Forbes: Eight athletes made $100M-plus last year, twice as many as any previous year

The business of sports continues to boom, paying dividends for the best of the best on the field of play.

Forbes released its annual list of highest-earning athletes on Tuesday. Eight earned more than $100 million in the past year, twice as many as any previous year. The list includes expected names, with international soccer stars at the top. The NBA also makes a strong showing, as does golf, thanks to the influx of Saudi money to LIV Golf.

Forbes calculated its list based on on-field and off-field earnings from May 1, 2022 to May 1, 2023. For on-field earnings, it considered salaries and bonuses and prize monies won. For off-field earnings, it considered "sponsorship deals, appearance fees and memorabilia and licensing income" in addition to "cash returns from any businesses operated by the athlete."

Investment income, such as interest and dividends, was not considered. The numbers were tallied before taxes were taken out and agent fees were paid.

World's top 10 athlete earners

So who earned the most for the 2023 list? That honor belongs to Cristiano Ronaldo, who checked in with $136 million in earnings, the most ever for a soccer player. A pay jump to $75 million when he left Manchester United for Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr put him over the top, though that number was prorated for the timeframe. Ronaldo's $90 million in off-field income made up the bulk of his earnings for this list.

World Cup final foes and soon-to-be former Paris Saint Germain teammates Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé cracked the top 3. (Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes)

Up next, unsurprisingly, is Lionel Messi. The Argentinian soccer star made $65 million both on and off the field for a 2023 tally of $130 million. He may be on the verge of shattering next year's list. He's reportedly in talks to earn roughly $400 million annually by leaving Paris Saint-Germain to play soccer in Saudi Arabia. Saudi money continues to be a running theme.

France's Kylian Mbappé is third on the list with $120 million ($100 million on-field, $20 million off-field) in earnings, rounding out a list topped be three soccer superstars.

Up next is basketball's biggest star and the first U.S. entry on the list. LeBron James earned $119.5 million, with his off-field earnings ($75 million) eclipsing his substantial paychecks with the Los Angeles Lakers ($44.5 million). James previously joined Michael Jordan as the only NBA player, past or present, to become a billionaire.

Mexican boxing star Canelo Alvarez is up next at the No. 5 spot with $110 million. His commanding box office draw accounted for $100 million, while he earned $10 million out of the ring.

Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson are piling up paychecks, even if nobody's watching. (Reuters/Mike Segar)
Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson are piling up paychecks, even if nobody's watching. (Reuters/Mike Segar)

LIV Golf contributes to the next two spots on the list after Saudi Arabia opened up the vault to lure big names from the PGA Tour. The effort was widely criticized as an attempt to sportswash the nation's human rights violations. It proved lucrative for Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson (among others), who showed up as the world's No. 6 and No. 7 earners for 2023.

Johnson tallied $107 million to check in at No. 6 with his $102 million earned on the course dwarfing his $5 million in earnings off it. Mickelson is seventh with $106 million and a similar ratio. He earned $102 million of it on the course. Playing Saudi golf is great for the bank overall but not so much for procuring endorsement checks.

Stephen Curry joins the list at No. 8 as the last 100-millionaire on the list. He breaks the 9-figure threshold for the first time with $100.4 million ($48.4 million on-court, $52 million off-court) in earnings.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry are thriving on and off the court. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
LeBron James and Stephen Curry are thriving on and off the court. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Retired tennis star Roger Federer checks in at No 9. He's the first player outside the $100 million-plus threshold with $95.1 million in earnings. Don't cry for him, though. He's cracked $100 million mark before. And he made the top 10 this year despite not playing any meaningful tennis. Federer made all but $100,000 of his $95 million off the court thanks to a lucrative endorsement portfolio he earned while winning 20 grand slam titles.

Kevin Durant rounds out the top 10 as the third NBA player on the list. The Phoenix Suns star made $89.1 million with an almost even split on ($44.1 million) and off ($45 million) the court. He's made multiple investments in other sports leagues, including the Premier Lacrosse League, League One Volleyball, women’s sports league network Athletes Unlimited and a Major League Pickleball expansion team.

In total, the top 10 athletes earned an estimated $1.11 billion in the past year, breaking the all-time record for the Forbes list, including 2018 when Floyd Mayweather tilted the scales with $285 million in earnings.