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Top-10 Highest Earning Athletes of the Last Year

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
May/20/2021

Much of the sports world was forced to hit the pause button in 2020. Stadiums sat empty, schedules were reduced, and unbelievably there was a time that the most exciting event on the sports calendar was Russian table tennis and curling. American baseball fans drafted fantasy teams made up of Taiwanese players. Bettors across the world suddenly became experts on lower-tier soccer in Belarus.

Billions of sports dollars have been lost over the last 12 months, and some parts of the industry may never recover. But as with most of the rest of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, those at the top did just fine. In fact, the top-10 highest-paid athletes over the last 12 months made $1.05 billion, 28% more than the previous year. 

10. Kevin Durant ($75 million) 

Even with an Achilles injury, the last year for Kevin Durant was fantastic. He made $31 million for his on-court exploits and another $44 million with his media company, Thirty-Five Ventures. He also won an Oscar as the executive producer of Two Distant Strangers. 

9. Tom Brady ($76 million) 

Cashing out in New England, cashing in with Tampa Bay, and adding a film production company to his wellness brand TB12 gave Tom Brady a total of $76 million over the last 12 months. He’s also become an extremely well-paid speaker on the virtual circuit. 

8. Lewis Hamilton ($82 million) 

Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton won 11 races last season and has lucrative endorsement deals with Puma, Monster Energy, and Tommy Hilfiger — and all of which pay him bonuses when he wins. 

7. Roger Federer ($90 million) 

Even with very little happening on the court for Roger Federer, he still managed to pull in $90 million in the last year, with just $35,000 of it coming from tennis. The rest comes from huge endorsements with Rolex and Credit Suisse and the Swiss apparel company On. 

6. Neymar ($95 million) 

The first of three world soccer players on the list, Neymar has nearly 300 million followers on social media, which makes him a very attractive brand ambassador. In 2020 he left his contract with Nike and Jordan and signed a huge deal to create his own signature shoe for Puma. 

5. LeBron James ($96.5 million) 

It’s been an excellent year for LBJ, with another NBA title added to his resume, $31.5 million in on-court money, and another $65 million in extra earnings. In addition, he’s now a part-owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC, and he’s starring in the upcoming sequel to Space Jam. 

4. Dak Prescott ($107.5 million) 

It was not a great year on the field for Dak Prescott. He broke an ankle, and the Cowboys missed another postseason. But he has a new contract with a $66 million signing bonus and added to his endorsements with 7-Eleven and DirecTV. He’s the only NFL player in the $100 million club. Keeping Prescott on contract kept the Cowboys atop the odds board to win the NFC East at +110. 

3. Cristiano Ronaldo ($120 million) 

The first person to break 500 million social media followers, he has a lifetime endorsement deal with Nike and has his own clothing company called CR7. He made $64 million this year with Juventus and passed Pele with his 770th career goal. He’s now 36, and his current contract ends in 2022. 

2. Lionel Messi ($130 million) 

The Barcelona FC is set for significant changes this summer after Lionel Messi’s contract expires, so his status on the 2021 list of athletes is unclear. But with an estimated $97 million in on-field earnings (possibly as high as $167 million according to some reports), Messi cleaned up over the last 12 months. 

1. Conor McGregor ($180 million) 

In the octagon, Conor McGregor was knocked out by Dustin Poirier. Beyond the Octagon, McGregor owns one of the most lucrative whiskey brands globally, and it netted him a total of $152 million this past year. Not bad for a guy who just four years ago was living in his parents’ house and cashing welfare checks.

With Prescott, Ronaldo, Messi, and McGregor all over $100 million, this is the first time as many as four athletes have cleared nine figures in a single calendar year.

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