Roger Federer is the world’s highest-paid athlete for 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic knocked footballer Lionel Messi off top spot, according to the annual Forbes list released on Friday.
The Swiss tennis great, owner of a men’s record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, earned $106.3m (£86.3m) in the last 12 months, including $100m (£81.2m) via endorsements, to move up four places and become the first player from his sport to top the list.
Federer, who has the best endorsement portfolio in sports, is just the ninth athlete to have landed in the top spot since 1990, the first year Forbes began tracking athletes’ earnings. He is also the first tennis player in the 30-year history to land at No. 1 after drawing $100 million off the court, thanks to deals with Uniqlo, Credit Suisse and Mercedes-Benz and 10 other partners. Ronaldo earned $45 million from Nike, Altice, Herbalife and his own CR7 brand, while Messi pulled in $32 million from Adidas, MasterCard and PepsiCo
“The coronavirus pandemic triggered salary cuts for soccer stars Messi and Ronaldo, clearing the way for a tennis player to rank as the world’s highest-paid athlete for the first time,” said Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor at Forbes.
“Roger Federer is the perfect pitchman for companies, resulting in an unparalleled endorsement portfolio of blue-chip brands worth $100m a year for the tennis great.”
Japan’s Naomi Osaka (£30.7m), who was ranked 29th on the list, surpassed fellow tennis player Serena Williams (£29.5m) as the world’s highest-earning female athlete.
Osaka and Williams were the only women on the list.
Soccer was the next most represented sport with 14 players, followed by tennis (six), boxing and mixed martial arts (five), golf (four), motor racing (three), and baseball and cricket with one each.
Athletes from 21 countries and 10 sports make the final cut this year, as do two women — Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams – the first time more than one woman has made the ranks since 2016, when Williams appeared with Maria Sharapova. Osaka, who earned $3.4 million in tournament pay, is another dream endorser, collecting $34 million from brands including Nike, Nissan Motor and Procter & Gamble. No female athlete from any other sport besides tennis has ever made this elite rank.
While more NBA players make the list than any other sport, NFL players had the best year as a group thanks to the season’s late-summer start that has left them unaffected by the pandemic. Altogether 31 football stars made the cut, up from 19 a year ago. In contrast, MLB players were the hardest hit following the postponement of Opening Day in March: only one professional baseball player, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, made the cut, down from 15 in 2019.
With Nascar and German soccer the only major sports leagues back in action so far, the earnings downturn is likely to extend for another ranking season.