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The 12 highest-earning athletes of all time by sport

Being a top professional athlete can translate into hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, but it’s not always what you make on the court or field. The top earners use a combination of athletic ability and business acumen to build a diverse income portfolio. After all, you can’t be at the top of your sport forever, and you need to find a way to get that money.

From Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods to Peyton Manning, these athletes began earning while they were playing and continue to rake in impressive amounts of money each year. They are all at the top of their respective sports. Here’s how much they made.

NBA: Michael Jordan – $2.6 billion

Michael Jordan is the highest-earning athlete of all time – but his NBA salary was only a tiny part of his career earnings. When Jordan played, he earned just over $93 million in salary. Of course, players weren’t paid back that much in the ’80s and ’90s, but Jordan was still paid very well over his last two seasons. In fact, his salary for 1997-1998 (his final year with the Chicago Bulls) is $52 million, adjusted for inflation. That would be the highest seasonal salary in NBA history.

Jordan has also made a lot of money from other ventures. He bought a controlling stake in the Charlotte Hornets for $175 million in 2010; Today the team is worth billions of dollars. He also has long-standing partnerships with big companies like Nike, Hanes and McDonald’s, and his Jordan Brand apparel line has proven lucrative, generating $4.7 billion in sales in 2020. Jordan has earned over $1 billion from Nike and Jordan Brand alone.

Golf: Tiger Woods – $2.1 billion

Tiger Woods is proof that a good brand can take you far. Sure, he’s accomplished a lot on the golf course — he’s won 82 PGA Tour events (first and tie), 15 men’s major championships (second all-time), and set multiple golf records. But due to a car accident in February 2021, he has not attended a game all year. He has only made seven starts on the PGA Tour since the 2019-20 season.

But despite turbulent moments in his career — several sponsors dropped him after reports of infidelity surfaced in 2009 — Woods has maintained important partnerships with companies like Nike and EA Sports. And even without attending a single event in 2021, Woods’ popularity on social media is rising will bring him $8 million this season.

Football: Cristiano Ronaldo – $1.24 billion

Cristiano Ronaldo has had a spectacular field career, winning five Ballon d’Or awards and holding records for most appearances, goals and assists in the Champions League.

He’s used his good looks and fashion sense to secure solid endorsement deals off the field as well. He has his own mobile game (Cristiano Ronaldo Heads Up) and social networking app, and has struck deals with clothing and perfume companies.

Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Boxing: Floyd Mayweather – $1.2 billion

Floyd Mayweather made a lot of money in the boxing ring. He defeated fighters like Oscar de la Hoya, Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez en route to a perfect 50-0 record with 27 KO’s. His last fight came in 2017 when he defeated Conor McGregor in a fight that reportedly netted Mayweather more than $300 million.

Though Mayweather made big bucks in the ring and backed companies — even rocking a brand logo on his boxing shorts or a shirt entering the room could net him millions — he found an interest in real estate after retiring. Mayweather’s goal is to make $1 billion from real estate investments and he has already built a strong portfolio and reportedly owns nine skyscrapers.

Race: Michael Schumacher – $1.13 billion

In his prime, Michael Schumacher was the best F1 racer in the game. When he retired in 2012, he held the records for most wins (91), pole positions (68) and podiums (155). He also helped develop the lightweight carbon helmet and has a role in the film carsand has donated more than $1.7 million to UNESCO.

Since retiring, Schumacher has endured some tremendous hardships. In December 2013, he had a serious skiing accident that left him paralyzed, unable to speak and with memory loss. Although he has made progress in his recovery, the latest reports have that he is still struggling to communicate.

Tennis: Roger Federer – $1.12 billion

Roger Federer is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. He has won 20 men’s singles titles and was world No. 1 in the ATP rankings for a total of 310 weeks. That included a streak of 237 straight weeks (or more than four and a half years) in which Federer was world number one. As a result, he has made millions from games and tournaments.

Yet it was Federer’s impressive business acumen that made him the highest-earning tennis player of all time. The London School of Marketing named Federer the most marketable person in sport, and he has global partnerships and endorsement deals with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Uniqlo, Credit Suisse and Gillette. He’s not quite done on the tennis court yet, but he has plenty of business opportunities in the pipeline.

Baseball: Alex Rodriguez – $650 million

There is a significant drop between Federer and Alex Rodriguez and in this case it is Rodriguez’s salary that accounts for the bulk of his career earnings. A-Rod earned nearly $400 million during his active tenure—more than any other athlete has ever made on the field – largely due to a 10-year, $252 million contract he received from the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees.

Since retiring, Rodriguez has forayed into real estate and attempted to acquire stakes in professional sports teams. He has also made appearances shark tankwho invests in companies to diversify their portfolio.

Football: Peyton Manning – $570 million

Peyton Manning holds multiple NFL individual records, including MVP honors (5), Pro Bowl appearances (14), 4,000-yard passing seasons (14), single-season passing yards (5,477 in 2013), and Single-season passing touchdowns (55 in 2013). He also ended his career in a pretty cool way, winning Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos and dropping the name to Budweiser in his post-game speech.

Although he hasn’t pitched a football in a pro game since 2016, Manning still does a lot of work with the NFL. He and his brother Eli host the Manningcast on ESPN 2 and break up Monday night soccer Play with special guests and lots of Manning charm.

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