While far from missing any meals, the top paydays in sports dropped in 2020, as the world of professional sports was not able to avoid the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Several sports saw significant losses in games played, and the earning ability of those athletes followed suit. Those athletes with established endorsement contracts faired much better than those dependent more on games played. Most heavily impacted was boxing and baseball, which failed to produce a single athlete on this year’s list. Meanwhile, basketball showed up strong, as did soccer, tennis, and the elite new earners in football.
All information in this list is speculative and based on information made public. This list accounts for 2020 calendar earnings or seasons that concluded their championship seasons in 2020. Sourcing includes Forbes, Spotrac, and various publications where such information is made public.
Due to lack of opportunity, blended with a knee injury, 2020 marked only the second year that Federer failed to notch a win on the court. But it did not hinder him from becoming the first tennis player ever to finish as the highest-earning athlete in the world. The 39-year-old took home over $106 million in 2020, much of which came from his robust portfolio of endorsements. Federer earns between $3 and $30 million per corporate partnership, headlined by a 10-year, $300 million pact with apparel brand Uniqlo. He also counts Rolex, Barilla, and Mercedes-Benz among brands he backs.
The Juventus superstar finished in the top three among athlete earners globally for a seventh consecutive year in 2020. Ronaldo earns $60 million annually on the pitch, amplified by over $45 million off of it. Nike, Herbalife, Unilever, and DAZN are among his most prominent endorsements. As an international ambassador for the sport, he partners with the United Arab Emirates to attract athletes and businesses to live and invest in Dubai. He is the most followed person in the world on Instagram, with 243 million followers as of December.
Although he nearly walked away from Barcelona in August of 2020, the Argentinian superstar ultimately returned to his club for the 2020-21 season. He will return to a contract that earns him over $80 million annually, making him the highest-paid on-field athlete in the world. In 2020, he also became the second footballer (after Ronaldo) to earn $1 billion in his career. His strong endorsement group includes a lifetime pact with Adidas, as well as Gatorade, Mastercard, Pepsi, Gillette, and Turkish Airlines.
James added a fourth NBA Championship in 2020, in addition to the $37 million he took home in year two of his four-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers (one he recently extended for another two years and $85 million). Off the court, he remains the most prominent athlete endorser in America, earning over $60 million annually from Nike, AT&T, Beats, Coca-Cola, KIA Motors, GMC, and HBO among others, alongside his SpringHill Entertainment and Uninterrupted media imprints. James is also an elite philanthropist and social cause supporter as well, spending over eight digits annually in various causes and community development.
The Brazilian footballer is currently at the heart of a five-year, $350 million contract with Paris Saint-Germain, which makes him the third-highest paid soccer player in the world. He is also one of the most notable names in the sport, with his 244 million social media followers the second-most in the world. 2020 marked the end of his 11-year relationship with Nike/Jordan Brand, which was followed shortly by a lucrative new agreement with Puma. He continues relationships with Beats, DAZN, Electronic Arts, Mastercard, Gillette, and Red Bull.
Although he missed much of the 2019-20 season due a broken hand, Curry earned the highest salary of any athlete in America, at $40.2 million. That will increase to $43 million in 2021, as a part of the five-year, $201 million supermax deal he signed in 2017. Curry is also the face of the Under Armour brand, having released the eighth edition of his signature shoe with the company. Between his endorsements with Callaway Golf, Chase banks, Steiner Sports Memorabilia, and his Unanimous Media brand, Curry’s off-court earnings reach over $44 million annually.
The Brooklyn Nets paid Durant $38 million in 2020 – for a season he missed altogether. Durant spent the first year of his four-year, $164 million contract rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon, but also remained one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. Because of this, he is one of the main faces for Nike, Foot Locker, and Degree, as well as the over 40 different companies he has become an investor with. He also spent his year away from the court expanding his ThirtyFive Ventures media and management brand, which partners with ESPN, Apple, Showtime, and YouTube, among others.
Hamilton raised the bar yet again in 2020, winning his fourth consecutive Formula 1 title and seventh overall, tying the all-time record. He won 11 of 17 races during the shortened season, tying a personal best and earning $40 million from the final year of his contract with Mercedes-Benz. Hamilton is also the most marketable racer in the world, earning over $12 million via endorsements with Bose, Tommy Hilfiger, Puma, Sony, Monster Energy, and Vodafone, among others. Headed into 2021, he’ll be renewing his primary sponsorship with Mercedes-Benz.
Cousins continued his unique approach to contractual negotiations in 2020 with very lucrative results. In March, he signed a two-year, $66 million extension with the Minnesota Vikings, with a $30 million signing bonus. This came on the heels of his $84 million, fully guaranteed deal in 2018, continuing his trend of eschewing long-term, non-guaranteed high dollar deals, for shorter ones with a bigger guaranteed purse. Cousins also received earnings from Nike, Bose, and Panini as well.
In his lone season with the Houston Rockets, Westbrook remained both one of the top performers and earners in the NBA. His $38.5 million salary tied for second-highest in the league, while he continued to spread his wings wider off the court as well. His endorsement pact with Jordan Brand continued to expand, via his ‘Why Not’ fashion line. Westbrook also owns a line of car dealerships throughout the Los Angeles area. He was traded to the Washington Wizards in December 2020.
Just a year ago, Wilson was the highest-paid player in NFL history, however, the ever-changing carousel of salary negotiations moved him back on the list just a year later. But don’t shed any tears for the 31-year-old QB yet, as he took home $18 million in 2020 to quarterback the Seattle Seahawks. He will also see a $35 million allotment from the $65 million signing bonus he received in 2019. Wilson also has endorsement deals with Nike, Bose, and Mercedes-Benz, along with an ownership stake in the Seattle Sounders of the MLS.
While he earned just over $2 million in competitive earnings across seven tournaments, it was via endorsements where Woods remained a juggernaut. The second-highest earning athlete of all-time at $1.7 billion, the 44-year-old made $60 million on the year, due to the continued performance of his full-bodied sponsorship catalog. Nike, Bridgestone, TaylorMade, Rolex, Discovery Communications, and Monster Energy are among his chief partners. Meanwhile, a deal to publish his memoir with HarperCollins and continued development of golf courses in his name netted returns as well.
2020 was a rough affair for Wentz on the field, but it treated him pretty well off of it. The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback earned $39 million for the year, with a major portion coming via the payment of a $30 million signing bonus via his 2019 extension worth $128 million over four years. Wentz also sees an additional $4 million annually between endorsements with Nike, Amazon, Bose, Sanford Health, and Bobcat, among others.
Harden led the NBA in scoring for the third-consecutive season in 2019-20, posting just over 34 points per game. For his effort, the 2018 NBA MVP earned just a bit over a million per point on an average night, at $38.1 million (third-highest in the league). He also continued to reap the benefits of his massive deal 13-year, $200 million deal with Adidas. Harden also has a partnership with Amazon, to feature workout products from other sponsorship partners, including BodyArmor and Stance Socks.
As his profile has continued to soar, so has the earnings of the Milwaukee Bucks superstar. In 2020, the ‘Greek Freak’ won his second-consecutive NBA MVP, as well as Defensive Player of the Year honors. The 26-year-old made $25 million in 2020 but saw his earnings rise significantly due to the launch of his signature shoe line, via Nike. Antetokounmpo stands to move among the elite earners in the world starting in 2022, when his five-year, $228 million extension kicks in, the largest contract in NBA history.
While McGregor only fought once in 2020, his earnings far outweighed his time in the octagon. Between contract incentives and pay-per-view shares, the Irish fighter earned in the neighborhood of $30 million for his January bout with Donald Cerrone at UFC 246. McGregor also enjoys multi-million-dollar endorsement deals with Electronic Arts, Reebok, Beats, Burger King, Bud Light, and Wynn Resorts. His Proper Twelve Whiskey brand has been his major product venture over the past few years, which he has expanded into five countries as of 2019.
Irving earned $31 million in the first year of a new four-year, $141 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets in 2020. This makes him one of the 20 highest-paid players in the NBA and will climb to $33 million in 2021. The 28-year-old point guard also remained the owner of one of the most popular signature shoes in the NBA, which earns him $11 million annually from Nike. Irving also has pacts with 2K Sports, Panini, and Pepsi that help to push his off-court earnings close to $20 million annually.
The Portland Trail Blazers star continues to be one the NBA’s most bankable, non-major market stars. He earned $31.6 million for his on-court exploits in 2020, which included a career-best 30 points and eight assists per game. His profile continues to rise off the court, where he is one of the most visible players in the league. Between his signature shoe line with Adidas, a marketing campaign with Hulu, and 2K Sports, where he appeared on the cover of NBA 2K21, Lillard brings in an additional $14 million annually.
Thompson missed all of the 2019-20 season, rehabbing from a torn ACL. It was the first season of a five-year, $189.9 million extension he signed in the summer of 2019. The Warriors sharpshooter earns an estimated $14 million off the court as well from endorsements, led by a 10-year, $80 million deal with Chinese sportswear company Anta. Tragically, Thompson’s absence will be extended throughout 2021 as well, as he suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury just before the 2020-21 season. All-in-all, Thompson will earn $65 million before potentially suiting up for his new contract.
One of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL, the Los Angeles Chargers inked the former #2 overall pick and two-time Pro Bowler to a five-year, $135 million extension in July. It made Bosa the highest-paid defensive player in the league, the third time in third years a new player carried that distinction. All in all, Bosa will see $43 million in 2020 and a guarantee of $102 million over the life of the contract.
Paul enjoyed a career resurgence in 2020, making his 10th NBA All-Star appearance and pulling a young Oklahoma City Thunder team into a surprising playoff appearance. For his efforts, Paul earned $38.5 million the year, tied for the second-highest earnings on the year. Entering his 16 th season, Paul has earned the second-most in salary dollars in NBA history, behind only LeBron James at $299 million. Off the court, Paul adds an additional $6 million from endorsements with State Farm, Nike, Beyond Meat, and Panini.
Although past his prime on the links, Mickelson remains one of the biggest endorsers in all of sports. Of the $40.8 million he earned during the year, only $1.4 million came from competition. Otherwise, his lucrative deals with KMPG, Amgen, Callaway Golf, Heineken, Rolex, Amstel Light, Melin, and Intrepid Financial Partners form the second-biggest endorsement portfolio not only in the sport but in the top seven of all athletes.
George was the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers in the summer of 2019. In his first year in L.A., he earned $33.3 million in year two of a four-year extension he signed in 2018, shortly after joining the Thunder. 2021 will be the final year of that contract, as the fourth season was replaced by a four-year, $176 million extension in December 2020. Off the court, George earns around $8 million from endorsements with Nike, Gatorade, AT&T, and 2K Sports.
In 2017, Wall signed a four-year, $170 million extension with the Washington Wizards. Unfortunately, he hasn’t played more than 70 games in a season in three years and missed the 2019-20 season altogether. Although he earned $2.5 million off the court in 2020, his injury issues also substantially cut into his endorsement portfolio as well. Adidas terminated his signature line with the company early in 2020, two years into a five-year agreement.
Almost all of Vettel’s earnings came from his sponsorship pact with Ferrari, as he has continued to actively not pursue many endorsement deals. That’s easy to do however when you net $40 million annually as the German Formula 1 driver does from his main sponsor. 2020 marked the final year of his five-year contract with Ferrari, and likely his last year among the world’s elite earners. Vettel has only one victory over the past two seasons and reached only one podium in 2020.
Although he missed much of 2020 with an injury, Griffin continues to reap the rewards of the five-year, $171 million contract he signed in 2017 with the Los Angeles Clippers. The 34-year-old power forward earned $34.2 million in 2020, making him the eighth-highest paid NBA player on the year, despite him being limited to just 18 games on the year for the Detroit Pistons. Off the court, Griffin has been a long-time representer for Nike and also has endorsement deals with Panini and Red Bull.
The longtime leader of the New Orleans Saints continues to be among the elite earners in the sport past his 40 th birthday. In 2020, he’ll take home $25 million on the field and is the top-earning endorser in the NFL, netting $15 million annually. Over the course of his 19-year career, Brees has earned $247 million and has continued to supplement it with endorsement deals with Nike, Verizon, Marriott, Carnival Cruiseline, and Smoothie King. Brees also has been an investor in a number of restaurant businesses throughout Louisiana and his native Texas.
No player in history has earned more prize money than the $144 million Djokovic has. The 33-year-old added $6.4 million to that total in 2020, a year where he won four times, including the French Open, his 17th career Grand Slam win. Off the court, the world’s #1 men’s player earns a healthy $32 million annually, via endorsements with Asics, Lacoste, Seiko Watch Corporation, Head, NetJets, and Ultimate Software Group, among others.
2019 was a remarkable turnaround in the career of the former first-round pick, who took over at quarterback midseason for the Tennessee Titans and led them to the AFC Championship Game. For this effort, he was first honored as AFC Comeback Player of the Year, then rewarded with a four-year, $119 million contract to stay in the Music City. Of the new pact, $91 million is guaranteed money and he also gained endorsement deals with Adidas and Panini.
2020 saw the 23-year-old Osaka ascend to becoming the highest-earning female athlete in the world. She finished the year ranked #3 in WTA standings and earning $3.3 million in prize money. Off the court, her success has seen her bring in $34 million on the year, a single year record earning total for a female athlete. Nike, Mastercard, Nissan, Proctor & Gamble, All Nippon Airways, BodyArmor are counted among her wide-spanning –and still growing— endorsement catalog.
Matt Whitener is St. Louis-based writer, radio host and 12-6 curveball enthusiast. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 2010, and dabbles in WWE, NBA and other odd jobs as well. Follow Matt on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.