’s quickly gaining ground on hip-hop’s elder statesmen. Drake’s fortune grew 50% over the past year, boosted by holdings ranging from real estate to his Virginia Black whiskey, as well as a lucrative tour and new residency at the XS Nightclub in Las Vegas.

“Every year, we just want to get more prepared and better at touring and better at things that make money,” he told Forbes in 2013 (his average gross has since surged from $500,000 to more than $2 million per stop). “That’s pretty much my objective every year, other than making good music.”

richest rappers Kanye
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4. Kanye West

$240 million

A onetime protégé of Jay-Z, the superproducer has been making headlines recently for his Sunday Service, an invitation-only get-together mostly in Southern California that is reportedly frequented by the likes of Courtney Love and Tyler, the Creator. He took the show on the road in April for a Coachella service on Easter Sunday featuring appearances by Chance the Rapper, DMX and a gospel choir—while hawking socks and “holy spirit” sweatshirts. But selling church clothes alone won’t be enough to push West into ten-figure territory.

Despite declaring himself $53 million in debt and beseeching Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion to fund future creations in 2016, West makes his debut on this list thanks to a another patron: Adidas, which lured West and his Yeezy shoe line from Nike several years ago. Our accounting of West’s wealth is almost entirely predicated on a conservative estimate of that brand’s value. As it continues to scale up, he could one day join his sister-in-law, Kylie Jenner, as a billionaire.

richest rappers Diddy
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3. Diddy

$740 million

“I started my business career at age 12, delivering newspapers,” Diddy explained two years ago in our centennial issue, where we named him one of the world’s greatest living business minds. “Since then, I’ve always understood that if I give the customers my best and service them differently, whether music, clothing or vodka, I’ll get a return on my hard work.”

The artist formerly known as Puff Daddy dips to No. 3 on this list as industry trends weigh on some of his holdings, including cable network Revolt and clothing line Sean John (though Diddy has sold much of his stake in the latter, he retains a sizeable piece). But Ciroc, the main driver of his fortune, is growing again after case volumes fell from all-time highs in recent years—making the impresario perhaps the most likely candidate to join Jay-Z in the billion-dollar club.

richest rappers dr dre
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2. Dr. Dre

$800 million

It’s been five years since Dr. Dre proclaimed himself a billionaire, but Forbes still doesn’t agree with the assessment made in the wake of Apple’s $3 billion 2014 purchase of his Beats By Dr. Dre headphone line. The superproducer owned an estimated 20%-25% of the company at the time; of the $2.6 billion Apple paid upfront in cash, another $295 million was earmarked to cover debt payments, leaving Dre with a little over $500 million.

Even with the vesting of his final slug of Apple stock last summer, Dre hasn’t quite made it into billionaire territory. He has spent heavily over the years on property (he paid $40 million for Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen’s Los Angeles estate) and charitable donations (along with Beats cofounder Jimmy Iovine, he gave $70 million to start a school at USC). And with his formal involvement at Apple seemingly wrapping up, Dre will likely need to get back on the festival circuit—or start a new company—if he’s to make good on his 2014 declaration.

richest rappers jay-z
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1. Jay-Z

$1 billion

Though he’s hip-hop’s first billionaire, Jay-Z’s lead on the rest of the pack is even larger if his entire family fortune is taken into consideration: He and wife Beyoncé are now worth a combined $1.4 billion. So much for the notion that music is a dying business.

“To convince artists that you can’t be an artist and make money … was the greatest trick in music that people ever pulled off,” Jay-Z told Forbes in 2010. “I think the people that were making the millions said that.”

Methodology

In order to compile our ranking of the richest rappers, we use the same procedures employed in the calculation of our annual billionaires list: poring over financial documents, valuing major assets, and consulting with analysts, managers, attorneys and other industry insiders.

Cover photographs: Getty Images (Dr. Dre: AP Images)

-Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes Staff

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