Messi beats LeBron James to No.1 spot on Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes as Ronaldo makes top three


Lionel Messi may have taken a pay cut when leaving Barcelona as a free agent to link up with Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2021, but his superstar appeal has ensured that he takes the No.1 spot on Forbes’ run down of the highest-paid athletes on the planet.

Endorsements away from the pitch, alongside a lucrative deal at Parc des Princes, have allowed the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner to pip NBA legend LeBron James to first place on a notable chart that also includes Manchester United frontman Cristiano Ronaldo and PSG forward Neymar.

Iconic figures from the worlds of basketball, NFL, tennis and boxing complete the top 10, with there some serious marketing appeal on show in a run down of those that continue to pull in the biggest pay cheques.

  • Giannis AntetokounmpoGetty

    10Giannis Antetokounmpo | $80.9m/£66m

    The youngest member of the top 10, with the Milwaukee Bucks’ two-time MVP penning a five-year contract in December 2020 that is worth $228 million (£187m). He is one of the investors in timepiece resale platform WatchBox and has a licensing agreement in place with NFT platform NFTSTAR. Giannis’ endorsement stable also includes deals with WhatsApp and Google Pixel, while his life story – in a biopic called ‘Rise’ - will be available to stream on Disney+ from June.

  • Tom BradyGetty Images

    9Tom Brady | $83.9m/£69m

    The GOAT of American football has shelved retirement plans for now, but it has been reported that he has an analyst offer from Fox Sports on the table that will be worth $375 million (£308m) once the day comes to hang up his cleats. He already has a production company, 199 Productions, and a new clothing line named BRADY. The NFT platform he co-founded in 2021 has raised $170m (£139m), while his Religion of Sports production enterprise has a content agreement in place with Skydance Sports.

  • Canelo AlvarezGetty

    8Canelo Alvarez | $90m/£74m

    The Mexican boxer tends to pull in more than $40 million (£33m) from his box office appeal in pay-per-view events, with a legion of loyal supporters following his every move. Away from the ring, Canelo has a lucrative partnership with Hennessy and owns a taco restaurant chain in his homeland that intends to expand into America. He has also stated a desire to launch a chain of gas stations, while Canelo Productions work closely with DAZN and Matchroom Boxing to put on fights in Mexico.

  • Roger FedererGetty

    7Roger Federer | $90.7m/£74m

    The Swiss icon has spent several years working with brands such as Rolex and Uniqlo. Federer invested in the Swiss shoe brand On in 2019, and that company raised more than $600 million (£492m) when going public in September 2021.

  • Kevin DurantGetty

    6Kevin Durant | $92.1m/£75m

    Nike pay Durant around $28 million (£23m) to promote their brand, while deals have also been done with Coinbase, NBA Top Shot and Weedmaps. He has his media company, Boardroom, and investment firm, Thirty Five Ventures, and has more recently branched out into the NFT platform OpenSea and digital fitness startup Future.

  • Stephen CurryGetty

    5Stephen Curry | $92.8m/£76m

    Signed a four-year, $215 million (£176m) contract with the Golden State Warriors in August 2021. Curry’s new FTX endorsement deal came with an equity stake and he is another to have moved into blockchain and NFT. He has endorsements relating to trainers and his production company, Unanimous Media, signed a development deal with Comcast NBCUniversal in September of last year.

  • Neymar PSG 2021-22Getty

    4Neymar | $95m/£78m

    The Brazilian forward has a number of valuable sponsorship deals in place with the likes of Puma and Red Bull. He has been the subject of a Netflix docuseries and is dipping his toe into the world of NFTs after signing up with platform NFTSTAR.

  • Cristiano Ronaldo Man Utd 2021-22Getty Images

    3Cristiano Ronaldo | $115m/£94m

    The Portuguese is well established as an all-time great in football circles and remains in eternal competition with fellow multiple Ballon d’Or winner Messi. A big-money contract was signed when returning to Manchester United in 2021, but much of Ronaldo’s earning power comes from social media – where he boasts 690 million combined followers. That allows him to bring in revenue from sponsors Nike, Herbalife and Clear shampoo. He is also an investor in Tatel restaurants and is the face of an upcoming soccer community app called ZujuGP.

  • LeBron JamesGetty

    2LeBron James | $121.2m/£99m

    The Los Angeles Lakers forward is now a movie star, having appeared in Space Jam: A New Legacy, and boasts a talk show, ‘The Shop’, that has moved from HBO to YouTube. He sold a minority stake in production company SpringHill in October 2021 for about $725m (£594m). James announced a deal with in January and has also invested in home gym company Tonal and sports tech startup StatusPRO.

  • Lionel Messi PSG 2021-22Getty

    1Lionel Messi | $130m/£107m

    The mercurial Argentine is working on a hefty salary at PSG, but those earnings are dwarfed by the commercial partnerships he enjoys away from the pitch. Messi boasts an endorsement portfolio that includes deals with Adidas, Budweiser and PepsiCo, while a multi-year partnership with Socios is worth $20 million (£16m) to the South American.