The 10 Highest Paid Sports Figures: What Do Professional Athletes Make

the highest paid sports

It’s no secret that professional athletes are paid well; in fact, many people think they make too much money. But when you take into consideration the intense demands on their body, it sometimes makes sense that they make a lot of money.

Professional athletes are very well-trained and always in excellent shape. Even more importantly, they have to “eat, sleep, and breathe” their jobs because they are essentially on call 24/7.


If you think about your favorite professional athlete, it’s hard not to think of how much money he is making. In fact, often their salaries are printed in newspapers and magazines, so it isn’t very difficult to find this information out.

Even “minor” players on a sports team can make $1 million per year or more, and it’s phenomenal learning what the lead players make, such as the quarterback or the pitcher.

Professional athletes train every single day and have to be prepared for that next game or match both physically and psychologically, in part because a lot of people are counting on them to win. There are dozens of sports in the world, and if you’re curious about which ones make the most money, below are the top 10.

1. Tennis

When a game of professional tennis is played, there is usually prize money and sometimes additional awards that help the amount go up a bit more. Today across the United States, the average professional tennis player makes roughly $64,000 a year. But this is just an average.

If you’re a pro tennis player that ranks 200 or lower, you can count on making absolutely nothing. For example, for each of the four Grand Slam tournaments, the winners will take home about 18% of the total prize money, which is not a high amount. If you perform but don’t win, that number goes down to 0.3%.

In 2020, there are roughly 14,000 tennis players who qualify as professionals, and almost half will never make a dime. But on the other end of the spectrum, players such as the Williams sisters and Roger Federer make millions every single year, especially if you include the money they make from endorsements from sponsors.

2. UFC/WWE/Boxers and Fighters

This is a contact sport so you’d think they get paid a better average salary, but they don’t. The average U.S. salary for boxers is roughly $37,000. Just like tennis, it seems to be either feast or famine for fighters. People like Floyd Mayweather, Jr., can earn $100 million from one pay-per-view fight, while 1/3 of the UFC fighters make less than $45,000 per year.

Both MMA and UFC fighters are gaining in popularity, so most experts look for the average salaries for these men and women to go way up in future years.

3. Golf

Putting aside people such as Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, professional golfers still do alright if they are in the top 100 or so golfers. While the average salary for professional golfers in the U.S. is only around $43,000, that changes if you’re in the top 100.

In 2011, a total of 261 pro golfers made money in PGA tournaments, with the highest and lowest salaries being roughly $6.7 million and $6,300, respectively.

In 2012, 45 PGA events awarded money to 125 qualified players, and the average was roughly $2.2 million per player. Once you take into consideration the average salaries for minor league players, it’s easy to understand why the national average is only $43,000.

4. Auto Racing

Although big-time NASCAR drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kyle Busch are familiar names to most people, there are still hundreds of professional drivers that never make it to the front of the line, and therefore they never make the millions that those drivers do. The average salary for a race car driver is around $38,000 per year.

But again, this is an average, because the average salary for a NASCAR driver is roughly $112,000. Some of the highest-paid drivers include Michael Schumacher from Formula 1 Grand Prix, who earned $49 million in 1999; and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. from NASCAR, who earned $35 million in 2009.

5. Ice Hockey

The NHL players have some of the most physically demanding jobs of any professional sports figures. Their jobs are sometimes combative and always demanding.

Today, the average NHL player makes between $1.54 million and $3.54 million. One of the reasons for this is because there are only 23 players on the roster, and the money is usually split 50/50 between the owners and the players.

In the minor league, the average salaries are roughly $40,000 to $90,000 per year, even though they are still considered professional players. The NHL now has tough 82-game seasons, so some feel that every penny they make is well-deserved.

6. (American) Football

Okay, this is the one you’ve been waiting for so here it goes: the average NFL salary is roughly $860,000.

A lot of money, right? Well, it is certainly more than most people will ever make, but it is nothing compared to the salaries of some well-known quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, Drew Brees of New Orleans, and Tom Brady of New England all make more than $10 million per year.

One of the reasons for the high salaries, however, is the number of endorsements these pro athletes get. It is not surprising to see these players hawk everything from shoes to sports cream, and all of these endorsements add up quickly.

7. Soccer

Called football almost everywhere except in the United States, soccer players are like idols in their home country, so there is little wonder why they make so much money.

The average annual salaries total $6 to $8 million in the UEFA, $3.2 million for the EPL, and $1.6 million in La Liga. Indeed, just like other pro sports, the salaries for soccer players have quite a range, with the lowest-paid players making $24,000 and the highest-paid players making around $53 million.

The salaries pro soccer players receive have a lot to do with bonuses, how well they play, promotional clauses, and various other factors. It also matters how good your team is, where you are located, and your own personal statistics.

8. Baseball

In 2018, the average Major League Baseball (MLB) salary was roughly $4.5 million. The game itself involves 162 games a year, not including the playoffs. Since most professional baseball players are actually playing in the minor leagues, their salaries are much lower, which usually comes out to around $1,000 to $3,000 per month, not including benefits.

The top 100 players that coaches pluck from various schools and universities may not start out making a lot of money, but for some of them the bonuses can total anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million. This is usually a one-time fee, of course, but it is still a lot of money.

9. Cricket

The average Indian Premier League (IPL) player makes around $4.3 million per year. A valuable cricket captain, however, can make about 20 times what the rest of the players do, so it definitely pays to be at the top.

Since international cricket players play all over the world for their teams, their salaries are roughly $1 million per year. These amounts do not include other domestic leagues, endorsement deals, and T20 World Cup player earnings.

Oddly enough, the IPL was launched in 2008 and up to that point, no cricket team in the world was set up as an actual business to make money. Now, of course, all of that has changed.

Although relatively unknown in the U.S., cricket is popular in many different countries, and the IPL is known for their well-paid owners. The players are no different, of course, with the very best players having the potential to earn more than $100,000 per game – a game that takes only three hours to play.

10. Basketball

Basketball players are extremely well-paid, with an average annual salary of $7 million per year. Many NBA contracts remain in effect regardless of what happens, so even if they get cut from the team and they’re not able to play because they get injured, they will still receive their huge salaries.

If you’re curious about some of the top players, here is what they earn: LeBron James, $270 million over 16 years; and Kevin Durant, $275 million Nike deal and a $187 million over 12 seasons for the game itself.

Players such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and others have made hundreds of millions throughout the years, but again, a lot of that comes through money from endorsements. Countries such as China, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Argentina have top players that can earn roughly $1 million per year.

When looking at “average” salaries, you have to look at that word, because an “average” number takes all of the salaries, adds them together then divides that number by the total number of players involved. It is the number in the very middle, in other words, and it can be a bit misleading.

Nicole Middleton
Nicole calls herself a typical millennial girl and thrives on her share of social media, celebrity gossip, and all things viral content. She’s a big fan of pop music and plays the guitar as a hobby.