For the first time in four years, the list for the world’s top-earning athletes dropped according to the 2020 Forbes ranking as the coronavirus wreaked havoc on sports and canceled or postponed many marquee events for the first time since World War II.
The 100 highest-paid athletes earned a combined $3.6 billion this year, which is 9% below 2019 and the first decline since 2016, when boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao skewed the results with a $400 million payout from their May 2015 “Fight of the Century” pay-per-view bout.
Roger Federer takes the top spot for the first time, with $106 million of pre-tax earnings, edging past Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have swapped the No. 1 spot in three of the past four years. The two soccer icons earned a combined $209 million during the past 12 months, a $28 million drop from 2019, due to salary reductions at many European soccer clubs when league play was halted in March.
Federer, who has the best endorsement portfolio in sports, is just the ninth athlete to have landed in the top spot since 1990, the first year Forbes began tracking athletes’ earnings.
He is also the first tennis player in the 30-year history to land at No. 1 after drawing $100 million off the court, thanks to deals with Uniqlo, Credit Suisse and Mercedes-Benz and 10 other partners. Ronaldo earned $45 million from Nike, Altice, Herbalife and his own CR7 brand, while Messi pulled in $32 million from Adidas, MasterCard and PepsiCo.
Athletes from 21 countries and 10 sports make the final cut this year, as do two women: Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams the first time more than one woman has made the ranks since 2016, when Williams appeared with Maria Sharapova.
Osaka, who earned $3.4 million in tournament pay, is another dream endorser, collecting $34 million from brands including Nike, Nissan Motor and Procter & Gamble. No female athlete from any other sport besides tennis has ever made this elite rank.
While more NBA players make the list than any other sport, NFL players had the best year as a group thanks to the season’s late-summer start that has left them unaffected by the pandemic. Altogether 31 football stars made the cut, up from 19 a year ago. In contrast, MLB players were the hardest hit following the postponement of Opening Day in March: only one professional baseball player, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, made the cut, down from 15 in 2019.
With Nascar and German soccer the only major sports leagues back in action so far, the earnings downturn is likely to extend for another ranking season.
- Roger Federer is the world’s highest-paid athlete for the first time, thanks to an unmatched portfolio of lucrative endorsement deals.
- The biggest prize in his stable is Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo, which locked him up in 2018 under a 10-year, $300 million deal.
- Federer has won $130 million in prize money in his career, but the total is dwarfed by his off-court earnings from appearances and endorsements.
- The greatest men’s tennis player of all time briefly returned to the No. 1 ranking in 2018, becoming the oldest man by more than three years to do it.
- His eponymous foundation has raised more than $50 million and educated 1.5 million children in Africa since its launch.