These 20 Athletes Have Earned The Most Money In Sporting History

highest paid athletes of all time

Oh! to be a star athlete! if it isn’t the best thing in the world, then it is really close… Not only do they earn directly for showing amazing skills on-field, their stardom guarantees more cash flow via lucrative endorsement and sponsorship deals, off-field. But, the earnings of these hunky men weren’t half as valuable back in the days and on top of that, retirement for most arrived rather too early. Fortunately, that all changed beginning in the 1960’s thanks to a certain man named Arnold Palmer, you may have heard of him.

The legendary golfer was the first athlete ever to unlock the flood gates of lucrative sponsorship and endorsement deals which today accounts for a greater part of athlete’s earnings. For instance, Palmer himself earned $3.6 million in salary and prize money throughout his 52-year career but continued to earn as much as $40 million annually even in his final years alive, thanks to his numerous endorsement deals. Michael, Jordan, Jack Nicklaus, David Beckham, are just a few retired athletes who still earn from the sponsorship deals they inked during their hey days.

As originally compiled by Forbes, these 20 athletes earned a cumulative $16.4 billion (adjusted for inflation) from since they turned pro in their careers to May 2016. Most of them with active careers are set to exceed heights attained by their predecessors, thanks to their ever skyrocketing paychecks for on and off-field endeavors. Per Forbes, the earnings for each athlete was calculated pretax from salaries, prize money, bonuses, licensing, endorsement, golf course designs, appearances and book sales. From boxers to soccer players, golfers, base/basket ballers, here are the world’s highest paid athletes of all time.

20. Manny Pacquiao

Total Earnings: $490 million

Manny Pacquiao 2

Manny Pacquiao got his pro career breakthrough in 2008 after defeating Oscar De La Hoya in a bout that generated $70 million in revenue- the highest ever in his career at the time. Pacman went on to establish himself by defeating the likes of Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley. His 2015 bout against Floyd Mayweather became the highest pay-per-view ever recorded for a bout, generating $400 million in revenue from 4.6 million buys. Though Manny was defeated, he went home with at least $150 million from the fight purse. In total, Manny has generated $1.2 billion from 19.2 million buys.

19. Oscar de la Hoya

Total Earnings: $510 million


Oscar De La Hoya fought professionally for 16 years ending his career in 2009 with the record of the highest income earned in pay-per-view- $700 million from over 14 million buys. His 2007 bout against Floyd Mayweather dubbed “The World Awaits” generated a record $130 million in revenue. However, both feats were later broken by both Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. He runs his own combat sports promotional firm, Golden Boy Promotions.

18. Jeff Gordon

Total Earnings: $515 million

Jeff Gordon Net Worth

In the Sprint Cup series, Gordon has earned almost $150 million in career prize money making him the first driver to win over $100 million in Sprint Cup series. Gordon retired in 2015 but returned in 2016 as a substitute driver for No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet replacing injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. Together with Rick Hendrick, Gordon co-owns No. 48 Chevrolet driven by Jimmie Johnson. He also owns an equity stake in the No. 24 team. He owns a wine line with Briggs & Sons Winemaking, Co. From 2015, he became the global business adviser for Sponsor Axalta Coating Systems.

17. Lionel Messi

Total Earnings: $520 million


The five-time Ballon d’Or winner led his team to a treble victory at the end of the 2014/2015 season. Such feats are the reason why the Argentine receives income raise annually. His current base salary stands at €40 million annually. Messi counts Gatorade, Huawei, EA, Tata Motors Gillette and Adidas among his endorsement partners. The later worth $10 million annually is the most lucrative.


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