Sports | September 1, 2021 12:02 pm

Bulk of Pay Doesn’t Come From Play for Many of World’s Highest-Paid Athletes

Conor McGregor made $180 million in the last year but only $22 million of that came from fighting

Conor McGregor before losing his lightweight fight with Dustin Poirier at UFC 264. McGregor made most of his money in 2020 not from fighting but endorsements and outside interests.
Conor McGregor before losing his lightweight fight with Dustin Poirier at UFC 264.
Sportsfile via Getty Images

Despite a global pandemic, four athletes raked in more than $100 million in earnings over the past year, according to Forbes’ annual list of the world’s highest-paid athletes.

But the top earner of those four, UFC star Conor McGregor, earned the bulk of his pay outside of the Octagon from endorsement and other deals, one of which being the sale of his majority stake in the whiskey brand he started in 2018, Proper No. Twelve.

 “I could have taken the easy money. I could have taken the quick buck. [But] I took the risk. I put my heart and soul into it, and it’s paid off,” he told Forbes. “I know a lot of these athletes on this list, you know they make so much from their sport, so much from their endorsements. I’m probably the complete opposite. I’m an outlier. I’m a disrupter.”

While the other three top earners on the list Lionel Messi ($130 million), Cristiano Ronaldo ($120 million) and Dak Prescott ($107.5 million) all collected the bulk of their cash from the teams they play for, LeBron James (No. 5 at $96.5 million), Roger Federer (No. 7 at $90 million) and Kevin Durant (No. 10 at $75 million) all took home more pay from off-field endeavors than they did from playing. Federer, who only made $30,000 on the court last year, is a great example of the “pay-not-to-play” phenomenon. Here’s a great chart that makes the trend relatively easy to see.

The list is based on the income the world’s top athletes collected between May 1, 2020, and May 1, 2021. Even though COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the global economy, earnings were up from top to bottom and the cutoff to make the top 50 rose from $28.5 million last year to $34 million, the highest threshold ever.