8 Highest-Paid Sports Stars of the 21st Century

The 21st Century has been a golden era for sports stars, with some of the biggest names from a variety of disciplines commanding massive salaries and sponsorship deals. Thanks to broadcasting networks battling it out amongst each other for the TV rights to major events, sportsmen and women have seen their salaries skyrocket since the turn of the century.

For example, the start of the 2022/23 English Premier League season saw the league’s mega money new TV deal kick into action. The deal is worth £4.8 billion, and that isn’t even the largest amount paid to broadcast a sports league. American Football’s NFL and cricket’s Indian Premier League both sold their TV rights for more than the aforementioned price.

Elsewhere, the 2017 boxing super fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor generated a whopping 4.3 million pay-per-view buys in the USA alone, worth an estimated $600 million. And it is with the greatest boxer of his generation that we start…

1. Floyd Mayweather

Source: britannica.com

You don’t get the nickname ‘Money’ for nothing. Floyd Mayweather is the greatest boxer of his generation, and perhaps of all time. Throughout his professional career, he earned an eye-watering $1 billion. And if that wasn’t enough, the Pretty Boy retired undefeated, picking up victories over household names such as the aforementioned McGregor, Manny Pacquaio, and Oscar De La Hoya.

In the fight against Pacquaio, Mayweather made around $250 million, the most any boxer has made in a single fight.

2. Lionel Messi

Source: forbes.com

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and Lionel Messi is the sport’s biggest star. The Argentinian genius secured his legacy this winter, leading his nation to FIFA World Cup glory for the first time in a generation. Heading into the tournament, according to OddsChecker, which compares odds and free bets, had made La Albiceleste one of the favorites for glory in Qatar, and the South Americans didn’t disappoint.

Messi, who plays forward for Paris Saint-Germain, has dominated the sport since he began his career in 2004. He has earned an estimated $650 million in salary and bonuses.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo

Source: football365.com

One of Messi’s fiercest rivals, Ronaldo is soccer’s second-highest-paid star. The Portuguese footballer has earned an estimated $650 million from salary and endorsements, and even has his own line of CR7-branded clothing and accessories.

The footballing icon has recently signed a record breaking $400m two-year deal with Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, and that deal could see him overtake the earnings of both Mayweather and Messi in years to come.

4. LeBron James

Source: latimes.com

Basketball is the second-most popular sport in the world, and James has been at the top of the game since 2003. The forward-center for the Los Angeles Lakers has earned an estimated $500 million from salary and endorsements, including appearances in the hit TV show Space Jam 2.

King James, as he’s affectionately known, is arguably the planet’s most recognisable current basketball star. The Los Angeles Lakers’ man has picked up four NBA championship rings throughout his illustrious career – two with the Miami Heat, one with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, and one with the Lakers.

However, it’s highly unlikely that he will add another one this term. The Lakers are currently way down in 13th position in the Western Conference with a record of 19 wins and 23 losses. It will take a herculean effort if they are to qualify for the postseason playoffs.

5. Roger Federer

Source: forbes.com

Tennis has seen a resurgence this century, with Federer occupying the top spot in the sport throughout the 2000s. The Swiss champion has earned an estimated $470 million from prize money and endorsements. And he may have ended up earning more than that, had the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal not overthrown him as the sport’s biggest stars.

The recently retired Federer picked up the bulk of his titles between 2003 and 2010. During that period, he won 16 Grand Slams, including a record five consecutive Wimbledon championships.

Federer also enjoyed a resurgence later in his career, when he would win another Wimbledon in 2017, before claiming back-to-back Australian Open’s in 2017 and 2018, the latter of which came at the ripe old age of 37.

6. Tiger Woods

Source: golfweek.usatoday.com

Arguably the most recognizable star in the world of sports, and definitely in the world of golf, Woods earned an estimated $410 million from salary, bonuses, and endorsements. He won 14 Major championships between 1997 and 2019, and he added to his fortune with his Tiger Woods Foundation, golf courses, and other ventures.

The vast majority of Woods’ successes came over a ten-year period between 1997 and 2007. However, he too enjoyed a late-career resurgence. Woods claimed the Masters crown in 2019 – much to the delight of golf fans worldwide – and picked up a cool $2m for his troubles.

7. Phil Mickelson

Source: npr.org

Another legend in the world of golf, Mickelson has earned an estimated $415 million since he turned pro in 1992. The American left-hander has won five Major championships and launched a range of golf apparel and accessories.

8. Neymar

Source: aa.com.tr

The Brazilian forward plays for Paris Saint-Germain and is one of the most decorated football players of the 21st century, with numerous awards and honors. He has earned an estimated $360 million from salary and endorsements, including his own line of Neymar Jr. branded merchandise.

The former Barcelona and Santos star still holds the record for the most expensive transfer in football history. The Parisians paid €222m to Barcelona to acquire the Brazilian’s services back in August 2017, with the player reportedly earning €600,000 per week, after tax. Neymar is, however, yet to reward his club’s Qatari owners with the one prize they so desire, the UEFA Champions League.

PSG came close back in 2020 when they reached the final. However, they were downed by Bayern Munich in Lisbon to finish the tournament as runners-up. A replay of that tie will take place at the last 16 stage this season, and the club from the French capital will be gunning for revenge.