Despite their staggering £1.7bn combined wealth, the 50 richest footballers in the world are still far behind their counterparts in golf, tennis, American football and basketball.
The fact that David Beckham tops the Goal Rich List 2013 comes as no surprise. The 37-year-old is a global superstar who has benefited from lucrative playing contracts and off field marketing throughout his career.
But his 172 million pound wealth is still easily dwarfed by the likes of Tiger Woods (£538m) and Michael Schumacher (£510m), while leading experts believe that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can potentially outdo them all on the money stakes.
Football has the huge advantage of being the most popular global sport. To illustrate this point, the World Cup 2010 final in South Africa attracted around 700 million TV viewers, while just over 100 million watched this year’s NFL Super Bowl. As a result, football attracts more corporate money than any other sport.
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A considerable portion of the amounts earned by the top footballers in our list will have come from endorsements from the likes of Nike, Adidas, Puma, Pepsi and EA Sports - global companies who recogonize football's two biggest stars, Ronaldo and Messi, as two of the most marketable athletes on the planet.
Both players are scoring frequently and their profiles have transcended football. They are watched and admired by people from the favelas of Brazil to the streets of Shanghai, and if they were to fully exploit that status, their earnings could even surpass the likes of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.
Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor at Forbes told Goal.com: "I think Ronaldo and Messi are the two most marketable athletes on the planet and earn less than they should. They’re at the top of their games now and should be maximizing their earnings."
"They have the potential to surpass Beckham, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, everybody. But it’s also different now. If you sign more deals you have to give up more time in your busy schedule."
While all on the Goal Rich List are easily considered multi-millionaires, the potential is there for players to earn a great deal more money.
It could be argued that the length and intensity of the football season for a top player does not allow the time for sponsorship deals to be fully-taken care of, with advertising work and attending events a key requirement of many agreements.
By comparison, the biggest names in basketball right now, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, made 27 million pounds and 21 million pounds respectively from endorsements between June 2011 and June 2012, according to Forbes’ 2012 list of the World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes. These are similar amounts to Woods (£37m) and Federer (£30m).
Undoubtedly, basketball, football, golf and tennis are all lucrative global sports, with clothing brands Nike and Adidas latching on to the biggest names. The fact that the players’ apparel is always clearly visible in these sports is a distinct advantage. But it is the stars of golf and tennis that mostly benefit from the high-end sponsors like Mercedes Benz, Rolex and Tag Heuer because of the demographic of fans tuning in.
In terms of earning potential from the actual profession, comparisons are interesting. Within those sports popular in America, baseball players are head and shoulders above their counterparts in basketball and American football because, much like in soccer, they have no cap on their salaries. Indeed, top baseball players can earn around a staggering 17 million pounds a year from their contracts.
Plus in basketball and baseball, as soon as a player signs a deal, they are entitled to all of the agreed money for that contract period. New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez looks likely to miss the remainder of the season and if he was never to swing his bat in earnest again, he would still get the full 183 million pounds from his contract.
Compare that to football, where even though the wages can be as high as 250,000 pounds a week, if Ronaldo was to get injured and could not play again, there would likely be small print in the contract that would give discretion to the club’s owners, management and to some extent the player himself as to how much compensation he receives.
Overall, in terms of earning power, being a polarized figure does not hinder a sportsman’s potential, if anything, it makes them a more lucrative attraction.
Just look at the likes of Woods, Floyd Mayweather and indeed Ronaldo. The Portuguese ace is clearly not the shy, retiring type. He is happy to flaunt his body and talents, which has helped attract sponsors and a global fanbase - he has more Twitter followers and Facebook fans than any other athlete.
But it is also about being savvy with your earning potential. Beckham has created his own brand, quite literally with his clothing line, but also through his image and ever presence in the media, so even in the twilight of his playing years, his popularity and earnings continue to grow.
|It could be argued that the length and intensity of the football season for a top player does not allow the time for sponsorship deals to be fully-taken care of
Boxer Mayweather, who topped Forbes’ 2012 sport’s list, maximizes his earnings by acting as his own fight promoter through his company Mayweather Promotions. He also collects all of the revenue from tickets, pay-per-view television and sponsorships.
All that said, there is every likelihood that Messi, who is still only 25 and already considered, by some, to be the greatest footballer ever, will surpass Beckham’s total career earnings. Under his new contract signed at the end of last year, his base salary was raised from approximately 7 million pounds a year to 10.3 million pounds and by 2018 it will have risen to 12.5 million pounds.
And although 10.3 million pounds makes Messi just the third highest paid player in terms of base salary, behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic (approx. £13m) and Samuel Eto'o ( approximately£17m), when you take into account bonuses, Barcelona will pay Messi 30 million pounds in 2013, making him the highest paid football player in the world.
If he can exploit his full marketing potential and increase the 13 million pounds per year he earns from endorsements with companies like Adidas, EA Sports and Dolce & Gabbana, then the Argentine can reach the same dizzy heights in the financial world as he has on the pitch.