Forbes' annual ranking of the world's highest-paid athletes reveals that Lionel Messi has claimed the top spot, leading a group of athletes who collectively earned over $990 million in the past 12 months. Despite a change in teams, Messi's earnings remain impressive, with $130 million in pre-tax gross earnings. This marks the second time Messi has secured the top position, the first being in 2019. While his salary at Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) is estimated to be lower than his final year at FC Barcelona, a surge in endorsements has helped him match his record-setting earnings from the previous year.

Top Performers and Record-Breaking Earners :

Alongside Messi, other notable athletes have secured lucrative positions on the list. Cristiano Ronaldo, who also switched teams by moving from Juventus to Manchester United, lands at No. 3 with $115 million in earnings. LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers secures the second spot with $121.2 million, surpassing the previous NBA record he set last year. James becomes one of only ten athletes ever to earn over $100 million in a single year, a feat Messi and Ronaldo have achieved five times each.

Collective Earnings and Notable Trends :

Forbes' estimates indicate that the top ten highest-paid athletes collectively earned $992 million over the past year. Although this represents a 6% drop from the previous year, it is primarily due to Conor McGregor's exceptional earnings of $180 million in 2021, which stemmed from the sale of his Irish whiskey brand. Nonetheless, the total earnings for this year's top ten athletes rank as the third-highest ever recorded.

The cutoff to make it into the top ten increased significantly, reaching $80.9 million, indicating the continued growth of athletes' earnings. Off-field endeavors, including endorsements, appearances, memorabilia, licensing fees, and business ventures, contributed to an estimated $500 million in earnings for the top ten athletes. This figure remains relatively steady compared to the previous year's record earnings.

The Influence of Cryptocurrency and NFTs :

The incorporation of cryptocurrency and NFT platforms into sports marketing has helped offset the decline in earnings caused by McGregor's absence from the top ten. Messi, for instance, signed a deal worth $20 million annually with Socios, a blockchain-based "fan engagement" app. Other athletes such as Stephen Curry, Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant have aligned themselves with various crypto exchanges and platforms, leveraging the growing popularity and financial opportunities presented by the crypto industry.

Conclusion :

Lionel Messi's return to the top of Forbes' highest-paid athletes list highlights his consistent financial success, even after switching teams. Alongside Messi, renowned athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James have secured top positions, showcasing their financial prowess. Despite a slight decline in collective earnings compared to the previous year, the top ten athletes continue to earn substantial amounts, with a notable increase in the cutoff to make the list. Furthermore, the integration of cryptocurrency and NFT platforms in sports marketing demonstrates the evolving landscape of athlete endorsements and the significant financial opportunities they provide.


#1. Lionel Messi - $130 Million

Lionel Messi, the 34-year-old Argentine soccer player, is a force to be reckoned with both on and off the field. His total earnings amount to a staggering $130 million. On-field, Messi rakes in $75 million, while his off-field ventures bring in $55 million.

Messi's on-field earnings are a testament to his exceptional soccer skills. Despite a slightly challenging season, he remains one of the best in the world. He won the prestigious Ballon d'Or award in 2021, solidifying his status as the top men's soccer player.

Off the field, Messi's endorsement portfolio is nothing short of impressive. He boasts partnerships with renowned brands such as Adidas, Budweiser, and PepsiCo. Additionally, he became the first athlete brand ambassador for Hard Rock International in a deal announced last year. These endorsements, combined with a $20 million-a-year partnership with Socios, contribute significantly to his off-field earnings.

#2. LeBron James - $121.2 Million

LeBron James, the 37-year-old basketball superstar from the United States, is not just dominant on the court but also a formidable presence off the court. He amassed a total income of $121.2 million, with $41.2 million coming from his on-field endeavors and a staggering $80 million from off-field ventures.

Although his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, missed the playoffs in the past season, James' off-court ventures have propelled him to new heights. He starred in the successful movie "Space Jam: A New Legacy" and moved his talk show, "The Shop," from HBO to YouTube. Furthermore, he sold a minority stake in his production company, SpringHill, for approximately $725 million, significantly boosting his net worth.

James is no stranger to lucrative endorsement deals. He partnered with and appeared in a Super Bowl commercial alongside a computer-generated version of his younger self. He also made investments in companies like Tonal and StatusPRO, expanding his business portfolio beyond the basketball court.

#3. Cristiano Ronaldo - $115 Million

Cristiano Ronaldo, the 37-year-old Portuguese soccer sensation, commands a total income of $115 million. His on-field earnings amount to $60 million, while his off-field ventures contribute another $55 million.

Ronaldo's first season with his new team, Manchester United, did not live up to expectations, with the team finishing in sixth place in the Premier League standings. However, his earning power remains strong, largely driven by his massive social media following. With 690 million followers across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, Ronaldo has considerable influence over his fans and attracts high-paying sponsors like Nike, Herbalife, and Clear shampoo.

Beyond his endorsements, Ronaldo is an astute investor. He has invested in Tatel restaurants and is the face of ZujuGP, an upcoming digital soccer community app. Ronaldo's business acumen and sporting prowess contribute to his significant earnings.

#4. Neymar - $95 Million

Neymar, the 30-year-old Brazilian soccer star, boasts a total income of $95 million. His on-field earnings amount to $70 million, while his off-field ventures bring in $25 million.

Neymar's soccer career reached a milestone when he scored his 400th career goal in November. However, he faced criticism following Paris Saint-Germain's early exit from the Champions League. His attention has now shifted to the World Cup in Qatar, which he considers potentially his last.

Off the field, Neymar has secured valuable endorsement deals with brands such as Puma and Red Bull. He also ventured into the world of entertainment with the release of a Netflix docuseries titled "Neymar: The Perfect Chaos." Furthermore, he has shown interest in non-fungible tokens (NFTs), signing with the platform NFTSTAR and acquiring two Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs.

#5. Stephen Curry - $92.8 Million

Stephen Curry, the 34-year-old basketball sensation from the United States, has amassed a total income of $92.8 million. His on-field earnings account for $45.8 million, while his off-field endeavors bring in $47 million.

Curry's impact on the court is evident, as he emerged as the highest-paid NBA player in terms of salary for the past season. He signed a lucrative four-year, $215 million contract extension with the Golden State Warriors in August. His endorsement deals, including a partnership with FTX, have further boosted his earnings.

Curry's involvement in blockchain technology and NFTs has expanded in recent times. He released a collection of NFTs tied to his sneakers and various metaverse platforms, with the proceeds pledged for donation. Additionally, his production company, Unanimous Media, signed a development deal with Comcast NBCUniversal, showcasing Curry's diverse interests beyond basketball.

#6. Kevin Durant - $92.1 Million

Kevin Durant, the 33-year-old basketball star from the United States, has a total income of $92.1 million. His on-field earnings amount to $42.1 million, while his off-field ventures bring in an impressive $50 million.

Durant's prowess on the court is well-recognized, and he has a significant sneaker deal with Nike, earning approximately $28 million annually. This deal places him second only to LeBron James among active players. In addition to Nike, Durant has recently secured partnerships with Coinbase, NBA Top Shot, and Weedmaps.

Beyond endorsement deals, Durant's business ventures extend into media and investments. He co-founded the media company Boardroom and Thirty Five Ventures, an investment firm. He has made investments in NFT platform OpenSea, digital fitness startup Future, and participated in SeatGeek's SPAC merger. Durant and his longtime business partner, Rich Kleiman, have also announced plans to launch their own SPAC, actively seeking acquisition opportunities.

#7. Roger Federer - $90.7 Million

Roger Federer, the 40-year-old tennis legend from Switzerland, has a total income of $90.7 million. While his on-field earnings amount to a modest $0.7 million due to limited tournament appearances, his off-field ventures contribute a significant $90 million.

Despite battling injuries and limited playtime in recent years, Federer remains one of the most influential athletes in the endorsement world. He is a brand ambassador for companies such as Uniqlo and Rolex, solidifying his status as the top pitchman in sports. Federer also made a smart investment in the Swiss shoe brand On in 2019, which went public in September 2021, raising over $600 million.

Federer's involvement with On goes beyond being an investor. He actively collaborates with the company on product design, including the development of a pro tennis shoe. His contributions to the brand showcase his passion for innovation both on and off the tennis court.

#8. Canelo Alvarez - $90 Million

Canelo Alvarez, the 31-year-old Mexican boxing sensation, earns a total income of $90 million. His on-field earnings amount to an impressive $85 million, while his off-field ventures contribute $5 million.

Alvarez's boxing prowess has made him one of the sport's biggest draws. He earned over $40 million from his two pay-per-view victories in 2021. Additionally, he has a lucrative partnership with Hennessy and owns a taco restaurant in Mexico, with plans for expansion into California. Alvarez has expressed his intention to launch a chain of gas stations and is actively involved in promoting fights in Mexico through his company, Canelo Promotions, in partnership with Matchroom Boxing and DAZN.

Alvarez's entrepreneurial spirit and diverse business interests complement his success in the boxing ring, positioning him as a prominent figure in both sports and business.

#9. Tom Brady - $83.9 Million

Tom Brady, the 44-year-old American football legend, brings in a total income of $83.9 million. His on-field earnings amount to $31.9 million, while his off-field ventures contribute a substantial $52 million.

Brady's retirement plans took a backseat as he returned for another season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His spectacular performance at the age of 43 led to his team's success in the 2021 season. Off the field, Brady has been actively involved in various business ventures. He co-founded Autograph, an NFT platform, which raised $170 million in a funding round. He also co-founded the production company Religion of Sports, which secured a content deal with Skydance Sports.

Brady's production company, 199 Productions, is behind the upcoming movie "80 for Brady," and he has launched a clothing line called BRADY. Additionally, he has secured a lucrative commentator role with Fox Sports for when he eventually retires from football. This deal is reported to surpass his on-field earnings over his 22-season NFL career, amounting to $375 million over ten years.

#10. Giannis Antetokounmpo - $80.9 Million

Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 27-year-old Greek basketball star, earns a total income of $80.9 million. His on-field earnings amount to $39.9 million, while his off-field ventures contribute $41 million.

Antetokounmpo, a two-time NBA MVP, signed a massive five-year, $228 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2020, making it the largest contract by total value in NBA history at the time. He has made strategic investments, including participating in a funding round for timepiece resale platform WatchBox, which raised $165 million.

Antetokounmpo has expanded his endorsement portfolio with licensing deals with NFT platform NFTSTAR, as well as endorsements with WhatsApp and Google's Pixel 6 phone. Additionally, his life story will be featured in the biopic "Rise," set to be released on Disney+ in June, allowing fans to gain a deeper understanding of his journey.

Despite his young age, Antetokounmpo has already established himself as a prominent figure in the basketball world, both on and off the court. His strategic investments and endorsement deals showcase his business acumen and growing influence in the sports and entertainment industry.

Sport Globel