Despite the coronavirus pandemic curtailing sports leagues and forcing athletes to go on hiatus for much of 2020, the combined earnings of 2021’s top 10 highest paid sports stars fell just short of the all-time record set in 2018.
Mixed martial artist Conor McGregor led the Forbes top 10 for the first time in his career after earning $180 million over the last 12 months, with this year’s combined top 10 earnings of $1.05 billion just shy of 2018’s $1.06 billion total. The majority of the Irish fighter’s earnings came from the $150 million sale of his majority stake in whiskey brand Proper No. Twelve.
“This year, McGregor lands the winning punch, having leveraged his unmatched popularity in mixed martial arts to build a lucrative hustle outside UFC’s Octagon,” Forbes wrote. “Adding in his endorsements, McGregor made $158 million outside of his fighting career over the last 12 months, becoming only the third athlete, after Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, to earn more than $70 million off the field in a single year while still actively competing.” Football stars Lionel Messi ($130M) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($120M) came in second and third respectively and NFL quarterback Dak Prescott ($107.5M) came in fourth. Only five other athletes — Federer, Floyd Mayweather, Neymar, Manny Pacquiao and Woods — had previously earned more than $100 million in a year. LeBron James came in fifth as the highest earning NBA player in 2021 on $96.5 million, with the 36-year-old recently becoming an investor in the Fenway Sports Group, which owns Premier League club Liverpool and MLB’s Boston Red Sox.