While it can be hard to comprehend the contracts handed out to some NFL players these days, the money the top names can earn pales by comparison to the figures received by professional athletes playing other sports.
As per the latest Forbes highest-paid athletes list released last week, the sport to play if you really want to get paid is soccer, with the top three earners on the list all plying their trade in European soccer leagues. Barcelona captain Lionel Messi takes the No.1 spot with total earnings of $127 million, closely followed by Juventus midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo at No.2 with $109 million and Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar at No.3 with $105 million.
Thanks to the new contract he signed this offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger makes a rare appearance on the list at No.12 with total earnings of $55.5 million. The third highest ranked NFL player on the list behind Russell Wilson at No.6 ($89.5M) and Aaron Rodgers at No.7 ($89.3). Big Ben is unsurprisingly the only Pittsburgh player in the list, following in the footsteps of Stephon Tuitt who came in at No.79 in 2018.
In total, 19 NFL players are included this year, lagging far behind the NBA with 35 players, the most of any sport, and ahead of the MLB with 15. But while soccer players might dominate the top spots, there are only 12 of them on the list overall.
Perhaps the most noticeable contrast between NFL players and their counterparts in other sports is how little of their income is made up from sponsorship, with Roethlisberger especially lacking in this regard. Where tennis players like Roger Federer earned $86 million from endorsements over the past year and just $7.4 million in winnings playing tennis, only $1 million of Big Ben’s income came from anyone other than the Steelers.
Drew Brees was the highest earner among NFL players in terms of sponsorship with $16 million, but almost half of the football players on the list received less than $1 million. And while the same can be said of the relatively low levels of endorsements earned by MLB players as against their salaries from baseball, the highest-earning NBA players generally appear to do better out of endorsements.
Lacking some the international appeal of many of the other sports represented on the list, NFL players will always struggle to match the earnings of other sports. And if football players hope to see this imbalance change, they would be wise to embrace plans for international expansion.
Possibly of interest only to me: Among the more obscure facts noted while researching this piece was the name of the highest paid athlete of all-time. Rather than the expected options like Michael Jordan who comes in at No.2 with $1.85 billion or Tiger Woods at No.3 with $1.7 billion, it is a Roman chariot racer called Gaius Appuleius Diocles who takes that title with earnings of over $15 billion based on today’s money.