There’s an awful lot of money floating around the world of sports these days, and it’s only natural a large part of that should end up in the pockets of the sports stars themselves. They are, after all, the ones people pay good money to see. And for those elite athletes at the very top of their game, that can come from a bewildering number of sources – not just salaries but appearance money, prize winnings and endorsements are just some of the ways they can cash in on their good fortune.
It’s not just in the worlds of golf, NBA, boxing, NFL or soccer where the big bucks are to be found. There will be a number of little-known personalities who can amass large sums of money, even more than recognized sports people like basketball players, for example, and that includes poker players. Some of those poker earnings may surprise you: the list of the world’s richest poker players is ambiguous; some people were already rich before playing poker, which is a little unfair. It’s suggested Phil Ivey is the poker player who has earned the most, around $100m in tournaments. The total would probably be far more than that if you throw in his endorsements, such as with a car manufacturer and a casino, among others, but where would Ivey sit among the true earning heavyweights of the sporting world?
Michael Jordan is undoubtedly the guy who took earnings from sport from the mere astronomical and sent them way beyond the stratosphere. Forbes magazine put his earnings at a cool $1.7 billion and rising in 2022. Widely considered to be the best basketball player of all time, mostly with the Chicago Bulls, the 6-time NBA champion, 6-time NBA Finals MVP and 5-times NBA MVP quit the hoops in 2003, but that hasn’t stopped him from cashing in on his fame. There is a long-lasting deal with Nike and Jordan branded shoes, which expanded to cover soccer shirt manufacture when Argentine Lionel Messi signed for Paris St Germain with brand Jordan provided their playing kit. In addition to sportswear, he also has Nissan dealerships in his name and is the owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan has a visibility Lakers fan Ivey can only dream about.
Sugar Ray Leonard
On the face of it, there isn’t a whole lot in common between a boxing ring and a card table except the stupefying pressure to overcome your opponent and come out on top. Sugar Ray won world titles in five different weight classes and even secured himself a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics. Since hanging up the gloves, he has worked as a commentator and an actor, as well as endorsements with a number of international brands, including soda drinks and a car manufacturer. These days he is an extremely sought-after motivational speaker. After a 20-year career, he retired in 1997 with an estimated $120 million earnings, making him the first boxer to earn a nine-figure sum, putting him slightly above Ivery though the poker player may feel getting regularly smashed around the face might have been too high a price to pay!
NFL star Patrick Mahomes, quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, is just approaching his peak earning years. His first four-year deal with the Chiefs was worth $16.2 million with a $10 million signing bonus leaving him comfortably behind the Tiger Woods of Poker. But after winning the NFL Most Valuable Player in 2018, followed by the Super Bowl LIV and the Super Bowl MVP in the same year, Mahomes’ earnings jettisoned him past Ivey. His new 10-year contract is worth a staggering half a billion dollars, not including endorsements leaving Ivey to wonder how many fresh royal flushes he would need to catch up with Mahomes’ earnings!