September 21, 2007

Top Paid Athletes

Here are Sports Illustrated's 2007 Fortunate Fifty highest paid athletes combined with the magazines' top 20 non-American athletes. The bottom of each list is around $15 million per year, so this is effectively the top 70 jocks in the world, ranked in order of total earnings (i.e., salary or winnings plus endorsements). These are only current athletes (i.e., no Michael Jordan or Arnold Palmer -- Arnie's estate will no doubt rake in sizable endorsements for years after his death).

I've included my rough estimate of their race (e.g., baseball player Johnny Damon is 50% white, 50% East Asian). Overall, I come out with 39% white, 50% black, 7% East Asian, and the rest split between South Asian (golfer Vijay Singh) and New World Indian (part of each of the top two, Tiger Woods and Oscar de la Hoya).

For black, I followed local thinking: I counted all the African-Americans as 100% black unless I knew they had one white parent (Derek Jeter and Jason Kidd). For the Latin Americans, I guesstimated background from their looks (e.g., Alex Rodriguez as half white, half black). So, on a purely racial basis, it would be more like whites 42%, blacks 48%. So, it looks like about what you'd expect: whites and blacks are pretty evenly matched in numbers of world-class athletes, with everybody else trailing.

The NBA dominates the salary rankings, presumably because the teams are smaller with only 12 players versus 25 in baseball and 45(?) in football. Also, I suspect that the pyramid of talent is steeper in the NBA just because there are so very few men who are extremely good athletes and extremely tall. Thus, because the supply of agile giants is so limited, NBA players can get bigger contracts than say NFL running backs, who don't have to be any particular height.

Among the 50 American citizens on SI's list, endorsements add up to $387 million, with Tiger's $100 million accounting for over a quarter of that. I estimated share of endorsement by race, with whites garnering 37%, blacks 41%, East Asians 18%, and American Indians 3%, but these proportions are heavily influenced by how you break up Tiger's $100 million. I'm doing it genealogically, with 12.5% of his endorsements going to the white category, 25% to black, 50% to East Asian, and 12.5% to American Indian. Taking Tiger out, the endorsement split would be whites 46%, blacks 47%, East Asians (Michelle Wie and half of Johnny Damon) 7%. So, by race, the endorsements are pretty similar to the total earnings, with whites and blacks pretty closely matched.

The popular golfers dominate the endorsement rankings, with the three golfers ranking 1, 2, and 5 in endorsements among Americans. Golf's an expensive game to play, plus golfers are a safe bet for endorsers. It's a game that demands self-control and good character (following accusations of cheating a couple of decades ago, the young Singh was banished for awhile to Borneo!), so if you hire a golfer to be the face of your product, you can be reasonably sure he won't be arrested for hanging his insufficiently vicious pit bulls.

You'll notice there isn't anybody from the Ultimate Fighting Championship or other "mixed martial arts" on the top 70 list. The UFC is making a lot of money on pay-per-views right now, but I guess not much must be going to the fighters -- judging from what the UFC reports to the Nevada authorities on what they are paying their fighters, it's pretty paltry. It's hard to imagine that the UFC can get many world class athletes for what they are paying. If you were the next Vince Young or Sidney Crosby, would you focus on training for the UFC or for a real sport that pays real money?

Athlete Sport Total Salary/Win Endorsements Race
Tiger Woods Golf $111,941,827 11,941,827 100,000,000 Mix
Oscar De La Hoya Box $55,000,000 53,000,000 2,000,000 Mestizo
Phil Mickelson Golf $51,256,505 4,256,505 47,000,000 White
Fernando Alonso F1 $35,000,000

Shaquille O'Neal NBA $35,000,000 20,000,000 15,000,000 Af-Am
Kobe Bryant NBA $33,718,750 17,718,750 16,000,000 Af-Am
Ronaldinho Soc $32,700,000

Roger Federer Ten $31,343,885

LeBron James NBA $30,828,089 5,828,089 25,000,000 Af-Am
Valentino Rossi M'Cycle $30,000,000

David Beckham Soc $29,700,000

Derek Jeter MLB $29,000,000 22,000,000 7,000,000 Mulatto
Kevin Garnett NBA $29,000,000 21,000,000 8,000,000 Af-Am
Alex Rodriguez MLB $28,000,000 22,000,000 6,000,000 Mulatto
Yao Ming NBA $27,455,000

E Asian
Dale Earnhardt Jr. NASCAR $27,111,735 7,111,735 20,000,000 W
Allen Iverson NBA $24,184,375 17,184,375 7,000,000 Af-Am
Ichiro Suzuki MLB $24,000,000

Maria Sharapova Ten $23,799,501

Peyton Manning NFL $23,000,000 10,000,000 13,000,000 W
Tracy McGrady NBA $22,901,500 16,901,500 6,000,000 Af-Am
Barry Bonds MLB $22,800,000 20,800,000 2,000,000 Af-Am
Roger Clemens MLB $22,500,000 19,000,000 3,500,000 W
Jeff Gordon NASCAR $22,471,444 7,471,444 15,000,000 W
Jason Giambi MLB $22,000,000 21,500,000 500,000 W
Thierry Henry Soc $21,400,000

Tim Duncan NBA $20,929,672 17,429,672 3,500,000 Af-Am
Michael Ballack Soc $20,900,000

Ronaldo Soc $20,700,000

Michael Finley NBA $20,654,625 20,154,625 500,000 Af-Am
Manny Ramirez MLB $20,500,000 18,000,000 2,500,000 Mulatto?
Floyd Mayweather Jr. Box $20,250,000 20,000,000 250,000 Af-Am
Michelle Wie Golf $20,235,224 735,224 19,500,000 E Asian
Vince Carter NBA $20,101,625 15,101,625 5,000,000 Af-Am
Michael Vick NFL $20,000,000 13,000,000 7,000,000 Af-Am
Jason Kidd NBA $19,584,000 18,084,000 1,500,000 Mulatto
Stephon Marbury NBA $19,184,375 17,184,375 2,000,000 Af-Am
Hideki Matsui MLB $19,000,000

E Asian
Jermaine O'Neal NBA $18,834,000 18,084,000 750,000 Af-Am
Chris Webber NBA $18,807,008 18,307,008 500,000 Af-Am
Jalen Rose NBA $18,691,500 18,441,500 250,000 Af-Am
Dirk Nowitzki NBA $18,101,625

Brett Favre NFL $18,000,000 11,000,000 7,000,000 W
Ralf Schumacher F1 $18,000,000

Jimmie Johnson NASCAR $17,770,125 15,770,125 2,000,000 W
Baron Davis NBA $17,570,000 15,070,000 2,500,000 Af-Am
Andriy Shevchenko Soc $17,300,000

Alfonso Soriano MLB $17,250,000

Grant Hill NBA $17,151,500 16,901,500 250,000 Af-Am
Vince Young NFL $17,140,000 13,140,000 4,000,000 Af-Am
Todd Helton MLB $16,900,000 16,600,000 300,000 W
Ben Wallace NBA $16,680,000 15,680,000 1,000,000 Af-Am
Paul Pierce NBA $16,601,625 15,101,625 1,500,000 Af-Am
Andy Pettitte MLB $16,500,000 16,000,000 500,000 W
Vijay Singh Golf $16,411,026

S Asian
Eddie Jones NBA $15,930,000 15,680,000 250,000 Af-Am
Dwyane Wade NBA $15,841,442 3,841,442 12,000,000 Af-Am
Jason Schmidt MLB $15,750,000 15,500,000 250,000 W
Alessandro Del Piero Soc $15,700,000

Shawn Marion NBA $15,670,000 15,070,000 600,000 Af-Am
Ray Allen NBA $15,611,570 14,611,570 1,000,000 Af-Am
Albert Pujols MLB $15,500,000 12,000,000 3,500,000 Mulatto
John Terry Soc $15,500,000

Steven Gerrard Soc $15,400,000

Antawn Jamison NBA $15,371,625 15,101,625 270,000 Af-Am
Steve Francis NBA $15,320,000 15,070,000 250,000 Af-Am
Tom Brady NFL $15,006,720 6,006,720 9,000,000 W
Carlos Delgado MLB $15,000,000 14,500,000 500,000 Black
Johnny Damon MLB $15,000,000 13,000,000 2,000,000 W-EA
Amaré Stoudemire NBA $14,955,000 12,455,000 2,500,000 Af-Am

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

You have Andy Pettitte listed as African American in your chart-I'm not sure if this is a typo or you know something that I don't!

ziel said...

Did you consider a separate category of "NYY" for Jeter, Rodriguez, Giambi, Pettite, Matsui, Clemons, and Damon? Jeez.

Steve Sailer said...

There's also the Chelsea Effect on the list. SI wrote:

"Our International 20 of the top-earning non-American athletes is dominated by nine soccer players, all of whom benefit here from one of the worst exchange rates on the dollar in years. Many have also been helped by the deep pockets of Chelsea billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who is a George Steinbrenner on a global scale."

Anonymous said...

The lack of correlation between salary and endorsements is striking. Salary alone is probably a better measure of the competitive free market value of an athlete. It should normalize for key differences between athletes across different sports for such things as relative scarcity of talent and bodily punishment.

Endorsements seem to be somewhat arbitrary and skewed by factors such as:

(1) MultiCulti obsessions (e.g. Tiger Woods)

(2) Team vs Individual sport (e.g. fewer stars in individualized sports like golf, tennis and racing monopolize endorsements compared to team sports)

(3) Demographic bias (advertising to young free spenders - soda, fast food, etc and to older men for big purchases like cars, insurance, investments)

An interesting exercise would be to calculate for all athletes an expected average endorsement income as a constant percentage of their competitive free market salary. Then compile a list of athletes ordered on the +/- divergence from this expected endorsement income.

Another interesting exercise would be to try to normalize endorsement income as a constant percentage of salary for individual athletes in specific sports and all sports in general to spot historic trends. Compared against historic performance metrics, this data might make apparent economic inefficiencies seem rational (e.g. Tiger Woods is X% more historically dominate in golf that he should earn Y% more in endorsements as a percentage of salary).

I'm sure patterns would emerge that would confirm some of biases at work in who is selected to receive lucrative endorsements and who is not.


Anonymous said...

Ronaldo and Ronaldinho are considered "mixturados" in Brazil, i.e., tri-racial: Black, Amerindian and White (roughly in descending order of %). Just what you'd guess just by looking at them.

Peter said...

You'll notice there isn't anybody from the Ultimate Fighting Championship or other "mixed martial arts" on the top 70 list. The UFC is making a lot of money on pay-per-views right now, but I guess not much must be going to the fighters -- judging from what the UFC reports to the Nevada authorities on what they are paying their fighters, it's pretty paltry. It's hard to imagine that the UFC can get many world class athletes for what they are paying.

It's not clear if many UFC fighters would have had other sports option. For the most part, the skills required for MMA fighting aren't particularly tied in with those needed for other, higher paying sports, and vice versa. This is especially true as competing at a world-class level in many sports requires one to start when quite young.

Some MMA fighters might have been able to be decent boxers had they trained solely in boxing, but it's questionable whether they would have been sufficiently successful at boxing to make serious money.

A fair percentage of MMA fighters are coming out of college wrestling programs, a sport that has no real professional carryover other than MMA (pro wrestling of course being mainly entertainment). In fact, there are some concerns that the Title IX-forced closing of many college wrestling programs may diminsh the pool of future MMA fighters. It doesn't help that taking MMA lessons at a private gym can be very expensive.

Ian Lewis said...

Steve, remember that the NBA enacted a Salary-cap not that long ago and that MLB has never had one. I would love to know what the average "high-end" salary would be in the most popular sport in North America (i.e. Football) if the players did not have to deal with Caponomics.

Ian Lewis said...

Oh, and Steve, no offense, but that was an IDIOTIC comment on the UFC. Let's see, professional Mixed Martial Arts JUST exploded and you are commenting on why children TEN YEARS AGO were not preparing for it? How much was the average NFL player getting in the 1960's, yet, tons of top athletes would join the NFL in the 1970's and 1980's.

I will bet anyone that salaries will SORE for MMA fighters over the next 15 years.

Anonymous said...

I think the really interesting thing is the Endorsements to Salary ratio.

In fact, I'd bet that the Endorsements to Salary ratio correlates pretty strongly with Nielsen ratings [particularly if you factor in viewer demographics & the "socio-economic status" of those viewers].

Ever since David Stern allowed the game to degenerate into Jungle Ball, the NBA TV ratings have been in the toilet, and aside from a handful of superstars [Shaq, The Rapist, LeBron, DWade] you see that in E/S ratios:

36 Jason Kidd NBA $19,584,000 18,084,000 1,500,000
E/S = 0.08
39 Jermaine O'Neal NBA $18,834,000 18,084,000 750,000
E/S = 0.04
40 Chris Webber NBA $18,807,008 18,307,008 500,000
E/S = 0.03
41 Jalen Rose NBA $18,691,500 18,441,500 250,000
E/S = 0.01
46 Baron Davis NBA $17,570,000 15,070,000 2,500,000
E/S = 0.17
49 Grant Hill NBA $17,151,500 16,901,500 250,000
E/S = 0.01
52 Ben Wallace NBA $16,680,000 15,680,000 1,000,000
E/S = 0.06
53 Paul Pierce NBA $16,601,625 15,101,625 1,500,000
E/S = 0.10
56 Eddie Jones NBA $15,930,000 15,680,000 250,000
E/S = 0.02
60 Shawn Marion NBA $15,670,000 15,070,000 600,000
E/S = 0.04
61 Ray Allen NBA $15,611,570 14,611,570 1,000,000
E/S = 0.07
65 Antawn Jamison NBA $15,371,625 15,101,625 270,000
E/S = 0.02
66 Steve Francis NBA $15,320,000 15,070,000 250,000
E/S = 0.02

I dunno - maybe the NBA owners are just idiots who throw oceans of money at guys who have no business receiving it - or maybe there's something weird about the NBA salary cap which forces the owners to backload a lot of money into the twilight of a star's career [after he's been badly injured, like Grant Hill].

[Parenthetically - it also makes you realize that UMich really should have won at least one title in either 1992 or 1993.]

You also see it in Oscar de la Hoya - odd that no business like Taco Bell or Univision wants him as their spokesman:

2 Oscar De La Hoya Box $55,000,000 53,000,000 2,000,000
E/S = 0.04

On the other hand, check out Michelle Wie:

33 Michelle Wie Golf $20,235,224 735,224 19,500,000
E/S = 26.52


Anonymous said...

For the record, another nice Michelle Wie photo.

Ian Lewis said...

Steve, I just realized how angry my last comment was. There was no need for that. This was an insightful posting and, as always, great site.

It is my first web site I visit every day.

MS69 said...

Headliners in the UFC are often paid undisclosed bonuses from PPV revenue. It improves the total paid to them but no one knows the total but the fighter and promotion.

Justin said...

When looking at that list it's hard to contemplate how the world can function with so many "man childs" running around with tens of millions of dollars. What a complete joke.

I have noticed many educated men are turning away from the big sports for their entertainment. I think part of the rise of the UFC is it's lack of high dollar athletes. I think the days of people enjoying watching people like Michael Vick make $20 million are on the decline. The decline will be slower for the NFL than for other sports, but its coming.

I wonder how long the masses can take pride in knowning that a bunch of grown men are making millions playing kids games? Maybe I am wrong, but I think the decline is inevitable.


Victor said...

The list omits Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who is currently the top-earning F1 driver with an annual salary of $51 million (source:

Anonymous said...

If you take the top 25, by my count you get:
11 Whites
7 Blacks
8 other/mixed

What's the difference between the top 25 and the rest of the list? Once you get past the top 25 the rest of the list is heavily padded by grotesquely overpaid 2nd-rate NBA players. You see lots of African-Americans with $18 million salaries and no endorsements because no one knows who they are, and those who do know them wouldn't want them endorsing their products.

Are these guys the world's greatest athletes? I don't think so, but then maybe I'm biased. You'd have to put a gun to my head to get me to watch an NBA game prior to the penultimate round of the playoffs.

And of the 7 African-Americans in the top 25, 6 are from the NBA, the exception being Barry Bonds. I don't deny that Shaquille O'Neall belongs near the top of the list, although "athleticism" isn't one of the words most often used to describe him, but Tracy McGrady? I had no idea who he was, so I looked him up on Wikipedia, and found out that he's never advanced past the 1st round of the playoffs.

I guess that's why I've never seen him play.

Steve Sailer said...

Sure, there are too many NBA players on the highest paid list. They get huge long term contracts because there just aren't that many big galoots around.

But there are too few NFL players on the list. For example, if you are looking for a great athlete, how about LaDainian Tomlinson, who last year ran for 28 touchdowns, caught three touchdowns, and threw one touchdown pass. In his NFL career, he has attempted just 11 passes but thrown for seven touchdowns. He's just average height, 5'-10", so he's competing against everybody, unlike most NBA players.

Anonymous said...

"...children TEN YEARS AGO were not preparing for it?..."

UFC is red-hot now, sure. But it had already gotten big enough to be in Blockbuster in the late 90's. The first UFC was held in late '93. McCain's famous comment was in '98. There's been plenty of time for boys to start training.