Roger Federer Tops Forbes Highest-Paid Athletes List For First Time

Switzerland's Roger Federer celebrates winning against Italy's Matteo Berrettini during their men's singles round-robin match on day three of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament at the O2 Arena in London on November 12, 2019. - Federer won the match 7-6, 6-3. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

Roger Federer is no stranger to topping lists and the PeterPan of tennis has added another string to his bow after being named by Forbes as the top-earning athlete of 2020.

It is a first for the 38-year-old Swiss tennis superstar who displaced regulars, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi from the top spot.

Federer earned $106.3m in the period between 1 June 2019 to 1 June 2020 to take the top spot.

$100m of his total earnings were from endorsement deals from Uniqlo, Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz and 10 other partners and while $6.3 million came from prize money over the last year

Ronaldo ($105 million), Messi ($104 million), Neymar ($95.5 million) and LeBron James ($88.2 million) rounded out the top five.

While athletes’ earnings have often proved immune to global upheavals in the past, Forbes analysis showed that wasn’t the case this time as earnings were severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The combined income of the top 100 highest-paid athletes dipped for the first time in four years to $3.6bn – dropoff of nine per cent from 2019. 

The publication forecasts the dip to last into next year as global sports grapples with the long-term fallouts from the pandemic with attendance, merchandising and TV revenue likely to suffer lasting impacts.

The financial fallout from the pandemic was felt the most in MLB which reflected in 15 MLB players dropping off the list while the NFL was unaffected as the season is yet to begin.

Footballers were also not spared with many players taking pay cuts including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi with the latter taking a 70% slash on his earnings for the rest of the season.

In determining athletes’ earnings over the past year, Forbes applied a methodology that estimated earning reductions for leagues that were suspended due to the pandemic. 

A 25 per cent salary haircut was applied to NBA players’ salaries while tennis and golf earnings were based only on events completed before competitions were halted.

All earnings totals are before taxes and agent fees, and do not include investment income.

Across sports, US sports leagues were the most represented with the NBA leading the way with 35 players on the list. This included three players with Toronto Raptors connections: Kawhi Leonard (No. 43, $30.5 million), Kyle Lowry (No. 50, $28.5 million) and DeMar DeRozan (No. 76, $24.8 million).

The NFL had the second-most players on the list with 31, a jump from 19 the year before. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (No. 9, $60.5 million) and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (No. 10, $59.1 million) were the highest-paid NFL players on the list.

Football (14 athletes), tennis (six), boxing/MMA (five), golf (four), auto racing (three), baseball (one) and cricket (one) were also represented on the list. 

Twenty-one countries are represented on the list with the US dominating with 68 athletes led by Lebron James.

Boxer Tyson Fury (No. 11, $57m) led British athletes, Rafael Nadal (No 27, $40m) is the highest-ranked Spaniard while 21-year-old Kylian Mbappe (No. 36, $33.8m) topped for France. 

Naomi Osaka (No. 29, $37.4 million) set a record for earnings in a single year by a female athlete usurping fellow tennis star Serena Williams (No. 33, $36 million) as the top-earning woman. They were the only women ranked in the top 100 marking the first time since 2016 that two women are among the top 100.

US golfer Phil Mickelson who turns 50 next month is the oldest on the list while NBA rookie sensation Zion Williamson who turns 20 in July is the only teenager in the top 100.