We all know that the top athletes in the world are incredibly wealthy, earning millions and millions of dollars each year. But which of the world’s top sports people are working the hardest to bring home the bacon?
We’ve studied the earnings of the highest-paid athletes of the past twelve months and compared this with how many minutes they spent on the field or court, or in the ring, to find out who makes the most for every minute of competitive action.
The top names in combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) get paid a huge amount of money for putting their bodies through the wringer, but they also spend by far the least amount of time in competitive action.
Of course, these fighters dedicate months of their lives training to be in peak condition for their big-money fights, but we found that boxer Canelo Álvarez spent just 72 minutes in the ring last year, while Conor McGregor lasted just 2 minutes and 32 seconds in his first rematch against Dustin Poirier in January (unfortunately the latest earnings data doesn’t cover the pair’s second rematch in July).
Despite being in the octagon for just two and a half minutes in that match, McGregor still took home $22m, which works out at $8.7 million a minute, or around $145,000 a second.
The NFL is one of the highest-paid major sports leagues in the world, but its stars actually spend a lot less time on the field than those in other sports.
The 2020 NFL season lasted for 16 games (followed by the postseason), with games lasting for just 60 minutes, which means that the likes of Dak Prescott (who played just 300 minutes in 2020) are raking in as much as $325,000 per minute on the field.
Football (or soccer) is home to the three highest-paid athletes in the world, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
While the football season is usually relatively long, especially if the team goes on a long cup run or does well in Europe, with the top players rarely being substituted too, these mega wages mean that the top players still take home a huge sum per minute played.
Neymar had the highest earnings per minute, at $32,716, followed by Lionel Messi, at $23,139.
The 2020-21 season in the NBA was still feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, with just 72 games played, meaning its top earners made slightly more per minute this year than they previously would.
Those making the most per minute include Kevin Durant ($23,810 per minute) and Anthony Davis ($19,908).
Earnings per Minute
We took the on-field earnings of the 100 highest-earning athletes in the world according to Forbes’ 2021 list of Highest-Paid Athletes, choosing to focus just on those athletes from the worlds of American football, basketball, association football, boxing, and MMA.
We then sourced the number of minutes played by each athlete in the 2020-21 season (or between the dates of May 1st, 2020, and 2021 for boxing and MMA) using the following sources:
Note that for American Football players, statistics for minutes played were unavailable, so we took the number of games played and multiplied them by 60 (the standard number of minutes for an NFL match).
For boxers, we took the number of rounds that they had fought in during their matches and multiplied this by three (the number of minutes in a round).
We included all league fixtures as well as postseason games for American Football and baseball, as well as cup games for association football players.
OOur figures only account for playtime and do not take into account the time spent training, but demonstrate how much is earned by each sports star during a game or match.
Note that we excluded Klay Thompson, who earned $28.5m but spent the entirety of the 2020-21 season out injured.