The 9 Highest-Earning Athletes of All Time, Per Sport

The 9 Highest-Earning Athletes of All Time, Per Sport


Get to know which of the world’s greatest athletes reportedly collected the highest lifetime earnings in sports history

Football star Lionel Messi recently made headlines for his rumored switch to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal, notably attached with an offer of upwards of USD 400 million a year. Not long before this rumor made headlines was the confirmed transfer of another football legend, Cristiano Ronaldo, to Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr, which came with a two-and-a-half-year contract worth more than USD 200 million a year.

Even with those reported salaries, there are even higher numbers attached to other athletes. This begs the question: Who are the highest-paid athletes of all time? To answer, we’ve listed down the highest-paid athletes in nine different sports based on the reported inflation-adjusted earnings accumulated from salaries, bonuses, prize money, and the like. The sports included here are football, basketball, golf, American football, baseball, tennis, boxing, mixed martial arts, and motorsports.

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Cristiano Ronaldo highest-earning football player of all time
Photo: CRISTIANO RONALDO (via Instagram)

Cristiano Ronaldo is regarded as the highest-earning football player of all time, with lifetime earnings amounting to USD 1.58 billion as of 2022. Now with his lucrative deal with Al Nassr, he’s expected to make an additional USD 245 million this year alone. Lionel Messi is not too far behind him with lifetime earnings of USD 1.48 billion as of 2022.


When it comes to the NBA, Michael Jordan is the undisputed highest-earning player of all time, leaving the rest way behind. Because he’s accumulated an estimated USD 3.3 billion throughout his illustrious career, the retired basketball legend has earned more than any other athlete in sports history—and it’s largely due to his long-standing relationship with Nike.


Tiger Woods highest earning golf player
Photo: TIGER WOODS (via Instagram)

Next up on this list is famed golfer Tiger Woods. As of 2022, the golfer made lifetime earnings of approximately USD 2.5 billion, which officially earned him the title of billionaire last year. Notably, the gap between him and other golfers is not too wide with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus making USD 1.7 billion and USD 1.63 billion, respectively.

American football

Tom Brady highest earning american football player
Photo: TOM BRADY (via Instagram)

For American football, recently retired quarterback Tom Brady stands at the top with lifetime earnings of USD 690 million. That said, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs could very well overtake his spot in the next few years due to his record-breaking 10-year contract. Patrick’s contract has a total value of USD 450 million and it’s the highest in NFL history, but he’s slated to earn even more before the 10 years end.


Alex Rodriguez highest earning baseball player of all time
Photo: ALEX RODRIGUEZ (via Instagram)

Major League Baseball’s Alex Rodriguez is at the top of the ranks when it comes to the highest-earning baseball players of all time. Having retired in 2016 with 22 MLB seasons under his belt, the baseball player earned approximately USD 745 million, according to 2022 reports.


Roger Federer highest earning tennis player of all time
Photo: ROGER FEDERER (via Instagram)

Meanwhile, tennis icon Roger Federer has accumulated approximately USD 1.38 billion in lifetime earnings. It’s also been reported that his career earnings—before taxes and agents’ fees—total to USD 1.1 billion, which is leagues above rival Rafael Nadal’s USD 500 million.

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Floyd Mayweather highest earning boxer of all time
Photo: FLOYD MAYWEATHER (via Instagram)

Similarly, boxing great Floyd Mayweather collected USD 1.1 billion in career earnings and an overall USD 1.41 billion in lifetime earnings. With Floyd at the top of the ranks in highest-earning boxers, Manny Pacquiao ranks third behind Mike Tyson at USD 725 million in inflation-adjusted earnings.

Mixed martial arts

Conor McGregor highest earning mma athlete of al time
Photo: CONOR MCGREGOR (via Instagram)

MMA giant Conor McGregor is the highest-earning athlete for his sport after collecting USD 615 million throughout his illustrious career. Notably, the gap in payouts between McGregor and other famous mixed martial artists is wide, with him earning millions per fight and enjoying lucrative sponsorship deals and pay-per-view bonuses on top of that.


Michael Schumacher highest earning formula one racing driver
Photo: MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (via Instagram)

Last but not least is motorsports with retired German Formula One racing driver Michael Schumacher at the very top of their ranks at USD 1.31 billion in lifetime earnings as of 2022. Right behind him is British racing driver Lewis Hamilton who has accumulated USD 790 million so far, and is set to earn at least USD 35 million more in 2023.

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