The world of sports is not just about the game and team anymore, as the mass viewership made possible by the mass media of television and internet streaming has brought in enormous amounts of money. As a result, players have turned performers and they are paid on par with Hollywood superstars and investment bankers. In India, we are familiar with the extensive advertisement campaigns that first used Sachin Tendulkar’s face – arguably India’s first superstar sportsman – but now use everyone from Virat Kohli to Saina Nehwal and Vijender Singh to sell a variety of consumer products. On top of the huge fees athletes charge for endorsements, their match fees is no less enviable, especially for the popular sports (read cricket for India). For instance, the popular club Barcelona offered Lionel Messi – one of club football’s all time greats – a contract worth $30 million to stay for another six years, making Europe’s highest earner in league football.
Forbes recently released a list of estimated earnings for the last year of the world’s top athletes, compiling it by their estimated income for last year, including a breakup of their salary/winnings and money from endorsements. At the top of the list, predictably, was Portugese and Real Madrid striker Christiano Ronaldo, who was estimated to have raked in a whopping $93 million, including $58 million in match fee and $35 million in endorsements. Ronaldo was closely followed by NBA player LeBron James, who turns out for the Cleveland Cavaliers who made $86.2 million, with $31.2 million in match fee and $55 million in endorsement money. The third place was taken by another soccer star Lionel Messi, who was reported to have made $80 million. Curiously, tennis great Roger Federer held the fourth place even though he has not been at the top of things for some time now. He made $6 million in winnings and a whopping $58 million in endorsements, showing that the Federer name still carries heft as far as advertising goes. Another NBA star, Kevin Durant, brought up the rear at No.5 with $60.6 million.
The Forbes list was another disappointment and a telling proof for advocates of pay parity for women in sports. Only one athlete managed to make it on the list – Serena Williams held No.51 at $27 million. It is especially surprising considering Tiger Woods, the disgraced golfer who hasn’t won a major tournament in years, still raked in more money – $37.1 million, with $37 million coming in form of endorsement money.