Serena Williams & Naomi Osaka are only women in top-100 highest-paid athletes

Sportico highest-paid athletes


Sports business website Sportico has published a list of the top 100 highest-paid athletes in the world and it makes grim reading for female athletes. 

This year has already seen a number of memorable events in the world of women’s sport. Katie Taylor fought Amanda Serrano in front of a packed-out Madison Square Garden. Barcelona broke the all-time women’s football attendance record on two occasions and Molly McCann produced a show-stopping performance at UFC London.

Despite the success of female athletes of late, Sportico’s findings highlight that the earnings gap between male and female sports stars continues to be staggering. 

Lebron James tops the list, with overall earnings of $126.9 million (£103.2m), while just two women, tennis players Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, feature in the top 100. 

Though she took an extended break from tennis in 2021, Osaka is ranked 20th and has allegedly earnt $53.2m (£43m) across the past year. The 24-year-old has equity in more than a dozen brands and has her own skincare range, alongside endorsement deals with Nissan, Tag Heuer and Louis Vuitton. 

Williams, who is 52nd on the list, has long-standing partnerships with Pepsi, Gatorade and Aston Martin. The 23-time Grand Slam champion also has her own venture capital firm called Serena Ventures. 

Both tennis stars are earning millions. However, the same cannot be said for other female sports stars.

Sportico highest-earner rankings

GiveMeSport Women looks at why that’s the case and what can be done to improve the situation. 

Earnings disparity as strong as ever 

The number of women in the top 100 earners is actually the same as last year, and it was Osaka and Williams who featured then as well. In 2020, it was just Serena who made the list. 

Interestingly, when comparing the sports that make up the majority of athletes in the top 100, 13 are male football players and 36 are male basketball stars. Yet, globally recognised female footballers such as Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe don’t appear anywhere near the list. Equally, WNBA icons, including Sue Bird and Candace Parker are also nowhere to be seen. 

It’s not new that male sports stars are paid far more than their female counterparts, but it is nonetheless telling that despite the huge growth of women’s football in the past 12 months, equal pay remains a long way off. 

Naomi Osaka at Miami Open

Indeed, there have been numerous stated commitments from sporting bodies, professing to try and bridge the equality gap, though some sports have done so more effectively than others. 

A BBC survey from 2021, found that up to 83% of sports now offer the same amount of prize money for men and women. But for the 17% that don’t, the difference is not fractional, but enormous. 

It’s not just salaries and winnings that are factored into Sportico’s rankings. Sponsorships are also taken into account and are generally more lucrative for the vast majority of athletes on the list. Boxing star Canelo Alvarez is the only person to feature in the top five that has earned more through winnings than sponsorship. 

In this way, some may argue it’s the lack of sponsorship that is stopping female athletes from earning the big bucks. Yet, this can only be traced back to the same issue of neglect towards women’s sport.  

If there is a lack of coverage, then there is less exposure for female athletes and thus less potential for sponsorship. 

Serena Williams

Why only tennis players? 

It’s no coincidence that tennis players are the only female athletes to feature in Sportico’s rankings. 

While men’s and women’s tennis is far from equal, it is still far closer to parity than any other sport. 

All four major Grand Slams are played at the same time and at the same venue for male and female players each year. With the exception of the latter stages of the events, fans generally purchase tickets for specific courts, rather than specific matches. Prize money for the corresponding competitions is also the same. 

Naomi Osaka

The result of this: women’s tennis players have more exposure, more recognition, more attention and ultimately more potential for sponsorship than all other female athletes on the planet. 

Remarkably, there are actually more female tennis players on Sportico’s list than there are male tennis stars. Roger Federer is ranked eighth, but there is no room for Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic. 

This only serves to prove that female tennis players are equal to the men and the global reach of the women’s game extends just as far.

Will we ever see other sportswomen on the list? 

Osaka and Williams are undeniably the two most famous female athletes on the planet right now, but is there any scope for others to join the illustrious top 100 club anytime soon? 

Obviously, the most likely candidates are other tennis players. Britain’s Emma Raducanu stormed to victory at the US Open last year and was immediately inundated with endorsement deals. New world number one, Iga Swiatek, is also taking women’s tennis to new heights right now. 

However, there is some potential across other sports as well. Taylor and Serrano both reportedly netted seven-figure pay-days for their fight in New York last month and a rematch is close to being agreed. 

Great Britain's Emma Raducanu at Indian Wells

Given the success of the first contest and the rising stock of the two fighters, both could easily command huge sums of money and should settle for nothing less than they received before. 

Elsewhere, there are plenty of other huge events to come this year. Euro 2022 gets underway in July, as does Wimbledon. 

Women’s sport is unquestionably on an upwards trajectory, but a true sign of its growth will be seeing more names on lists such as this one. Let’s hope Sportico’s 2023 rankings read differently.

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