World’s Five Highest-Paid Athletes Racked in More than $600M in 2021

The year 2021 has been a pretty good year for the world’s best athletes, who earned hundreds of millions of dollars through their lucrative sports contracts and heavy endorsement deals.

According to data presented by, the world’s five highest-paid athletes led by Connor McGregor took home pre-tax gross earnings of around $600 million this year.

McGregor Earned $158M in Endorsements, more than Other Top Four Athletes Combined

The Irish MMA fighter Connor McGregor convincingly tops the list of this year’s on and off-field earnings.

His performance earnings came from his appearance at UFC 257 in January 2021, in which Dustin Poirier knocked him out in the second round. Despite the disappointing showing, the MMA fighter still boosted his income through various endorsements and sponsorship deals, including those with Reebok and Beats by Dre. However, the biggest source of off-field income came through the sale of his whiskey brand Proper No. Twelve to Proximo Spirits.

According to Forbes data, McGregor earned $158 million in endorsements this year, more than the other four highest-paid athletes on the list combined.

Lionel Messi ranked on the high second place, with $130 million in total earnings this year. Statistics show the famous Argentinian footballer has one of the two highest salary earnings, bringing him $97 million in 2021, $27 million more than Cristiano Ronaldo. Endorsement deals, including a lifetime sponsorship deal with Adidas, and deals with Pepsi, Lay’s, and Budweiser, brought him another $33 million this year.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the third highest-paid athlete globally, racked in almost 30% less in on-field earnings than his Argentinian rival. However, thanks to a lifetime deal with Nike and endorsements with DAZN, Electronic Arts, and Tag Heuer, the off-field earnings of the Portuguese superstar hit $50 million in 2021, $17 million more than Messi’s.

Soccer Players Lead in Total Earnings

With $107.5 million in this year’s earnings, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescot ranked fourth on the Forbs list of the highest-paid athletes globally. However, statistics show he has the highest on-field earnings, bringing him $97.5 million in 2021.

Basketball superstar, LeBron James, rounds the top five list with $96.5 million in this year’s earnings, and according to Forbes data, his endorsement deals make two-thirds of that value.

Analyzed by sports, soccer players lead in total earnings. Statistics show that Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar, as three soccer superstars on the Forbes top 10 list, took home $345 million in 2021, compared to $268 million earned from basketball superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Football players also took two spots on Forbes’ list, with $183.5 million in this year`s earnings.

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