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50 Highest Paid Athletes in the World (2012 Edition)

by: Esteban On  Friday, August 17, 2012

highest paid athletes in the world

Professional athletes get paid an obscene amount of money to do what they do. Or at least, they do if they’re good, and if they play the right sport. (Sorry, professional indoor lacrosse players.) But in addition to getting paid to play, many of them also get paid to endorse a variety of products and services. And in some cases, these endorsements are worth a lot more than what they make on the field.

Today we’re counting down the 50 highest paid athletes in the world, presenting what they made in salaries, bonuses, winnings, and endorsements from July 2011 to July 2012.

So what’s the breakdown of this list? Well, here you go:

8% NFL players (14)

16% MLB players (8)

14% NBA players (7)

14% Auto racers (7)

8% Soccer players (4)

6% Tennis players (3)

6% Golfers (3)

6% Boxers (3)

2% Cricket players (1)

This breakdown is illustrative of which sports pay the most money out to their athletes; however, it doesn’t reflect where a guy (or, in one case, a gal) can make the most money. While the NFL has the most players on this list, several of them are here because of crazy signing bonuses. Moreover, every NFL team has 50 players on its roster, and the teams make crazy money. Thus, while the NBA seems almost underrepresented, when you consider that there are fewer players in the league, making up 14% of this list is actually pretty good.

Meanwhile, golfers and tennis players don’t appear very much at all. But the few who are genuine sports superstars make a killing. Ditto for boxers and golfers.

Also interesting to note: which sports yield the most lucrative endorsement deals. Almost all of the NFL players on this list have higher salaries than the NBA players; however, the NBA players generally make two or three times more on endorsements. And ditto with baseball. Meanwhile, golfers and tennis players make next to nothing in actual winnings (compared to baseball players), but they clean up by endorsing all kinds of rich people shi—err, stuff.

But enough intro. Let’s get started and see who comes in at #50.

50. Michael Vick: $22M

50 Michael Vick

Just cracking the top 50 highest paid athletes in the world is the controversial Michael Vick. He got paid $20M to lead the Eagles not to the playoffs last year, then picked up another $2M in endorsements because Nike decided to let bygones be bygones. (It was the first time they’ve ever re-signed somebody after dropping them for moral causes.)

49. Vernon Wells: $22.1M

Vernon-Wells

At #49 is everybody’s favorite “paid too damn much” whipping boy, Vernon Wells. (Well, he’s my favorite “paid too damn much” whipping boy.) He earned a whopping $22M last year to hit .214/.248/.412 last season. Nice!

48. Luke Donald: $22.2M

48 Luke Donald

Luke Donald of England has shared the top spot on the world golf rankings with Rory McIlroy over the last 12 months, but he’s not going to make the big bucks until he wins a major—though $13.2M in winnings is pretty good for not winning one of the big ones. And $9M in endorsements isn’t terrible, either. Still, this guy is 34 and McIlroy is 23, so it’s only a matter of time before the latter surpasses the former on this list.

47. Tony Stewart: $22.3M

Tony-Stewart

Tony Stewart won NASCAR’s Sprint Cup last season, which accounts for the $15.3M in race earnings. Add to that another $7M in endorsements, and this guy is doing pretty okay.

46. Amar'e Stoudemire: $22.7M

46 Amar'e Stoudemire

Stoudemire’s 5-year, $100M deal with the Knicks in 2010 paid him $14.7M to play ball (or not, since he was injured much of the time) last year. Then he made another $8M in endorsements, including a very lucrative 5-year deal with Nike.

45. Mark Teixeira: $22.8M

45 mark teixeira

The Yankees first basement makes almost all his money on the diamond. $22.5M of that $22.8M is salary (thanks, Scott Boras!), while just 250K is from endorsements and/or memorabilia. Of course, the Yankees are paying him now for how he played in 2007 and 2008, before he had made the move to the Bronx. Over the last three seasons with the Yanks, combining his highest slash stats, he’s hit no better than .257/.365/.494. But in 2007 he hit .306/.400/.563, and in 2008 he hit .308/.410/.552.

44. Carmelo Anthony: $22.9M

44 carmelo anthony

Anthony signed a 3-year deal with the Knicks in 2011 that has an option for a fourth year at $24M. However, last year he had to settle for just $14.9M in salary plus another $8M in endorsements.

43. Ben Roethlisberger: $23.3M

43 ben roethlisberger

The Steelers paid Big Ben $22.3M last season, but he made just $1M in endorsements. I imagine he might have made more if he didn’t have a “bad image” (i.e., if people didn’t sort of think he’s a douche).

42. Jeff Gordon: $23.6M

jeff-gordon

Jeff Gordon has been around NASCAR for a long time. And if you’re around NASCAR for a long time, and you win a bunch, you’re going to be a pretty rich guy. Last year he made $13.6M from driving, then another $10M in endorsements.

41. Johan Santana: $23.8M

40 johan santana 2012 no hitter

Santana is listed here as being #41, but really he’s in a tie for #40 with another New York pitcher. In any case, the Mets’ ace made $23.3M last season even though he didn’t throw one single motherf$#@%ng pitch. He’s had a solid comeback this season, throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history,but  that still doesn’t nearly make up for what he cost the team last season. It’s just nuts.

40. CC Sabathia: $23.8M

40 cc sabathia

The other New York pitcher who pulled in $23.8M last season was, of course, the Yankees’ CC Sabathia. His salary was actually $300K less than Sanata’s, but of course he pitched, and pitched well. So that made him about 1000x more valuable.

39. Ichiro Suzuki: $24M

39-ichiro-suzuki-yankees

Ichiro is the newest addition to the Yankees’ stable of overpriced, over-the-hill veterans (Mr. Suzuiki, have you met Mr. Jeter?), having been picked up from the M’s at the trade deadline this season. He made $17M playing ball last year, then another $7M from endorsements—which is much more than all but one other baseball player on this list. (It pays to be the only baseball superstar from a baseball-loving country.)

38. Mark Sanchez: $24.2M

38 mark sanchez

The, um, other quarterback for the New York Jets—the third most popular in New York behind Eli Manning and Tim Tebow—got paid $23.2M last season. He also made about a million in endorsements.

37. Wayne Rooney: $24.3M

37 wayne rooney

The irascible Wayne Rooney earned $17.8M for leading Manchester United to within one victory of a the Premier League title last season. On top of that, he made a nice $6.5M from deals with Nike (obviously) and EA Sports.

36. Derek Jeter: $24.5M

36 derek jeter

The captain got paid $15.5M for by the Yankees last season, which of course was more for what he means to their fans than what he provides on the field. And because of how much he means to the fans, Jeter also raked in $9M in endorsements last year—more than anyone else in MLB, but about average for an NBA All-Star.

35. Dwyane Wade: $24.7M

Dwyane Wade

Despite being one of the 2 or 3 most valuable players in the NBA when healthy (remember, he didn’t need LeBron or the Boshtrich to win a championship), Wade isn’t old enough yet to make top dollar under the NBA’s CBA. So he got paid just $12.7M last season. However, he did pull in $12M in endorsements, which gave his bank account a nice boost.

34. Kevin Durant: $25.5M

KEVIN DURANT highest paid athletes

The Thunder paid Durant $12.5M last year, and he took them all the way to the Finals. On top of that, the guy earned $13M in endorsements, a figure which will almost certainly increase as his career goes on.

33. Dwight Howard: $25.6M

33 Dwight Howard highest paid athletes

The newest member of the Lakers earned $14.6M for his services last season, plus another $11M from deals with McDonalds and Adidas. After the upcoming season he’ll be even richer, though, as he heads to free agency.

32. LaMarr Woodley: $26.5M

31 LaMarr Woodley highest paid athletes

You gotta love what the NFL’s CBA does to the structure of football contracts. Last season, the Steelers paid this 1x pro-bowler $10.3M in salary plus a $13M bonus, giving him a total football income of $26.3M. So what’s he going to make in 2012? Oh, just 700K.

As you’ll soon see, Woodley is just the first of several NFL players on this list because of wacky salary structures.

31. Mahendra Singh Dhoni: $26.5M

Mahendra-Singh-Dhoni highest paid athletes

Tied with Mr. Woodley at $26.5M is Indian cricket player Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He captained the Indian national team to a World Cup victory in 2011 (which is a HUGE deal in that country of over 1 billion people), and he plays for the Chennai Super Kings (as opposed to the Chennai Ordinary Kinds) of the Indian Premier League. His salary was a comparatively low $3.5M, which is still really high for India, but this guy made a whopping $23M in endorsements, meaning he’s one of the most marketable athletes in the world.

30. Eli Manning: $26.6M

30 eli manning highest paid athletes

Earning only $18.6M for playing football last year, Eli Manning is a relative bargain for a franchise, two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback. He’s also a team player: the guy restructured his contract going forward to help the Giants beat the salary cap. This new deal gave him $9M up front, which is nice, but he’ll only get $1.75M the rest of the year. Classy, right?

Of course, he does make $8M a year on endorsements, which is second in the NFL only to this other guy to whom he’s always being compared.

29. Joe Mauer: $27M

29 joe mauer hitting highest paid athletes

The Twins catcher made a sizable $23M for sitting behind the plate last year, plus another $4M selling shampoo. (Yes, he also has other endorsement deals with Nike and Gatorade, but the Head & Shoulders gig is the most hilarious.)

He’s the second-highest paid baseball player on this list. And of course the irony of this is that, if you were just doing a list of athlete salaries (like we did last year), baseball players dominate. But they don’t do nearly as well as other athletes in endorsements, hence the top earning baseball players don’t even crack the top 10.

28. Tom Brady: $27.1M

28 tom brady highest paid athletes

Tom Brady is the seventh highest-paid NFL player on this list. But if you take out the guys who are on here thanks to signing bonuses and weird contract structures, he’s #5. And that seems almost fair…except for the guy who’s #27 on this list.

Anyway, Mr. Gisele Bundchen made $23.1M throwing the pigskin last year, plus another $4M in endorsements. But if that doesn’t sound like much, don’t you worry. His wife pulled in a whopping $45M. That’s a household income of $72.1M.

On a side know, how does Tom Brady not earn more in endorsements than Eli Manning? I mean, I know he’s a Manning, and he’s based in New York, but Tom Brady is Tom Brady.

27. Sam Bradford: $27.8M

sam bradford highest paid athletes

Sam Bradford wins the award for “Most Undeserving Athlete” on this list. It’s not that he won’t be worth the money some day—despite his team’s awful 2011 season, most experts still think this kid is going places—it’s just that he hasn’t really earned his $26.8M salary yet. In fact, his rookie record 6-year, $78M is one of the main reasons the new NFL CBA limits the amount of money rookies can make.

26. Maria Sharapova: $27.9M

maria sharapova highest paid athletes

Well, here at 26 we have the highest paid female athlete in the world, 25-year-old Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova. Though most of her money ($22M) comes from off-the-court deals (with Evian, Head, Nike, Samsung, and Tag Heuer) she still holds her own on the court, with $5.9M in earnings and a No. 2 ranking.

25. Lewis Hamilton: $28M

25 Lewis Hamilton highest paid athletes

McLaren paid this guy $25M to drive their race cars in F1 this year, so they must think he’s good. Of course, others do too, and since he’s a free agent after this year, his salary is probably going to go up. And while most F1 drivers don’t get the chance to make a lot of money on endorsements because their teams hog them up, Hamilton has managed to get himself a lucrative $3M deal with Reebok as their “global ambassador” (which is good work if you can get it).

24. Wladimir Klitschko: $28M

24-Wladimir-Klitschko highest paid athletes

The Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko has been the most dominate heavyweight boxer in the world over the last 5 or 6 years, rattling off 15 straight wins to claim all but one of the world’s heavyweight titles. That’s worth $24M in earnings and another $4M in endorsements, right? Unfortunately I don’t know if we’ll see him win that last title to become the undisputed heavyweight champ any time soon. It’s currently held by his brother, Vitali.

23. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: $28.2M

23 dale earnhardt jr highest paid athletes

Junior earned $13.2M on the track last in the last year, which is good. But that last name of his (and his own personality and accomplishments, I’m sure) was worth $15M in endorsements. That brings his total income up to $28.2M.

22. Darrelle Revis: $28.3M

22 darrelle revis highest paid athletes

Darrelle Revis is the best player on the Jets and perhaps the best cornerback in the NFL. Prior to the 2010 season, he signed a 4-year deal worth $46M. And while he’ll be making a paltry $7.5M during this, the third year of that deal, last year the guy got paid $27M between salary and bonuses. Add to that endorsements of Nike and Ranges Rover worth $1.3M, and this guy had one awesome year. Unfortunately, he won’t have another year this good for a while, unless he refused to show up at camp next year, holding out for a new contract. (Which he might.)

21. Michael Schumacher: $30M

20 Michael Schumacher highest paid athletes

The world’s most decorated F1 driver came out of retirement to race for Mercedes in 2010. Though he hasn’t looked so great since returning, his 3-year deal paid him $20M last year, and $20M in endorsements gave him a total income of $30M. So he’s doing alright.

20. Valentino Rossi: $30M

20 valentino rossi highest paid athletes

If Valentino Rossi isn’t the best motorcycle racer in the history of the sport, then Ducati is paying him way too much money—$17M. Throw in the $13M he made from endorsements, and this one rich Italian.

19. Fernando Alonso: $32M

19 fernando alonso highest paid athletes

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso is the highest paid driver in Formula 1, or any auto racing circuit for that matter. He earned $29M for driving a car last year, plus another $3M from endorsements.

18. Alex Rodriguez: $33M

18 alex rodriguez hit by pitch

A-Rod is getting paid ridiculous money by the Yankees ($31M) to play baseball. However, he only made $2M in endorsement deals last year…because, you know, nobody likes him. Nevertheless, he is the top baseball player on this list.

17. Mario Williams: $33.2M

17 mario williams buffalo bills

The Buffalo Bills stole Williams away from the Texans in the offseason with a 6-year, $100M contract that came with a nice signing bonus. Thus, the guy made $32.9M from football, and just $250K from endorsements.

16. Rafael Nada: $33.2M

16 rafael nadal highest paid athletes

Nadal made good money playing tennis last year, collecting $8.2M in winnings. However, as with all the top tennis players, the big bucks came from endorsements with Nike, Babolat, and Kia—to the tune of $25M.

15. Charles Johnson: $34.4M

15 charles johnson panthers highest paid athletes

Johnson’s base salary last season was only $4.2M, but he collected a nice $30M signing bonus from the Panthers, who gave him a sweet 6-year, $76M deal before the season. Then Johnson managed to pick up another $100K in endorsements along the way.

14. Ndamukong Suh: $36M

14-ndamukong-suh

Thanks to a bunch of bonuses, the Lions defensive tackle got paid $35.5M just for playing football last year. However, he only made another $500K in endorsements because, generally, companies don’t want anything to do with guys like stomping on people.

13. Larry Fitzgerald: $36.8M

13 larry fitzgerald highest paid athletes

Fitzgerald got an 8-year $120M deal before last season that paid him a whopping $35.3M. That’s quarterback money. On top of that, he earned more money in endorsements than any non-QB in the NFL—though it was “only” $1.5M.

12. Haloti Ngata: $37.3M

12 haloti ngata highest paid athletes

No athlete earned more in salary over the last 12 months than the Baltimore Ravens’ Haloti Ngata. Thanks to singing bonuses on a new 5-year deal, the dude got paid $37.1M by the Ravens. Then he made another 200K from endorsements.

11. Lionel Messi: $39M

11 lionel messi highest paid athletes

Lionel Messi, the best soccer player in the world, was a 50/50 man last year, with half his income coming from his salary and the other half coming from endorsement deals with Pepsi, Herbalife, Dolce & Gabana, and others.

10. Peyton Manning: $42.4M

10 peyton manning broncos highest paid athletes

The NFL is North America’s most popular and lucrative sports league, and yet the most any of it’s players make through endorsements is Peyton Manning’s $10M. Does the league have the image problem or something? Luckily for Peyton, he got that sweet new deal with Denver to top up his earnings. And of course last year he got paid $32.4M to do pretty much nothing.

9. Cristiano Ronaldo: $42.5M

9 cristiano ronaldo highest paid athletes

No soccer player makes more than Cristiano Ronaldo for actually playing soccer, as Real Madrid paid the guy $20.5M for his services last season. His endorsement deals with Nike, Castrol, and Konami aren’t shabby either, as they brought in another $22M. However, Ronaldo is still the second-highest ranking soccer player on this list.

Can you guess who #1 is?

8. David Beckham: $46M

8 david beckham highest paid athletes

Beckham only made $9M working for the lowly little MLS last year, but he earned 4x that much endorsing stuff—something no other MLS player can say. He’s better be careful, though, because endorsing Burger King and underwear can be tricky business. (Too much of one could be death to the other.)

7. Phil Mickelson: $47.8M

7 phil mickelson highest paid athletes

Funny thing about golf: Phil Mickelson has earned $66M over the course of his career (through July of this year), and that is second-most all time. Meanwhile, baseball teams are handing out $100M contracts to late-20s first baseman like nobody’s business. Fortunately, there’s a lot more money in endorsements in golf than there is in baseball. Phil Mickelson, for example, endorses Callaway, Barclay’s, Exxon, and Amgen/Pfizer—the drug company that makes his arthritis pills—which earned him $43M last year.

I hope I can make millions off arthritis when I’m his age.

6. Kobe Bryant: $52.3M

kobe bryant highest paid athletes

Bryant was the highest paid player in the NBA last season; however, he only made $20.3M of the $25.2M he was scheduled to get because of the lockout, which hardly seems fair. (I’m kidding.) Add that to the $32M he made from endorsements, and Kobe earned a lot of money to pay his wife Vanessa when she finally does leave him for good.

5. Roger Federer: $52.7M

5 roger federer highest paid athletes

Roger earned $7.7M hitting fuzzy balls with his racquet over the last 12 months, which probably barely covers his travel expenses and equipment. Thankfully he’s also got deals with Nike (who doesn’t?), Rolex, Wilson, and Credit Suisse that pay him a cool $45M. Which is more than the next guy on the list makes in endorsements—and that’s really saying something.

4. LeBron James: $53M

lebron james highest paid athletes

Lebron “only” made $13 million playing basketball for the Heat this year because the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement only allows teams to pay the really huge money to fading stars in the twilight of their careers. So LeBron will probably make $35M a season when he’s 34 years old. However, in the past year, deals with Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and State Farm earned the guy about $40M.

3. Tiger Woods: $59.4M

3 tiger woods highest paid athletes

Tiger was #1 in the world last year with a total incomce of $75M. However, this year a few of the companies (Tag Heuer and Gillete) who didn’t already drop him as a spokesperson a few years back (when his marriage crumbled and the world discovered his taste of floozies) decided not to renew his contracts. However, Tiger’s still on good terms with Nike, so he’s not exactly in the poor house. While he only made $4.4M actually playing golf in the last year, he’s made $55M from endorsements. Which is a lot.

2. Manny Pacquiao: $62M

2 manny pacquiao timothy bradly highest paid athletes

Manny Pacquiao only made $32M last year, so it’s a wonder he was able to get by. This year, despite being on the losing end of one of the worst boxing decisions of all time (against Michael Bradley), he still managed to make $56M in earnings and another $6M in endorsements, which comes out to an even $62M overall. So pay-per-view has been very, very good to him.

1. Floyd Mayweather: $85M

1 floyd mayweather

Mayweather only had two fights in the last year, but because he is his own promotor through Mayweather Promotions, he got to keep a much bigger cut than he otherwise would have. I don’t know how he does his books, but you would think his promotion company had to take something off the top to pay employees and buy fax machines and what not. Still, he got $40M from fighting Victor Ortiz, and $45M from fighting Miguel Cotto.

That’s one hell of a salary for an athlete, or anybody—especially when he spend three of the last twelve months behind bars for domestic battery.




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