Off-Field Earners

Which sportspeople are making the

most money from brand deals?

Reaching the top of your game in any professional sport means that you’re going to be doing pretty well for yourself, whether that’s from landing a multi-million dollar contract in team sports like American football and basketball, or claiming big cash prizes in solo disciplines like boxing, golf and tennis.

But the earning potential of a top athlete doesn’t end there. Success brings with it exposure, and big brands jump at the chance to team up with the world’s most successful sportspeople.

Whether it’s by associating themselves with a particular sportswear or equipment brand or promoting anything from video games to energy drinks, endorsements can be very lucrative.

In fact, endorsements actually make up the bulk of income for a number of athletes, so which sports stars are earning the most from these deals?

The athletes with the biggest off-field earnings

1
Conor McGregor

@thenotoriousmma

$158M

As the richest sportsperson of 2021, it stands to reason that Conor McGregor is also the richest athlete when it comes purely to his off-field endeavours.

The ‘Notorious’ MMA star made $22 million from his one fight of the year (which he lost), and while he also enjoys a healthy income from endorsements with the likes of US sports betting site DraftKings and lifestyle fashion brand Roots of Fight, the majority of his off-field income came from the sale of his share in his Proper No. Twelve whiskey brand.

2
Roger Federer

@rogerfederer

$90M

As well as being one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Roger Federer also boasts one of the most impressive portfolios of sponsors too, with off-field earnings totalling $90 million in 2021.

While he works with a number of brands such as Rolex, Mercedes-Benz and LMVH, by far the jewel in the crown is the ten-year deal he penned with Uniqlo in 2018, which will earn him $300 million in total.

3
LeBron James

@kingjames

$65M

As well as being a frequent MVP in the NBA, LeBron James is also the league’s most marketable star, with off the court earnings of $65 million in 2021.

King James’s endorsement portfolio is packed with household names such as Nike, Pepsi, Walmart, AT&T, and Beats Electronics.

The athletes with the biggest off-field earnings ranked

SELECT CURRENCY:

Annual earnings

Athlete

Sport

Total

On-field earnings

Off-field earnings

The athletes with the highest percentage of off-field earnings

Total earnings Off-field earnings
1
Roger Federer

@rogerfederer

$90M

$89.97M

Off-field earnings as % of total:

99.97%

A large portion of Roger Federer’s income has always come from his many endorsement deals, but that was even more clear in 2021 when he spent a lot of time on the sidelines with injuries.

Federer made just $300,000 from prize money, a figure that is dwarfed by his off-court income of $89.97million, meaning that as much as 99.97% of his earnings came from brand deals and other sources.

2
Tiger Woods

@tigerwoods

$60M

$59.8M

Off-field earnings as % of total:

99.67%

Another iconic sportsperson who has spent a lot of time out of action in the last twelve months is Tiger Woods, who suffered serious injuries in a car crash and made just $200,000 in prize money.

However, as one of the best golfers of all time, he has plenty of other ways of earning, with 99.67% of his 2021 earnings coming away from the course, in particular a lucrative deal to sell his likeness to the PGA Tour 2K video game series.

3
Phil Mickelson

@philmickelson

$41M

$40M

Off-field earnings as % of total:

97.56%

Another golfer takes third place, reflecting the fact that solo athletes often don’t earn the same mega-money as those in team sports do.

Phil Mickelson has had a long and successful career and became the oldest major winner in history when he won the PGA Championship in 2021, but his prize money still paled in comparison to his other earnings, which made up over 97.5% of his total income.

The athletes with the highest percentage of off-field earnings ranked

SELECT CURRENCY:

% of total earnings

Athlete

Sport

Total

On-field earnings

Off-field earnings

The most common sports sponsors

We also looked at each of the individual sponsors that are listed for the 50 richest athletes in the world, to see which companies are most commonly striking deals with sports stars.

Note that these are just major sponsors that are listed on Forbes and athletes are likely to have more deals, but it still gives a good idea of who the major players are on the sponsorship scene!

16 athletes

1. Nike

One name stands way clear at the top of the rankings when it comes to sports sponsorships and that’s Nike, who are represented by just under a third of the world’s richest athletes (16) which is twice as many as any other company.

Nike is of course one of the world’s biggest sports clothing and equipment brands and their success is largely due to one of the biggest sports endorsement deals of all time, their partnership with NBA legend Michael Jordan, which spawned its own brand, Air Jordan.

8 athletes

2. Adidas

Adidas are the other major player in the athletic apparel industry but they lag behind their rivals at Nike when it comes to endorsements of the richest athletes, with eight.

Partnerships with athletes have been a big part of the company’s strategy ever since founder Adolf Dassler convinced Jesse Owens to use his handmade running spikes at the 1936 Olympics and now sponsor countless athletes such as Lionel Messi and James Harden.

7 athletes

3. Panini

The non-sports company that can claim the biggest share of the world’s richest athletes is the Panini Group, with seven.

Panini is known for its collectables such as trading cards and particularly its World Cup sticker books. Their brand partnerships include deals with Dak Prescott, Steph Curry and Patrick Mahomes.

Methodology

All earnings data was sourced from Forbes’ 2021 list of the Highest-Paid Athletes in the world and refer to income between May 1st 2020 and May 1st 2021.

On-the-field earnings figures include prize money, salaries and bonuses, while off-the-field earnings figures are an estimate of sponsorship deals, appearance fees and licensing income for the 12 months leading to May 1, plus cash returns from any businesses operated by the athlete.