Sponsorships Send Top Athletes’ Pay to Record Highs

    • The 50 highest earning athletes set records across multiple sports, but no MLB, NHL, or NASCAR athletes made the list.
    • The threshold for making the list also set a new record.

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Top athletes are getting paid record amounts, and endorsements are the driving force.

The 50 highest-paid athletes from the one-year period ending May 1 made more than they ever have, according to Forbes.

Conor McGregor topped the list with his $180 million year. Lionel Messi ($130 million), Dak Prescott ($107.5 million), LeBron James ($96.5 million), and Naomi Osaka ($60 million) set the respective records for soccer, football, basketball, and female athletes.

  • Most of the top 50 play either football (18) or basketball (13). The listed NBA players all had at least $7 million in endorsements, but NFL players not named Brady or Mahomes were much more dependent on their salaries.
  • With the pandemic canceling events and trimming event purses, golf and tennis stars were highly reliant on sponsorships. Tiger Woods and Roger Federer made a relative pittance, $200,000 and $30,000, respectively, for their play, but raked in $60 million and $90 million in endorsements.
  • Naomi Osaka ($55 million in endorsements), Phil Mickelson ($40 million), Serena Williams ($40 million), and Novak Djokovic ($30 million) each made between $1-5 million on the court or golf course.

No baseball players made the top 50, but they might have in a normal year. The league prorated 2020 salaries to around 37% of their original value because the season was shortened to 60 games. Six players, led by Mike Trout’s $37.7 million, would have made the list just based on their 2021 salaries.

No NHL or NASCAR athletes crossed the list’s $34 million threshold — the highest it’s ever been.