The last year has been devastating for all industries, including sports industry. It was quite the year for athletes. Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open when officials refused to let her skip a post-match interview. Lionel Messi tried to leave the only professional club he has ever known. Lebron James won a championship at Disney World. There have been quite a few surprises for the world’s elite athletes. And well -some of them extended out to their bank accounts.
Even as the pandemic cancelled hundreds of sporting events and left tournaments scrambling (even in 2021), the world’s 50 highest-paid athletes turned in a record-setting year. This is mainly due to money earned from endorsements, rather than just their playing contract.
As Forbes reports, off the field earnings for these athletes crossed over $1 billion for the first time. The total earnings for the top 50 came to a whopping $2.8 billion (16% higher than 2020) in a year where ticket sales were near zero. Unsurprisingly, Americans dominate most of this list with 34 athletes. France turned out to be the only country to feature more than one athlete with Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba.
What came as a surprise, Connor McGregor takes the top spot ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo this year, making an incredible $158 million dollars off the field, following the sale of his majority stake in Irish whiskey distiller Proper No. Twelve. In 2016, Conor McGregor boasted to soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo that he would overtake him one day as sports’ highest-paid star. This year, the UFC fighter did just that.
In the Forbes list, Osaka takes the top spot on the women’s side and No. 12 in the ranking overall with $60 million, crushing the record she set for female athletes just a year ago when she was No. 29 with $37.4 million. Earnings were up from top to bottom, however. The cut-off to make the top 50 rose from $28.5 million last year to $34 million, the highest threshold ever. This represents the evolution of the sporting industry, of its ability to open avenues for athletes.