According to the 2020 Forbes ranking, paydays for the world’s highest-paid athletes dropped for the first time in four years since the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on sports and canceled or postponed a lot of sporting events for the first time since World War II.
This year witnesses Roger Federer taking the top spot of the list of the world’s highest-paid athletes for the first time, with $106 million of pre-tax earnings, standing before Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who took the top spot in three of the past four years. The two football icons earned a combined $209 million during the past 12 months, a $28 million drop from 2019, because of the salary reductions at many European football clubs when the leagues was halted in March.
With the best endorsement portfolio in sports, Federer is just the ninth athlete to have taken in the top spot since 1990, the first year Forbes started tracking athletes’ earnings. He is also the first tennis player in the past 30 years to land at No. 1 after drawing $100 million off the court, thanks to his big deals with Uniqlo, Mercedes-Benz, Credit Suisse, and 10 other partners. Meanwhile, Messi pulled in $32 million from Adidas, MasterCard and PepsiCo and Ronaldo earned $45 million from Nike, Herbalife, Altice, and his own CR7 brand.
Athletes from 21 countries and 10 sports make the final cut in 2020, as do two women, including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, the first time more than one female athlete has made the ranks since 2016, when Williams appeared with Maria Sharapova. Having earned $3.4 million in tournament pay, Osaka is another dream endorser by collecting $34 million from brands such as Nike, Procter & Gamble, and Nissan Motor. There is no female athlete from any other sport besides tennis has made this elite rank before.
While NBA players make the list more than any other sport, NFL players had the best year as a group because of the season’s late-summer start having left them unaffected by the pandemic.
With Nascar and German football the only major sports leagues resuming so far, the earnings downturn seems to extend for another ranking season.