50 highest-paid American athletes: how they make their money and surprising top earners

Published On May 15, 2013 | By Tyler Scionti

It is common knowledge that professional athletes get paid a lot these days. Six-figure salaries are a given in the life of professional sports, but what about eight figures, or even nine? Sports Illustrated ran a graphic displaying the 50 highest paid athletes in 2012-13. Here’s a small sample of who made the list and some surprising earnings and omissions.

The Top Three

No. 1: Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Mayweather grew up surrounded by boxing as the son of the famed Floyd Mayweather Sr., so it is no wonder that he has worked his way to becoming one of the best boxers of our time. Mayweather’s pay-per-view bout with Robert Guerrero earned him $32 million with another $13 million for his pay-per-view cut. He has another fight this fall against Saul Alvarez which could help him to a salary of $90 million on the year. That total is far beyond anything any other athlete earned, proving Mayweather is not only one of the best athletes of our time, but also the richest.

No. 2: LeBron James

No real surprise here, James got a fat check from the Heat so he would come to Miami, and he has plenty of endorsements on the side. With his NBA championship last season, he certainly has a lot going for him, but he still falls very short of Mayweather’s salary. In 2013, James will make $17,545,000 from the Heat and an astounding $39 million from endorsements, giving him a grand total of $56,545,000 on the year.

No. 3: Drew Brees

Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints is third on the list with a salary of $40 million for the year along with $7.8 million from endorsements. That gives him a grand total of $47.8 million on the year. Brees started with a small base salary of $3 million but earned a huge contract extension, which propelled him from unranked last year to third on the list for 2012-13. Between his contract extension and his many endorsements to build his public images with products such as Vicks, Nyquil, Tide and Verizon, Brees is living very comfortably for the foreseeable future


It is pretty surprising to not see Tiger Woods in the top three, but he did make the top five. Woods has been a fixture at the top of the list for a while, but since his public image took a dive, most of his endorsements left, causing him to take a dip in the rankings.

It is also a surprise to see Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder ranked at No. 23. Fielder signed a huge deal with the Tigers when he left the Brewers, giving him a $23 million-per-year salary. With his play on the field along with his infectious personality, he should be able to get plenty of endorsements to push him into the top 20 soon. So far, though, Fielder has been short on endorsements, earning only $500,000 through endorsements to drop him down on the list in 2013.

Missed on the list?

One major surprise is that there are very few NASCAR drivers represented on the list. Given the tons of endorsements they get, there ought to be more in the top 50 (or so you would think). The only driver that made the list is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ranked 8th last year but ranks 49th now. Probably even more surprising is that Danica Patrick, who earns $6.4 million per year (about $1 million more than Earnhardt) did not even make it into the top 50.


As you can imagine, the Yankees had the most players on the list of any baseball team. Alex Rodriguez was the highest ranked baseball player on the list, coming in at No. 9 thanks to his $29 million of salary earnings and $900,000 endorsement bonus. Then there’s Derek Jeter (No. 19), C.C. Sabathia (No. 22), Mark Teixeira (No. 28) and Vernon Wells (No. 32). The L.A. Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies are also heavily represented on the list with four players in the top 50 each.


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About The Author

Hi I'm Tyler Scionti, I'm a member of the class of 2015 at the College of the Holy Cross where I study English and Economics. At school I cover a variety of sports while also writing a beat column on the Boston Red Sox.