There’s a reason they call boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. “Money.” He fought twice during the past 12 months, knocking out Victor Ortiz in September and winning a unanimous decision in May against Miguel Cotto. He spent less than one hour in the ring to dispatch his two foes.
That helped make Mayweather the world’s highest-paid athlete over the past year, unseating Tiger Woods, who has been the top-earner since 2001. Woods ranks third this year with earnings of $59.4 million.
Mayweather maximizes his earnings by also acting as his own fight promoter through his company Mayweather Promotions. He collects all of the revenue from tickets, pay-per-view and sponsorships and covers the costs, including the purse for his opponent. His take home per fight is typically at least 50% higher than what his rival Manny Pacquiao earns.
Being a wildly polarizing figure doesn’t seem to have hurt his earnings. He charmed old ladies as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars in 2007 and provoked outrage with his racially charged, hate-filled rant against Pacquiao in 2010. His antics create buzz, and the result is both boxing fans and people who are normally indifferent to the sport pay up for his bouts. He has been a part of the four biggest non-heavyweight PPV events in boxing's history. The Cotto fight generated $94 million in PPV receipts.
Pacquiao ranks second with earnings of $62 million. Over the past 12 months he fought Juan Manuel Marquez and Tim Bradley. The bouts netted him $56 million, including money he gets from their broadcast in the Philippines. He also made an estimated $6 million over the past year outside the ring through endorsements with Nike, Hewlett-Packard, Monster Energy and Hennessy.
Woods’ total earnings dropped $16 million from last year to $59.4 million and have been sliced in half since their peak in 2009. Despite his collapse in this year’s U.S. Open, Woods is playing much better on the course and his prize money doubled from the prior 12 months. But the $2 million bump in prize money does not offset the loss of sponsors like Tag Heuer and Gillette.
Woods’ golf course design business has also struggled. Development of his Dubai course was shut down last year and the developer of his North Carolina course, Cliffs Club & Hospitality, filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
LeBron James leads the 13 basketball players that made the cut. James ranks fourth overall with earnings of $53 million. James, like all NBA players, had his salary sliced 20% by the NBA lockout, but he continues to make a mint off the court from sponsors like Nike, Coca-Cola, State Farm and McDonald’s. James’ income also got a boost when he received cash as part of his marketing partnership with Fenway Sports Group last year, through which James received a stake in the soccer club Liverpool.
Thirty football players rank among the 100 highest-paid athletes, which is more than any other sport. Many NFL players had bonuses delayed until the summer of 2011 that normally would have been paid in March due to the NFL lockout. Several players, like No. 30 Eli Manning, had their 2012 salaries converted into signing bonuses and paid out in March to alleviate team’s salary cap issues, which further goosed the number of NFL players in the top 100. Peyton Manning is the NFL’s highest-paid player with earnings of $42.4 million, which ranks 10th overall. The Indianapolis Colts paid Manning $26.4 million in 2011 even though he missed the season recovering from neck surgery. Manning joined the Denver Broncos as a free agent in March, when he inked a five-year, $96 million contract that paid him a $6 million advance on his 2012 Broncos’ salary. Manning continues to be the NFL’s top pitchman, earning $10 million annually off the field from Reebok, Gatorade, Sony, DirecTV, Wheaties and Papa John’s.
Athletes from 11 different sports qualified for the top 100, including two cricket legends (Mahendra Singh Dhoni at No. 31 and Sachin Tendulkar at No. 78), as well as track star Usain Bolt, who ranks No. 63 with earnings of $20.3 million. The 100 highest earners made $2.6 billion collectively during the past 12 months.
Our earnings figures include salaries, bonuses, prize money, appearance fees, as well as licensing and endorsement income for the 12 months between June 2011 and June 2012. We do not deduct for taxes or agents’ fees.
Two women made the top 100 (the cut-off was $16.6 million). Maria Sharapova ranks No. 26 with earnings of $27.9 million. She has long had a coveted portfolio of sponsors that now includes Nike, Head, Samsung, Tag Heuer and Evian. Sales for the Maria Sharapova Collection, her line of products at Nike subsidiary Cole Haan, doubled last year. Her ballet flat is the best selling female shoe for Cole Haan. Sharapova has stepped up her play on the court over the past year and is now the No. 1 ranked tennis player in the world. She completed a career Grand Slam with her French Open title and earned $5.9 million in prize money over the past 12 months.
Li Na ranks No. 81 overall with earnings of $18.4 million. She was a mildly successful pro with three career WTA victories before 2011, when she reached two Grand Slam finals and won the French Open title. The win in Paris made her the first Asian-born player ever to win a singles Grand Slam event. She signed seven multimillion-dollar endorsement deals after the historic win, in spite of the sluggish overall sponsorship market. Li shills for Babolat, Haagan-Daaz, Nike, Samsung and Mercedes, as well as multiple Chinese companies.
1. Floyd Mayweather ($85 million)
2. Manny Pacquiao ($62 million)
3. Tiger Woods ($59.4 million)
4. Lebron James ($53 million)
5. Roger Federer ($52.7 million)
6. Kobe Bryant ($52.3 million)
7. Phil Mickelson ($47.8 million)
8. David Beckham ($46 million)
9. Cristiano Ronaldo ($42.5 million)
10. Peyton Manning ($42.4 million)
See more of the World's Highest-Paid Athletes