What does it take to become one of the most successful athletes in the world? Hard work, skill and a little bit of luck all play a part, but we’ve dived into the data to find out what else links those on Forbes' list of the 100 highest earning athletes in the world over the past 12 months.
Whilst the majority of the world’s top 100 highest earning athletes are in the peak of their careers, either in their late twenties (43%) or early 30s (41%), we see the list span an age range of 25 years (from 23 to 48 years).
Under 25 years1
Over 45 years1
Basketball's Giannis Antetokounmpo takes the lead as the youngest player to currently sit amongst the world's highest-paid athletes at just 23 years old, with Golf's Phil Mickelson coming in as the oldest player at 48.
PERSONAL Average Age by Sport
When we look at the average age of athletes by sport, there is a trend for golfers (33.8) and motor racing drivers (33.6) to be slightly older, whilst footballers (29.3) and cricketers (29) typically sit at the younger end of the spectrum.
If you want to be a successful sports star, you may have more chance if you were born in April or June. That’s because the majority of the world’s richest sports stars are either a Gemini or an Aries, with 13 being born under each star sign. Whether you believe in such things or not, that’s more than twice the amount who were born under the least common star sign (Sagittarius & Scorpio, with 5 each)!
Breaking things down by sport, basketball players are more likely to be Geminis (36%), American Footballers are most likely to be born as Capricorns (22%) and the richest football (soccer stars) are predominantly Aquarius (33%).
PERSONAL Height by Sport
The average overall height of the world's top athletes is 192.1cm (6' 4"). As you might expect, it’s the basketball players who are the tallest, with a mighty average height of 201.6cm (6' 7"), although the sole track athlete, Usain Bolt, isn’t too far behind at 195cm (6' 5").
Football's Lionel Messi comes out as the shortest player amongst the sporting elite, standing at 170cm (5' 7") tall, whilst basketball's Marc Gasol stands the tallest at 216cm (7' 1").
And while height isn’t quite as important to their sport, motor racing drivers come out as the smallest, with an average height of 173.3cm (5' 8").
American Football 190.5cm
Motor Racing 173.3cm
Almost three quarters (72%) of the top 100 earning athletes were from the USA or UK, with none hailing from Africa and just one from Australia/Oceania.
Just under one in four of the athletes has had to move from their home country to make it big. The majority of those who have stayed at home are Americans who have succeeded in the NFL, NBA or MLB, while in other sports such as football and tennis athletes are more likely to move.
24% Moved from birth country
76% Still live in birth country
While a university degree certainly isn’t required for sporting success, 57% of the top 100 do hold one.
This is primarily because many athletes in the US attend university on scholarships and start out their careers playing for their college team before turning pro.
In fact, each of those athletes with a degree studied in the US, with all but three of them being born in the country too.
Degree - 57
No Degree- 40
California and Texas are the educational hotspots of the 100 highest earning sports stars, with two Universities in each having educated 3 athletes on the list.
PERSONAL Marital Status & Parenthood
4% more were married than single, although those who are single earnt an average of $6m more ($42m to $36m).
The majority of the world’s richest athletes are yet to have children, which perhaps shows how difficult it is to juggle a successful career and a family, although seeing as they’re all fairly young, there’s plenty of time yet!
0 children 34 Athletes
1 children 24 Athletes
2 children 27 Athletes
3 children 5 Athletes
4 children 6 Athletes
5 children 4 Athletes
FINANCIAL Overall Earnings
Overall, the top 100 earned a total of $3.8bn between them in the last year.
American Football $618.5m
Motor Racing $126.3m
Of the 6 highest earners, we see three football superstars, a boxer, an MMA fighter and a basketball player:
FINANCIAL Average Earnings by Sport
MMA and boxing are by far the biggest earners on average ($99m and $98m respectively), largely due to the Mayweather v McGregor fight, while cricket and baseball are the lowest ($24m and $27m).
American Football $32m
Motor Racing $41m
FINANCIAL Salary-Endorsements Split
While all of the top 100 athletes are obviously doing very well for themselves, the actual source of their wealth does vary.
According to Forbes, 96% of the $285m fortune made by Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year came from prize money, with just $10m coming from endorsements.
On the other hand, just 16% of Roger Federer’s pay is from his actual winnings, with $65m coming from endorsements with brands such as Nike, Rolex and Mercedes-Benz.
earn more from prize money and wages
earn more from endorsements
Endorsements make up a large portion of athletes’ wealth, with sponsorships from the huge sports brands such as Adidas and Nike, as well as companies from a whole host of other industries.
Overall, the sporting top 100 have earned a combined $824 million from endorsements in the past 12 months.
55 have partnerships with Nike
19 have partnerships with Adidas
7 have partnerships with Beats Electronics
24 have partnerships with Panini
13 have partnerships with PepsiCo
8 have partnerships with Gatorade
Kei Nishikori, Virat Kohli, Eli Manning and Matt Ryan have the highest number of endorsements of the highest earning athletes, with 9 endorsements each.
SPORTING Age Turned Pro
The average age that the top 100 turned professional in their sport was 19.7, although this varies from as young as 15 for Rafael Nadal, Sergio Agüero and Canelo Álvarez to as late as 26 for Yoenis Cespedes.
The most common age bracket for professional athletes to go pro is between 18 and 20, however those aged between 21 and 23 aren't far behind. We certainly see, however, that every single one of the sports stars on the list turned pro before the age of 26.
SPORTING Trophies Won
Obviously this varies from sport to sport, you can only win what’s on offer after all! However, the average top earning athlete has won 7.74 trophies or championships.
Footballer Lionel Messi is the most successful with 34 trophies for club and country, followed by Roger Federer, with 30 major championships (including ATP Finals, Olympic medals and team competitions).
On average, it’s tennis and football players who take home the most trophies with 18.25 and 16.7 respectively, far more than other sports. Whilst track appears to be the highest; the list of top 100 highest earners includes only one athlete from this sport.
American Football 5.7 on avg.
Motor Racing 6.6 on avg.
Baseball 6.6 on avg.
Basketball 5.5 on avg.
Boxing 6.5 on avg.
Cricket 5 on avg.
Football 16.7 on avg.
Golf 13 on avg.
MMA 5 on avg.
Tennis 18.25 on avg.
Track 21 on avg.