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Highest-earning athletes: Where does Ben Simmons rank?

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11th July, 2019

Following the announcement that the Philadelphia 76ers have made a maximum contract offer of 5-years USD $170 million ($244 million AUD) to Australian Ben Simmons, I got me curious about the landscape of athlete earnings in 2019.

As I detailed in a recent article Simmons is on track to become the highest-earning Australian athlete of all time, but where does he rank amongst all athletes?

Forbes has published an excellent article detailing the world’s highest paid athletes of 2019, that includes both salaries and sponsorships and endorsement.

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) walks between forward Tobias Harris (33) and center Joel Embiid (21) after making a basket against the Chicago Bulls during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, April 6, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks)

The top 10 offers no surprises. Barcelona legend Lionel Messi is at number one with cumulative earnings of $127M, followed closely by football rival Cristiano Ronaldo with $109M. Fellow footballer Neymar and Mexican boxer Canelo Alverez follow before we get to the greatest tennis player of all time Roger Federer, the 20-time grand slam champion earned a combined $93.4M at age 37, 21 years after turning pro.

At 6 and 7 are NFL quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers before we get to our NBA players. Lebron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant round out the top 10 on $89 M, $78.9 M and $65.4 M respectively.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) talks to Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) talks to Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

How these athletes earn their money is far from consistent. In the top ten the Football players, NFL players and Alvarez earn significantly more in salaries and winnings than in sponsorships, while NBA players and tennis players earned more in endorsements than salary.

In fact of all the tennis players on the top 100 they make four times as much in endorsements as they do in prize money.


NBA players on the list earned approximately 25 per cent of their wealth in endorsement deals compared to only 9 per cent for NFL players.

More than half the athletes on the list play in either the NFL or NBA, with 62 US-born athletes in the top 100.

However the average earnings of the 38 international athletes comes in higher than their US counterparts due to the rich endorsement deals common in tennis and football.

So where does Simmons fit? Well he didn’t make the cut in 2019. His 2018-19 salary of $6.434M combined with his $4 M per year endorsement deal with Nike has his cumulative earnings just over $10M, well short of Virat Kohli (the only cricketer on the list) and his $25M in earnings.

However if Simmons can qualify for the super max contract extension his salary for the 2020-21 season will be somewhere in the order of $34M, which on it’s own would have him ranked 43rd in 2019.

His five-year $20 M endorsement deal with Nike will also expire prior to the 2020 season and it seems likely he will re-sign for at least the same amount if not more. Another $4 M from Nike per annum would have him and his $38M earnings sitting 34th on the list of highest paid athletes in the world.