Highest Earning Sports Stars In The World & Australia

It’s no secret that sports stars around the world have plenty of earning potential. In Australia, this potential is a lot more limited, but nonetheless the annual wages of some of the nation’s best sportspeople are pretty substantial. Below, we take a look at some of the highest paid sportspeople in different sports both around the world, and in Australia. Bear in mind that there are plenty of different metrics for measuring income for sportspeople – some include endorsements, bonuses etc. – and not all sports are equally transparent in terms of reporting wages. To keep things as consistent as possible, these numbers predominantly relate to the income they earn directly from playing, and are measured in the most recent year for which these figures are available.  

Highest Earning Sports Stars in the World

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the best paid athletes on the international stage. The leaders of these sports in terms of salaries are earning some of the fattest cheques in the world for sportspeople – and indeed people more generally – with sports like the NFL, NBA and soccer massive industries resulting in the circulation of extraordinary sums of cash. So let’s get into it, and take a look at the highest paid players over the past year in some of the biggest sports on the planet. 


Highest Earning Soccer Player

Lionel Messi (USD $75 million)

He might be 35 years of age, but Lionel Messi still has plenty left to give on the field, and his contract with Paris Saint-Germain is indicative of as much. After nearly two decades with Barcelona, he famously joined the French giant in 2021, with whom he will this year earn USD $75 million. And that’s not even including his off-field earnings – add those to the picture and his total annual earnings are bumped up to $130 million, making him the highest paid athlete on the planet.


Highest Earning NFL Player

Matthew Stafford (USD $69.8 million)

The Los Angeles Rams’ quarterback has risen up the ranks over the past year to become one of the highest earning sportspeople in the world, pulling in nearly USD $70 million in 2022. And it’s little surprise; his first year with the Rams was about as successful as imaginable, with the 34-year-old playing a pivotal role in his side’s Super Bowl success. Following that victory, he signed a huge four-year contract, sending him to the top of the list in terms of NFL player salaries.


Highest Earning F1 Driver

Lewis Hamilton (USD $57 million)

Max Verstappen might have taken the crown from him as the best driver in the world last year, but Lewis Hamilton still sits way out on top in terms of salary. He earned a massive USD $57 million over the course of the past year, enough to have him sitting inside the top ten globally for athletes in all sports. Verstappen is relatively hot on his heels, though; the reigning world champion has earned $46 million in the same time period, and the two sit miles above the chasing pack. 


Highest Earning NBA Player

Stephen Curry (USD $45.8 million)

Steph Curry has revolutionised the game of basketball and has long been one of the best players in the game, so it’s little surprise that his Warriors side gives him a pretty hefty pay packet. Last season, during which he led Golden State to yet another championship, was the final of a five-year contract worth over USD $200 million, but testament to his incredible talent and apparent longevity, he is about to embark on a new four-year deal worth even more – at the age of 34.


Highest Earning Golfer

Rory McIlroy (USD $7.5 million)

McIlroy led all-comers from the golfing world in terms of his on-course earnings over the past year, though in reality his annual income is significantly higher than this number. His total earnings sat at USD $41.5 million, and for his esteemed colleagues the reality is similar. Tiger Woods, for example, barely earned a thing on the course in the same time period, but his total earnings still sat at nearly $70 million.


Highest Earning Tennis Player

Naomi Osaka (USD $1.2 million)

Naomi Osaka sits atop the world of tennis for on-court earnings over the past year, making her the only woman on this list. And like her golfing counterparts, this figure barely scratches the surface of her total earnings, which sat at something closer to $60 million. Serena Williams and Roger Federer, two aging greats of the sport, have an even greater disparity between these figures – both of them earned less than USD $1 million on the court, but Williams’ total earnings sat at over USD $45 million and Federer’s more than double that.


Highest Earning Sports Stars in Australia

Australia is one of the most sports mad countries in the world, and the stars of our favourite sports earn a pretty penny to play the game they love and keep us entertained. However, the reality of sports like the AFL and NRL being confined largely to our shores and the significantly smaller sums of money circulating through them means that, invariably, the salaries of these sportspeople would be pocket change for many of their international counterparts. Still, the figures are gaudy enough to keep them and their families pretty well-fed, so let’s take a look at the highest earning sportspeople in some of Australia’s most popular sports.


Highest Earning Australian Cricket Player

Pat Cummins (AUD $2 million)

The Australian captain leads the way as the highest paid cricketer – and sportsperson – in the country, bringing in a cool AUD $2 million after a period of time which has seen him establish himself as comfortably the number one ranked test bowler in the world. This is the third year in a row that he has earned the most of any Australian cricketer, and puts him well and truly among the best paid sportspeople in the country. His fast bowling counterparts in Josh Hazlewood and Mitch Starc, who along with Cummins make up one of the most formidable pace attacks of all time, also sit in the top four, earning AUD $1.6 and AUD $1.4 million respectively, while David Warner is sandwiched in between them with AUD $1.5 million despite his relative poor form in recent years.


Highest Earning NRL Player

Nathan Cleary (AUD $1.3 million)

Nathan Cleary could hardly have been hotter property heading into this season, so it should come as no great surprise that he stands alone as the highest paid NRL player in the league. He sits just above the highest paid AFL players, interesting given the NRL pales in comparison in terms of attendance, viewership and members. Cleary, of course, had a year to behold in 2021; he finished second in the Dally M Medal, and won the Clive Churchill Medal as the best player on the field in the Grand Final, in which he led his Panthers to a famous victory against the Rabbitohs. Interestingly, he could allegedly have earned more elsewhere, but with his father Ivan the coach of the Panthers, he – along with his dad – signed an extended contract to remain there until 2027.


Highest Earning AFL Player

Dustin Martin, Lance Franklin, Jeremy McGovern (AUD $1.2 million)

A trio of superstars led the AFL in salary in 2021, with Richmond’s Dustin Martin, Sydney’s Lance Franklin and West Coast’s Jeremy McGovern all reportedly earning $1.2 million in a year in which player wages were still impacted by COVID-19. Interestingly, Martin’s season ended early as a result of a kidney injury, McGovern had various ailments, and Franklin, in the last season of his huge nine-year contract, also missed a few games – unsurprising given he turned 34 at the beginning of that year. A handful of other players also snuck over the $1 million mark, which, while a hefty pay packet for anyone and significant in the context of Australian sport, pales in comparison to the international superstars listed above.


Highest Earning Big Bash League Player

D’Arcy Short (AUD $258,900)

The T20 game is growing year by year in every respect, and some of the salaries being thrown around at, most notably, the IPL, would have been hard to believe a few short years ago. The BBL isn’t quite at that level, but for a league which runs for just a couple of months every year, there is still a lot of money on offer – and it’s growing by the year. Dynamic opener D’Arcy Short has the highest recorded salary for a season at AUD $258,900, but expect that number to continue growing – and steeply – in the years to come.

It’s the dream of many to play the sport they love for a living, but growing up we don’t think about the pay packet. Even for a moderate wage, many of us would probably be more than happy to pull on the boots in the hopes of playing a Grand Final at the MCG, or travel the world swinging a golf club. With the sums of money the above names pull in, however, that prospect is even sweeter. From the likes of Lionel Messi and Steph Curry, to Dustin Martin and Nathan Cleary, the above names are living out the dreams of countless children around the world, and earning a very handy pay cheque while doing it.