9 professional athletes who make more money from endorsement deals than playing sports

Advertisement
9 professional athletes who make more money from endorsement deals than playing sports
  • Some star athletes make more money from endorsements than they do playing their sport.
  • Athletes in sports with salary cap restrictions can use endorsement deals to boost their incomes.

Many professional athletes get paid a lot of money to play their sports, but for some, their endorsement deals are more lucrative than their salaries.

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James is the professional athlete who earned the most from endorsements and sponsorship deals last year, per Sportico. Deals with companies that included Nike, Beats By Dre, and PepsiCo helped him make $80 million through endorsements in 2023, nearly double his roughly $46 million salary with the Lakers.

Meanwhile, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo was the world's highest-paid athlete last year. He earned $215 million through his contract with the Saudi club Al-Nassr and an additional $60 million in endorsements.

Athletes tend to retire younger than the average worker, so endorsement deals help them maximize their earnings while they're still in the spotlight. This is likely among the reasons you may be seeing Travis Kelce in so many commercials — the Kansas City Chiefs star has contemplated retirement in recent years.

Endorsement earnings are particularly helpful for athletes whose pay is constrained by league salary caps. In 2022, James signed a two-year, $97.1 million contract with the Lakers — the largest deal permitted under league rules. NBA teams can sign eligible players to contracts worth up to 35% of the league's salary cap — which is $136 million for the 2023-24 season.

Proponents of salary cap restrictions in the NBA and other sports leagues like the NFL and NHL say they help to ensure competitive balance — so the team with the deepest pockets doesn't get all the best players. But without these restrictions, star athletes like James would likely earn much more over the course of their careers.

Given this reality, endorsements can be a valuable side hustle. The same goes for business ventures and investments — which many athletes have pursued in recent years.

Among the world's 100 highest-paid athletes — in terms of combined salaries, winnings, and endorsements — here are the nine that brought in the majority of their earnings from endorsements in 2023, per Sportico. Golf and tennis stars make up the majority of the ranking.

The athletes with the lowest endorsement earnings are listed first.

Advertisement

8. Carlos Alcaraz (tied)

8. Carlos Alcaraz (tied)
Carlos Alcaraz.Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

2023 salary/winnings: $15.2 million

2023 endorsements: $27 million

The 20-year-old tennis phenomenon has inked endorsement deals with companies that include Nike, Rolex, and Louis Vuitton.

8. Jordan Spieth (tied)

8. Jordan Spieth (tied)
Jordan Spieth.AP Photo/Eric Risberg

2023 salary/winnings: $15.9 million

2023 endorsements: $27 million

The three-time major-winning golf star has signed endorsement deals with companies that include Under Armour, Titleist, and Coca-Cola.

Advertisement

7. Novak Djokovic

7. Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic.Getty/Tiziana Fabi

2023 salary/winnings: $15.9 million

2023 endorsements: $29 million

The all-time Grand Slam leader of men's tennis has signed endorsement deals with companies that include Mercedes-Benz, Head, and Jacob's Creek.

6. Shohei Ohtani

6. Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani.Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

2023 salary/winnings: $30 million

2023 endorsements: $40 million

In December, baseball player Shohei Ohtani signed a record 10-year, $700 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ohtani's contract deferred a significant chunk of this money until 2034 — in part to give the Dodgers front office more financial flexibility to build the team.

His lucrative endorsement deals — which will supplement his salary over the next decade — helped make this unique contract possible.

Ohtani has inked deals with companies that include New Balance, Fanatics, and Seiko.

Advertisement

6. Rory McIlroy

6. Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroyReinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

2023 salary/winnings: $37.4 million

2023 endorsements: $40 million

The four-time major winner has endorsement deals with companies that include Nike, Omega, and TaylorMade.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo.Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

2023 salary/winnings: $43.4 million

2023 endorsements: $45 million

The 2021 NBA champion has signed endorsement deals with companies that include Nike, Amazon, and T-Mobile.

Advertisement

3. Stephen Curry

3. Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry.Tony Gutierrez/AP Images

2023 salary/winnings: $48.9 million

2023 endorsements: $50 million

The four-time NBA champion has inked endorsement deals with companies that include Under Armour, Chase, and Nissan Motor.

2. Tiger Woods

2. Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods.AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

2023 salary/winnings: $12.2 million

2023 endorsements: $65 million

Tiger Woods only played in three golf tournaments in 2023, but he still made plenty of money off the course.

Woods' longtime endorsement deal with Nike recently ended when he partnered with TaylorMade. He has other sponsorship deals with companies that include Bridgestone, Monster, and Upper Deck.

Advertisement

1. LeBron James

1. LeBron James
LeBron James.Mark J. Terrill/AP Images

2023 salary/winnings: $45.7 million

2023 endorsements: $80 million

In addition to Nike, Beats By Dre, and PepsiCo, the four-time NBA champion has endorsement deals with companies that include AT&T, GMC, CarMax, and Subway.