The life of a professional athlete is pretty darn good. Average salaries have never been higher and are continuing to climb. Athletes with business acumen can work with brands to help elevate their portfolios even further. And that opens up a whole new way to earn.
Looking at the players from the Forbes' highest-paid athletes list, there are several that make more than half of their earnings in areas besides their sport. In fact, Usain Bolt made $31 million over the past year despite retiring in 2017.
These numbers are just from the past year and they point to a trend with professional athletes. Sure, you can sign hefty contracts, but those are usually capped. The potential for earning big money really comes from endorsement deals – which can be as high as the sky. Check out these top seven endorsement earners below.
LeBron James – $85.5 million in total earnings
LeBron nearly took home nine figures over the past year. Even with a max contract at $33.5 million, his on-court income with the Lakers made up just 39 percent of his total earnings. Maybe that's for the best – though he passed Michael Jordan for fourth on the all-time scoring list, the Lakers missed the playoffs. It's the first time in a decade and a half LeBron found himself on the outside looking in during the postseason.
But that didn't stop LeBron from being a savvy businessman. The companies he founded continue to thrive, including Uninterrupted (multimedia) and Spring Hill Entertainment (production). He also has stakes in Blaze Pizza and Liverpool F.C. That's on top of his endorsement deals from Nike, Beats by Dre, Coca-Cola, and Kia Motors.
Perhaps the most important move he made this offseason, though, was finally starting production on Space Jam 2. The original made $230 million worldwide at the box office and more than $1 billion in merchandise sales.
Roger Federer – $77.2 million in total earnings
Tennis players can make a good chunk of change on the court, though their earnings often pale in comparison to other athletes. Federer took home an impressive $12.2 million en route to winning his 20th Grand Slam. That's more than any other men's player in history.
Off the court, Federer signed a massive deal with Japanese clothing company Uniqlo, worth a reported $300 million over ten years. He also added pasta brand Barilla to his extensive portfolio, which includes deals with Credit Suisse, Mercedes, Rolex, Wilson, Jura, and Lindt, among others.
Steph Curry – $76.9 million in total earnings
In 2017, Curry signed what was, at the time, the largest contract in NBA history. The five-year deal will pay Curry $201 million throughout its duration, including $34.9 million this past season. But the two-time All-Star still makes plenty of money thanks to his long list of endorsements and business ventures.
Curry has deals with Under Armour, Chase Bank, JBL, Nissan/Infiniti, and Vivo. Like LeBron, he also has a production company – Curry's is called Unanimous Media. Last year, the company agreed to a deal with Sony Pictures. This year, Curry debuted Holey Moley, a new reality show that showcases the sharpshooter's love of golf.
Kevin Durant – $57.3 million in total earnings
Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2016, winning two titles and two Finals MVPs over the next three seasons. He also took pay cuts to remain in the Bay, bringing home a salary of $25.3 million this past season. His time as a Warrior ended poorly – he missed nine games and immediately tore his Achilles in his first game back. He'll likely miss all of next season, which is a huge bummer.
Don't feel too bad for Durant financially, though. His presence in Silicon Valley has led to the Durant Company forming alongside his business partner Rich Kleiman. Durant's company has more than 30 investments, and he's also partnered with Nike, Beats by Dre, Panini, and American Airlines.
Tiger Woods – $47.7 million in total earnings
Woods is no longer an unstoppable force on the golf course, but he's still made plenty of money. His on-the-course earnings include a huge win during the Masters; it was Woods' first major win in 11 years. That's a good story, of course, but it only made up for a small portion of Woods' earnings.
Woods made 97 percent of his money this past year through endorsements. With 15 major wins now under his belt, Woods is grateful for companies like Nike, TaylorMade, Bridgestone, and Monster Energy. They've all helped keep his pockets full when the golfer's play wasn't at its best.
Rafael Nadal – $41.4 million in total earnings
If someone named a random year this century and told you to guess who won the French Open during that year, you could guess Rafael Nadal and you'd probably be correct. Nadal has won an amazing 12 French Open titles. His 18 major championships are second only to Federer, so perhaps it's no surprise that they're also first and second in earnings.
Nadal has counted Kia Motors as a sponsor since 2006. He also has endorsement deals with Nike, Telefonica, Babolat, and Richard Mille. All those deals combined to make up 65 percent of Nadal's earnings over the past year.
Phil Mickelson – $41.3 million in total earnings
Mickelson and Woods squared off in a one-on-one match last Thanksgiving, winning $9 million in what was dubbed "The Match." Lefty also won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this March, his 44th career title on the PGA tour.
Mickelson has plenty of partnerships with companies, including Rolex, ExxonMobil, Amgen, Greenbrier, and Intrepid Financial Partners.
Perhaps Mickelson's most famous endorsement deal is with Mizzen + Main, a clothing company. Mickelson, never the one to shy away from risk, starred in a bizarre video for the brand, and…well, it was a hit. A good reminder that sometimes you gotta think outside the box to make good money.