Forbes Highest Paid Athletes In The World 2012 List

Most Well Paid Athlete in The World 2012

Some may say sportsmen and athletes are not worthy of the huge amounts of money they earn but there are few people not interested in sports and there is nothing quite like seeing a master of his or her own sport in action.

You won't be surprised to find that there are no women in this Top 10 list - there is still some way to go before female athletes achieve this kind of success but that's a matter for another article.

On this Top 10 list of the most well paid athletes and sportsmen you will find only 5 sports represented - boxing, basketball, soccer, tennis and golf.

All of these sports are very popular spectator sports and two of them, basketball and soccer have a huge partisan fan base, based as they are, in towns and cities. This means their teams sell lots of related merchandise (caps, jerseys, posters, pins etc) and of course, lots of tickets.

Sports agents are largely responsible for the endorsements and original contracts of most sportsmen but it is only with real success that the truly big money begins to flow.

A look down this list reveals 10 truly great athletes - all hugely talented in their own sport.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list is David Beckham, still raking in a huge salary at what is for most soccer players, the end of their careers. But his riches come from being the 'face' of LA Galaxy and his continuing 'personal' brand of perfume and clothing. He has repeated the kind of crossover success that Michael Jordan enjoyed a decade before him.

So here is the list of the top ten most well paid athletes - 3 Europeans, 1 Filipino and 6 Americans, all living the dream and getting paid a huge amount of money for doing something they love!

#10 Peyton Manning

Total Earnings: $42.4 million

Salary/Winnings: $32.4 million

Endorsements:$10 million

Peyton Manning has pro-football in his blood - his dad, Archie is a former NFL Quarterback and his younger brother Eli is the current Quarterback of the New York Giants.

Peyton Manning's record as a professional American Footballer bear comparison with only the greats of the sport.

This year he scored his 400th touchdown, only the 3rd player in NFL history to achieve that fete (the others are Dan Marino and Brett LeFavre).

He has only played for the Denver Broncos since March 2012 after 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. He won a superbowl with the Colts in 2006 and also appeared as their Quarterback when they lost to the New Orleans Saints in 2009.

His long and distinguished Colts career came to a halt after he was treated for a neck injury and the following year, having failed to recover fully, needed spinal fusion to regain his arm strength.

The Colts released his in November 2011. He had not played one game during that season, this followed a season in 2010 of career highs but the injury was too risky for the Colts to continue to use him as their starting QB.

In the 2012 season so far, Peyton Manning has shown that his arm strength has returned and is playing well with the Broncos.

He is still revered in Indianapolis as their greatest ever player, his number 18 jersey was retired when he left the team.

Peyton Manning is the only American Footballer on this list of the Most Well Paid Athletes in 2012.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo | Source

#9 Christiano Ronaldo

Total Earnings: $42.5 million

Salary/Winnings: $20.5 million

Endorsements:$22 million

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of two soccer players on this list and his appearance can hardly be surprising given his wonderful record as a professional footballer.

Cristiano is Portugese and has not enjoyed the kind of international success he deserves but has more than made up for this with the various teams for whom he has played.

When he moved from Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United in 2003, he was a welcome addition to an already fantastic internationally inspired Manchester United side. He brought a level of flair to the team in the same year that they lost David Beckham to Real Madrid.

It would be impossible here to state just what an amazing player Cristiano Ronaldo is but wherever he has played, he has been the star player. He is one of the most talented European midfielders in the history of the game and has broken a number of long held records since his transfer from the English Premier League to La Liga in Spain.

Ronaldo has a bit of an ego probelm from time to time and this has often alienated him from the media, fans and players too but there is no denying his enormous talent and he deserves his place on this Most Well Paid athletes list.

In 2011, he underwent testing for a TV show to examine fitness and was considered to be one of the world's fittest athletes - even compared with Jamaica's Usain Bolt.

David Beckham
David Beckham | Source

#8 David Beckham

Total Earnings: $46 million

Salary/Winnings: $9 million

Endorsements:$37 million

It is amazing to think that David Beckham can still make this list at the age of 37 - considered mature for a professional soccer player.

But David Beckham has something more to him than just talent on the soccer pitch.

He is good looking, personable and it probably doesn't hurt to be married to one of the Spice Girls!

David Beckham has achieved everything there is to achieve (except the World Cup) in the game.

He played for Manchester United, arguably England's most well-known and historic team and then Real Madrid.

During his tenure at Manchester United he won six league championship titles, 2 FA Cup titles and the much coveted Champions League title.

He was famously the recipient of a kicked football boot in the head by Manchester United's manager, Alex Ferguson after United had a bad game but Beckham has never discussed the matter. He is known to be a classy guy and accepted the event without malice but it became clear that he was growing tired of the situation at Manchester United and left to join Real Madrid in 2003. He won a La Liga title with them in 2006.

In 2007, David Beckham announced that he was leaving Europe to play soccer for LA Galaxy.

He had already been to the USA a number of times and was excited with the developments being made in soccer. He has stated a number of times that he is considering owning his own team when his playing career is over. He sees the United States as the next big market for professional 'football' and is delighted to have been part of its rise in popularity over the last few seasons. He has won one MLS Cup with the club - the only player to win a league title in 3 different countries.

As well as being a hugely successful soccer/football player, David Beckham has also had a career in male modelling and has his own range of clothing and men's fragrances.

During the US 'off season', David Beckham went on loan to AC Milan where

#7 Phil Mickelson

Total Earnings: $47.8 million

Salary/Winnings: $4.8 million

Endorsements:$43 million

Phil Mickelson is one of only two golfers on this top 10 list of the most well paid athletes in 2012, sharing the list with fellow American, Tiger Woods.

Phil is known as 'Leftie' because he plays golf left-handed. In fact, he is right-handed so the left-handed swing is an anomoly but he has certainly been very successful with it. The reason he plays left-handed is due to standing opposite his right-handed dad when he was a boy and 'mirroring' his swing.

Phil Mickelson went to University on a golf scholarship and graduated in 1992 before turning pro. He had an illustrious amateur career, winning a PGA ranking tournament as an amateur, only the second US golfer to do so.

He has won 4 Major championships, 3 of his wins were at the US Masters, the other is the PGA Championship.

He is known as a golfer prepared to take risks, especially with balls in bad lies etc. His aggressive style of play has never changed since his amateur days. He enjoys the challenges of a difficult course; perhaps that accounts for his success at the Masters?

Away from golf, he is involved in a lot of charity work and is also known for his spontaneous gestures of goodwill.

Phil Mickelson has tied up a lot of his financial agreements in endorsements rather than wages, a move that is likely to serve him well if his golfing skills ever let him down.


#6 Kobe Bryant

Total Earnings: $52.3 million

Salary/Winnings: $20.3 million

Endorsements:$32 million

Kobe Bryant is one of the USA's most talented athletes and after 16 years in the NBA playing for the L.A. Lakers is still considered only the second greatest basketball guard of all time (behind Michael Jordan).

Kobe Bryant is one of two basketball stars on this most well paid athletes.

Kobe Bryant joined the NBA straight from high school in 1996. He was the 13th pick overall and was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets who then immediately traded him to the LA Lakers, the team he supported as a boy.

In his time with the LA Lakers he has won the NBA Championship four times. The Lakers won three years in succession, their 'three-peat' from 1999 to 2002. These were the golden years for the Lakers with both Shaq O'Neal and Kobe Bryant reigning supreme as the dynamic duo of the LA Lakers - they were unsurpassed.

Kobe Bryant was an outstanding high school player and just kept getting better as a pro. He was introduced to pro basketball slowly, building up his playing time because he was young and still third string at guard.

Once he became a regular though, there was no stopping him. In his time at the Lakers he has broken many scoring records, once scoring 81 points in one game, the second best record ever.

But off the court he has had his fair share of controversy, leading to some fans turning away from him. However, even in 2012, 16 years into his LA Lakers career, he has just passed Magic Johnson for career steals but LA have started badly so who knows what the future holds for Kobe Bryant.

Roger Federer
Roger Federer | Source

#5 Roger Federer

Total Earnings: $52.7 million

Salary/Winnings: $7.7 million

Endorsements:$45 million

Roger Federer may well be Switzerland's most famous sportsman ever!

As at 2012, he is now #2 seed on the ATP but once held the #1 spot for 237 weeks in succession.

He has won 17 Grand Slam titles, reaching the final of each grand slam tournament (Australian Open, US Open, French Open and Wimbledon) 5 times each.

He shares the record for 5 consecutive Wimbledon titles with Bjorn Borg.

Federer's record at the Australian Open and US Open is equally impressive.

Many tennis commentators consider his the best player ever and he is still playing as well now as he did a few years ago so may well surpass some of the tennis stars with whom he currently shares records.

He has appeared in 24 grand slam finals, winning 17 of them.

It can be no surprise then to find him on this list of the most well paid sports stars, the prize money for Wimbledon is $1.8 million, Australia, $2.36 million and the US Open also $1.8 million.

Roger Federer may officially be declared the best tennis player ever within the next 2 or 3 years and it is almost certain he is the richest ever.

LeBron James
LeBron James

#4 LeBron James

Total Earnings: $53 million

Salary/Winnings:$13 million

Endorsements: $40 million

LeBron James is loathed now by many Cleveland Cavaliers fans for the way he walked away from them in free agency, in spite of being the MVP. Fans burned his jersey in the streets, filmed it and posted it on You Tube calling him a traitor.

LeBron James has showed some remorse for doing it the way he did in a live broadcast to raise money for charity but only deciding to go to Miami Heat hours before the broadcast and without letting the Cavaliers know that he was not returning to them.

LeBron James had a tough upbringing and was nurtured by his high school coach, Frankie Walker who even had LeBron and his mother living with his own family to see that LeBron's talents did not go to waste.

LeBrown James has so far enjoyed an illustrious career, both at Cleveland Cavaliers where he took the club to the playoffs a number of times and also latterly at his current club, Miami Heat with whom he finally won the NBA Championship this year whilst also repeating his accolade of MVP for the NBA.

Most of LeBron's bad publicity has come from his decision to leave the Cavaliers; basketball fans are passionate about their sport and for the fans it felt like the coldest of betrayals but nobody who watches professional basketball can deny his talent and it is easy to see why he is so high up on this list of the most well paid athletes in the world - he may feature in the list for many years to come if he continues to stay fit and healthy.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods | Source

#3 Tiger Woods

Total Earnings: $59.4 million

Salary/Winnings: $4.4 million

Endorsements: $55 million

Tiger Woods had until this year been the world's most well paid athlete. He held the top spot for many years but has been plagued with personal problems, aired very publicly and then had injury problems and been unable to play golf.

In addition to these issues, his big brand endorsements saw some fluctuation as the top brands did not want to be associated with this new womanising Tiger Woods.

Their endorsements had been based on his rather earnest public persona but Woods had to admit serial adultery and spent the last two years rebuilding his public image.

It is still amazing then to see Tiger Woods at #3 on this list.

His golfing ability has never been in doubt and it was only a matter of time before he returned to form after injury and everything else.

Tiger Wood has won 14 Major golf tournaments and is young enough and talented enough to win many more in the coming years.

Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao | Source

#2 Manny Pacquiao

Total Earnings:$62 million

Salary Winnings:$56 million

Endorsements: $6 million

In second place on the most well paid athletes is Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiano. It is not too much of a surprise to see another boxer in second position and there is a simmering hatred between the two men in the professional arena.

Manny Pacquiano, in many respects, is worth an article all of his own. Like Mayweather, he came from the wrong side of the tracks and only started boxing after the death of a boyhood friend.

Manny was too light to make even the minimum weight in his first fight, filling his pockets full of weights to cheat his way into the ring. But boy did he keep believing.

Even in his next fight, he was forced to wear the heavy gloves to make weight and of course, he lost because they were too heavy to life. However, he kept pushing forward and getting stronger, climbing the ranks quickly.

He is the only boxer to win world titles in 8 divisions, an amazing feat and there is more to come from this little pocket dynamo.

Floyd Mayweather Jr
Floyd Mayweather Jr | Source

#1 Floyd Mayweather Jr

Total Earnings: $85 million

Salary/Winnings: $85 million


Love him or loathe him, Floyd Mayweather didn't get his nickname, 'Money' from sitting around on his hands doing nothing.

In the last twelve months, Floyd Mayweather took over the #1 spot on the list of the worlds top 10 most well paid athletes from perennial top star, Tiger Woods.

So to what can Floyd Mayweather attribute his position?

Mayweather promotes himself; not for his some shady boxing promoter taking a sizeable cut from his bulging fight purse.

Mayweather has definitely benefited from pay-per-view TV. To accumulate $85m dollars, you might think he'd had to fight several times but in fact his fortune comes from just two fights.

One against Victor Ortiz for the earned him a handsome $40m and his second fight against Miguel Cotto accounted for the other $45.

Floyd Mayweather does not pay out anything to promoters and he is one of the kings of self-promotion, sadly not all of it worth the bother! Mayweather's most recent bout of bad promotion involved him serving 87 days in jail for domestic abuse.

But we should also admire Mayweather's ability to be the world's most well paid athlete when we see his boxing record - it is without a doubt unsurpassed.

He holds a world champions belts in 5 divisions and has won 8 world title fights during his career. He retired after fighting Ricky Hatton in 2007 in the welterweight class but returned 2 years later at catchweight.

He is still undefeated as a professional boxer.

Honourable Mentions

The First baseball player in the top 100 Best Paid Athletes list is Alex Rodrigues at #18, some may feel that his wages are undeserved after his dire performance in the play-off games in 2012.

The first motor sports athlete is Spaniard, Fernando Alonso, Formula 1 racing star at #19. Fernando is a two times world champion and the darling of the 'tifosi'. Ferrari fans all over the world just love him.

The first woman on the list is tennis player, Maria Sharapova at #26. Well Done Maria on making the top 50 - please stop grunting!

Many thanks for reading.

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Comments 30 comments

Chris 2 years ago

I think it's pretty iteretsning Even though you do have a point with getting records that are actually meaningful, I think this is still something that can be looked as pretty cool and unique in the future. Thanks for posting!

winston 3 years ago

Hockey and NFL players desrve more money for every game they play.Because they can end up with a lifetime injury.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

No, you're right pf course - when they get som much money, they should be seen to so something meaningful with it for the benefit f others, thanks again!

Stickypony profile image

Stickypony 4 years ago from Sweden

Jools99, yeah I guess so. But I think the problem maybe isn't that they get paid that much money, I think it's more about what they do with the money. If the invested the money in charity and spend the money responsibly, then I wouldn't see it as a problem. But in my book there's just insane to buy a house big as a castle and a army of cars. I know a lot of people would disagree with me and say that they can do whatever they want to because they earned it, but that's just how I feel.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

stickypony, thanks for your comment - yup, $85 million but we all love to watch great sport and they do dedicate their lives to it I s'pose.

Stickypony profile image

Stickypony 4 years ago from Sweden

$85 million?! that's how you spell insane!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Pavlo, thanks for your comment - imagine having that much talent and doing it for a living - so fortunate!

Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

Pavlo Badovskyy 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

To be an athlet like these people is a great gift of God + hard work to develope that gift. I dot even envy them. I jut state the fact. Interesting hub ! Shared

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Dianna, many thanks for your comment - it must be lovely doing something you love for your job and earning such a great salary,most of us can only ever dream of that!

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Wow, great post on the athletes and their salary. I didn't recognize a few of these, but most I see on TV, internet, news, etc. I didn't think boxing would be such a high paying sport. They did work hard to get to where they are now.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Paula - I am (surprisingly for a Brit?)a huge baseball fan - I pay for a subscription to ESPN America during the baseball season and I watch about four to five games a week. I have just enjoyed the World Series and was cheering for the Giants all the way (I always support the underdog). I wear a New York Mets teeshirt in the Summer which my friend brought me back from NY (told you....underdog, could not bear to wear a Yankees t-shirt) but the team I like watching the best is Tampa Bay Rays - I love 'small ball' so any team that steals lots of bases, bunts etc gets my attention. And I know what you mean about the salaries of sports stars, I suppose they do dedicate their whole existence to their sport but wow, that's a lot of money! Truth is of course, a sport like baseball - the money went straight to the owners and the poor players were barely surviving so good on them that they had their strike and got what they deserved!

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Jools.....I may not be a Huge sport's fan, but I hang in there with the crowd. Having raised 4 sons, let's just say, I know a little bit about any sport you care to discuss. My own personal favorite.....Great Old American Baseball.

These athletes, listed in your hub, some of whom I am familiar with, some I'd not even heard of before today (Thanks, by the way...I appreciate new info!)......IMO, earn what they make. This should be simply obvious.....they train, work and dedicate themselves to their they earn what they make! Those who may not be into sports or might not like a particular sports celebrity, can disagree all they want. The proof is in the pay check....

The majority of their lives are invested into what they do....time, effort, blood, sweat and tears.........They must be disciplined, hard working and devoted. I would not even think of begrudging them a thing...............Great hub, Jools!......UP+++

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

viewfinders, thanks for your comment.

viewfinders profile image

viewfinders 4 years ago from God's own country(kerala)

Thanks for these facts

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

David, as you will see from other comments, you are not the first person to say this - it al seems like 'silly' money to me now. I think tickets to see these stars should be set at a reasonable price as well. I could not afford a season ticket to see a premiership club even if I wanted to and the cost of a single game now is almost a week's shopping money!

Davidsims1980 profile image

Davidsims1980 4 years ago

Would not mind being any of them paid a crazy amount of money, to play the sport they love.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Michelle, many thanks for reading. I was shocked there were not as many Premiership footballers though.

midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

Thanks for these facts, Jools. Am not surprised at any of them being on the list! Thanks for sharing!! Am sharing too.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

john000, thanks for your comment - I wasn't surprised to see boxing up there but I don't watch it myself.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Linda, part of me totally agrees with you - getting obscene amounts of money for sport when other people work really hard in warehouses, car plants, shops and offices and get a pittance but I do love sport as well. I want to write another hub on the top paid sportsmen say from the 1920s or 30s and compare the data - it would make interesting reading I think!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Alecia, many thanks for your comment. I am a baseball fan but even I don't think A-Rod is worth the money :o) Boxing remains popular year after year and Floyd is very astute.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Thanks for your comment - yes, Phil is one of my faves - fellow leftie...sort of!

john000 profile image

john000 4 years ago from Superior, Arizona

One of the things I enjoyed most about this hub is learning of the #1 and#2 rated athletes for earnings. I hadn't heard that much of them, but then, boxing is not a sport I spend much time reading about. It was fun to see the list and look at all that money!

Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

This data irks me. I'll never understand how someone could be paid millions of dollars for participating in a sport. Whether they are playing golf, shooting a hoop or attempting a's a darn shame. On a lighter side...great research Jools, well done!

Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

Baseball and boxing do seem to be dying in the states- but I think boxing has an instant return rate which is why it still makes money. Most of the top athletes I expected to be here are here. Interesting hub!

shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

Phil Mickelson was a pleasant surprise as I am a huge fan of his. Very interesting read. I thank you.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Bill, thanks for being my first commenter (again - you're a good 'un!). Tiger is not one of my favourites either. I always found him a bit too serious for my tastes and then all that shenanigans he was involved with just made me think he was faking it.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

I am blown away that the two boxers are the top two...I thought boxing was a dying sport here in the U.S. Very interesting Julie; I'm sad to see Tiger is so high up in the earnings. Just a little pet peeve of mine. :)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Thanks for reading - I was surprised there were no baseball players in the top 10 or more English premiership stars.

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JThomp42 4 years ago

Very interesting.

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