Roger Federer tops list of highest-paid athletes due to COVID-19 salary cuts for Ronaldo, Messi

Yahoo Sports

There are precious few sports happening right now due to the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown, but that didn’t stop Forbes from releasing its yearly list of the world’s highest-paid athletes. This year’s list features a tennis player at the top for the first time and a change in the highest paid female athlete, but COVID-19’s effect on the sports world is already being felt by athletes — and it won’t stop with this year.

Roger Federer at the top for the first time

For the first time ever, a tennis player is gracing the top of Forbes’ list. Roger Federer with his $106.3 million in total earnings was this year’s top earner, pushing international soccer players Cristiano Ronaldo ($105 million) and Lionel Messi ($104 million) down to No. 2 and 3 respectively. Messi was No. 1 in 2019 and Ronaldo was No. 2.

According to Forbes, Federer landed at the top of the list after the salaries of Ronaldo And Messi were both cut due to shortened seasons. Federer makes the vast majority of his money from endorsement deals, while Ronaldo and Messi make far more from their salaries.

Roger Federer is the world's highest paid athlete. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Roger Federer is the world's highest paid athlete. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

LeBron James ($88.2 million), Steph Curry ($74.4 million), and Kevin Durant ($63.9 million) were basketball’s top earners, landing consecutively at No. 5, No. 6, and No. 7. Tiger Woods ($62.3 million) was the highest placed golfer at No. 6. Kirk Cousins ($60.5 million) was the NFL’s highest earner at No. 9, with Carson Wentz ($59.1 million) at No. 10.

This is the first year since 2016 that two women have made the list. Serena Williams is usually the world’s top earning female athlete, but this year she got beat by Naomi Osaka — both on and off the court. Osaka made her debut at No. 29 with $37.4 million. Williams came in at No. 33 with $36 million.

The continuing effects of COVID-19

The effects of COVID-19 on the sports world were already evident on this year’s list. Total athlete revenue fell for the first time in four years because COVID-19 has obliterated the tennis season, shortened the golf season, interrupted soccer, basketball and hockey, and put the MLB season on indefinite hold.

Many sports leagues have already come to terms with their players regarding pay cuts or prorated salaries for this shortened season, and since salary and winnings are a part of Forbes’ metric, that’s already affected the list and will likely continue to do so in the future.

MLB has yet to settle with its players on salary for whatever portion of the season might be played, which means most players have been paid just a tiny portion of what their salary was supposed to be. That caused 14 MLB players to drop off the list between 2019 and 2020, leaving just one: Clayton Kershaw at No. 57.

It will go beyond smaller salaries, though, since endorsement and sponsorship deals are part of Forbes’ metric. Decreased revenue across numerous sectors of business means less money to spend on advertising. Athletes and their possible endorsements will likely feel that down the road, and it could change what this list looks like in a year.

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