Thursday, June 21, 2012

Breaking down Forbes' Top 100 highest earning athletes

Forbes is perhaps the highest profile business magazine in the world. It certainly boasts as much clout as any, and an effective part of this has simply been their willingness to create reams of lists: the Best Paid Actors, the most overperforming stocks for 1955.  The internet loves this stuff.  These aggregations are easy on the eye - and almost as easy on the brain.  But because it's easily digestible information, a interweb culture raised on instant gratification laps it up.

The following chart has its origins in one of Forbes' more popular lists.  It was released yesterday and estimates the net income for those highest earning athletes.  Typically, players in sports with broad appeal played by Average Joe do better in endorsements: those with the most lucrative sponsorship are usually golfers, tennis players, footballers and basketballers.  The best in motorsport earn as much or more in endorsements as they do in prize money or salary.  Players who form part of an extensive rotation - ie. baseballers and NFL players - can earn as little (!) as $100,000 for the year in endorsement deals.

The chart is broken down where an athlete's endorsement income is plotted against his earnings from salary or prize money.  Minimum qualifying income for 2011-12 was $16.6 million (US) for the year.  Athletes are coloured according to their sport.  As always, we recommend clicking on the chart to enlarge it.

Copyright Balanced Sports

The list is relatively easily broken down.  The two highest earners were both boxers who pulled in relatively minimal endorsement deals - considering the world's most highly paid athlete was Floyd Mayweather, who is currently serving a prison sentence for threatening his ex.  You can see the obvious trends - those most marketable NFL/MLB stars earn up to eight figures in endorsements (Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter respectively), but generally the highest paid players in those sports earn comparative peanuts by selling their name.

The list comprised four boxers, one sprinter (Usain Bolt), five golfers, eight motorsport aces (4x NASCAR, 3x Formula 1 and Valentino Rossi), five tennis players, ten footballers, 13 basketballers, 30 NFL players, 22 baseballers and two Indian cricketers.  It almost goes without saying that the three outliers - top red, and far-right greens - were Tiger Woods, Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

Only two women made the list, tennis players Maria Sharapova and Li Na, who came in at 26th and 81st on the list, respectively.  Both only earned a small fraction of their total endorsement value in prize money, making them typical for their sport.

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