When it comes to sports, there are plenty to choose from. From the well-known, like soccer, to the extremely niche, like ultimate frisbee, sports are played and watched worldwide with varying degrees of commercial interest. Most people have an idea of who the big earners are when it comes to individual athletes - tennis star Roger Federer, basketball icon LeBron James - but what about the world of sports overall? Based on an athlete’s average salary over an annual period, plus sponsorships and endorsements, here are the 10 highest-paid sports in the world.
Swiss tennis sensation Roger Federer was the world’s highest-paid athlete in 2020 according to Forbes, becoming the first tennis player to top the list since 1990. Other big names, like Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, also earn colossal amounts, thanks to tournament prize money and sponsorship deals. However, there’s a gulf in earnings between those at the very top of the sport and the rest of the tour. The average pay for a professional tennis player is around $38,000 per year.
The sport of golf is shrouded in money. It’s the favored pastime of the super-rich around the world, and its best players are paid handsomely. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are both listed in Forbes’ top 20, but like tennis, it’s a case of the haves and the have-nots. A golfer earns approximately $44,000 annually.
Just like golf, there's a lot of money in racing. The Grand Prix’s of Formula 1 are held in glamorous locations, attended by the rich and famous. But NASCAR and Moto GP are also well supported, their top drivers bringing in serious prize money and sponsorship deals. Those who regularly take the chequered flag first earn far more, but $44,000 is the average wage.
Famous names in WWE earn mega money - athletes like The Rock and John Cena are some of the best-paid athletes in the world. After you’ve factored in the regional and local pro and semi-pro wrestlers though $50,000 is what an annual salary will look like.
For boxing fans, it’s all about the big fights. Household names in boxing like Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, and Deontay Wilder all made the Forbes rich list this year, and there’s serious money to be made in the brutal sport. It’s harder for those fighting away from the bright lights - in spite of the physical risk, boxers average a yearly income of only around $50,000.
Football’s professional summit is the NFL (National Football League) and salaries can be enormous. Careers are often cut short by injury, so earning potential is finite, but NFL stars are amongst the biggest annual earners in sport - the average player takes home a whopping $860,000 annually.
The most popular sport in the world, soccer (also known as football, or futbol, depending on where you’re from) is played in virtually every country, by people of all ages. Cristiano Ronaldo leads the way in earnings, landing at the number two spot on Forbes’ rich list this year, with fellow footballers Messi and Neymar at three and four respectively. On average, top league soccer players make over $1.5m annually.
8. Ice Hockey
Beloved primarily in Canada, but played around the world, Ice Hockey is the most commercial ‘winter sport’. These athletes - who skate around a rink at break-neck speed, often clattering into each other - earn big bucks. On average, NHL (National Hockey League) players earn a cool $2.5m per year.
‘America’s pastime’ is probably the most popular sport in the US, and is also popular in Japan, Korea, Canada, and parts of the Caribbean. MLB (Major League Baseball) pays huge contracts, and the average annual earning is an extremely comfortable $4.5m.
Top of the list - by quite a large margin - is basketball. NBA (National Basketball Association) players account for 6 out of the top 20 spots in Forbes’ rich list, with superstar LeBron James bringing in a staggering $88.2m this year. On average, NBA players earn $7.4m per year, making basketball the highest-paid sport in the world in 2020.