We all know we live in a world were sports has evolved to be one of the biggest money making industries on the planet. As a result of this, there have been some outstanding individuals in their respective fields who have reaped the rewards of their hard work and sweat and are now making money moves today.
Below are the top 7 athletes who have earned at least a billion U.S. dollars in their career:
7. Leo Messi
Net Worth: $400 million
Total Career Earnings: $1 billion
Messi became just the second footballer in history to achieve the feat of earning a billion dollars while still active as a player. He has played for Barcelona for the most part of his career and earns a whooping sum of over 100 million dollars yearly at his new club PSG. Part of his wealth also comes from endorsements such as Pepsi, Adidas and Konami as he has gotten over 34 million dollars through these endorsements.
6. Cristiano Ronaldo
Net Worth: $500 million
Total Career Earnings: $1 billion
Cristiano Ronaldo who currently plays for Manchester United is the third athlete after Tiger Woods and Floyd Mayweather to hit the $1 billion earnings mark while still actively competing.
According to Forbes, $650 million of Ronaldo’s career earnings have come from his salary as he has played for various clubs including Machester United, Real Madrid and Juventus. The rest of his earnings comes off the pitch, with Forbes saying he earned around $45 million via endorsements in the past year. Among the most notable of his off-court pursuits is his lifetime contract with Nike, which according to Forbes, only Michael Jordan and LeBron James also have.
5. Floyd Mayweather
Net Worth: $400 million
Total Career Earnings: $1.1 billion
Floyd Mayweather earned $500 million from just two fights. He made $250 million for fighting Manny Pacquiao in 2015 and $300 million taking on MMA superstar Conor McGregor in 2017. Mayweather has been dominating the sport of boxing for more than two decades.
Floyd’s first professional fight occurred on October 11, 1996. He knocked out his opponent, Roberto Apodaca, in the second round. During his career, Floyd went on to win an unprecedented six boxing championships in five different weight classes: Super Featherweight, Lightweight, Junior Welterweight, Welterweight twice, and Super Welterweight.
During his peak boxing years, Floyd was consistently (and by far) the highest-paid athlete in the world. Floyd could easily earn $150 – $300 million a year when he was fighting. Between June 2014 and June 2015, Floyd earned a mind-boggling $300 million. Between June 2017 and June 2018, Floyd earned a total of $300 million, mostly thanks to his fight against McGregor. He is the wealthiest boxer in history.
4. Jack Nicklaus
Net Worth: $400 million
Total Golf Earnings: $5.6 million
Total Career Earnings: $1.15 billion
Jack Nicklaus popularly known as The Golden Bear, is widely considered to be the greatest golfer of all time. He won 18 major championships over 25 years. During his pro career, Nicklaus focused on the Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship while also playing a selective schedule of PGA Tour events.
He finished his PGA career with 73 victories. Nicklaus formally retired from pro golf in 1996 even though he continued to play occasionally for another decade.
Even though it has been a long time since Nicklaus made the bulk of his income from playing golf, don’t call the Golden Bear retired. In fact, he is far from retirement. He founded Nicklaus Design nearly 50 years ago and has designed more than 380 golf courses in 36 countries. But course design is just one part of Nicklaus’s empire.
He has a line of golf balls and, like his former rival Arnold Palmer, has licensed his name to the AriZona Beverage company for a branded lemonade. He’s also got endorsement and marketing deals with a number of companies including Perry Ellis and Rolex.
Speaking of his AriZona beverage deal, Nicklaus made sure he had his old rival Arnold Palmer’s blessing before entering into the licensing deal. Palmer signed with the company first and Nicklaus didn’t want to step on his toes, so to speak.
3. Arnold Palmer
Net Worth: $700 million
Total Golf Earnings: $3.6 million
Total Career Earnings: $1.35 billion
Arnold Palmer earned a scant $3.6 million in prize money during his 52 years playing golf on the PGA Tour and the Senior Tour. While $3.6 million is a decent amount of money, it’s not really enough to sustain Palmer and his family for the 43 years between his last win and his September 2016 death at 87.
Fortunately, Palmer was a savvy guy. At his peak he made more than $40 million a year thanks to endorsements, licensing agreements, and 500 retail stores selling Arnold Palmer branded clothing and footwear in Asia.
After his career in golf ended, Palmer turned himself into the ultimate pitchman. He had dozens of endorsements with companies that included Cadillac, Hertz, Pennzoil, and others. In 2014, Rolex extended its deal with Palmer for another 10 years. At the time the legendary golfer was 85-years-old and had been in a partnership with the watchmaker for half a century.
Golfers are an attractive option for businesses and brands looking for a spokesperson. Golf traditionally reaches a demographic with high levels of disposable income. Golfers also have a much longer career than say, your typical NFL player. Golf is also internationally popular.
In addition to endorsements, Palmer in the 1970s founded a golf course design firm. He was also instrumental in founding the Golf Channel and owned the Bay Hill Golf Course in Orlando, Florida for more than 40 years.
As Palmer got into his 80s, Palmer’s team focused on licensing deals such as lending his name to a line of drinks with the AriZona Beverage Co. that generates $200 million a year for the company—which is one-fourth of the company’s revenues – and several million annually for Palmer himself.
Palmer created the model that every athlete wants to follow. He had a long, successful, lucrative career in his sport, and then he went out and made about 240 times more money in the 43 years between his last professional golf game and his death. Arnold Palmer died in September 2016 at the age of 87.
2. Tiger Woods
Net Worth: $800 million
Total Winnings from Golf: $120 million
Total Career Earnings: $1.5 billion
It’s unclear if Tiger Woods will ever recover and play golf again professionally after his horrific February car crash. Over the course of his professional golf career to date, Woods has earned more than $1.5 billion. He is the highest earning golfer of all time. He was also the highest-earning celebrity year in and year out for many years.
Woods turned pro in August 1996 and was named “Sports Illustrated’s” 1996 Sportsman of the Year and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. On April 13, 1997, he won his first major, the Masters, and became the tournament’s youngest winner, at age 21. Two months later, he set the record for the fastest ascent to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Woods was the dominant force in golf from 2000 to 2010. He was the top-ranked golfer in the world from August 1999 to September 2004 (264 weeks) and again from June 2005 to October 2010 (281 weeks). During this time, he won 13 of golf’s major championships. The next decade of Woods’ career was marked by comebacks from personal problems and injuries.
Woods fell to number 58 in the world rankings in November 2011 before ascending again to the No.1 ranking between March 2013 and May 2014. Woods competed in only one tournament between August 2015 and January 2018, and he dropped off the list of the world’s top 1,000 golfers due to the four back surgeries he had between 2014 and 2017.
On his return to regular competition, Woods made steady progress to the top of the game, winning his first tournament in five years at the Tour Championship in September 2018 and his first major in 11 years at the 2019 Masters.
1. Michael Jordan
Net Worth: $2.2 billion
Total NBA Salary: $93.7 million
Average Annual Income Today: $100 million
As of this writing, Michael Jordan is worth an impressive $2.2 billion. Obviously that’s not from his many years as the dominant player in the NBA. During his 15 years in the NBA, Jordan made just $93.7 million in salary.
He was the first athlete in history to earn more than $30 million a year, which happened way back in the 1996-1997 season when he made a base salary of $30.14 million.
For the 1997-1998 seasons, he made $33.14 million, which adjusted for inflation is equal to more than $53 million. Jordan continues to earn at least $100 million a year from endorsements and other business ventures.
The bulk of Jordan’s $2.2 billion net worth is due to his ownership of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. He was a minority investor in the team starting in 2006 and took control of the team in 2010. Jordan’s timing in buying majority control of the Hornets could not have been better.
When he was approved for the deal in March 2010, the franchise was valued at $175 million. Since that time, NBA values have skyrocketed. He owns about 90% of the franchise, which was most recently valued at a minimum of $1.5 billion.