The business of Tiger Woods has been taking on water the past two years. Sponsors like Accenture, AT&T, Gillette and PepsiCo have jumped ship since his November 2009 car crash and the resulting scandal. His golf course design business has been hammered by the economic downturn. His winless streak on the course is at 20 months and counting, and the former No. 1 golfer in the world is now ranked 13th. Woods’ annual earnings have plummeted $50 million over the past two years.
Yet Tiger Woods is still the highest-paid athlete in the world–and it isn’t even a close call. Woods earned $75 million over the past 12 months, easily outdistancing second-ranked Kobe Bryant, who made $53 million.
Woods can thank two long-term sponsors for his hefty income. Nike signed Woods to a five-year, $40 million deal when he turned pro in 1998. Electronic Arts released its first “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” videogame in 1998.
The two companies have built significant businesses on Woods’ back, and his paychecks from both have grown. Nike launched its golf division with Woods essentially holding up the brand; last year it reported sales of $638 million. EA released its 14th Woods videogame in March, and the game racked up record first-week sales of 225,000 units; that topped the old sales record, set in 2007, by 17%. EA and Nike combined are responsible for more than half of Woods’ $75 million in earnings.
Bryant leads 15 basketball players that made the list, more than any other sport. Bryant added Turkish Airlines and Mercedes-Benz’s Smart Car to his endorsement portfolio this year. His $24.8 million salary with the Los Angeles Lakers is $4 million more than any other NBA player. No. 3 on the list is Miami Heat forward LeBron James, who earned $48 million over the past year (see “LeBron James Looks To Conquer The World”). Bryant is on point within the next two seasons to be the first NBA Player to be paid in the likes of Michael Jordan at $30 Million a season according to the terms of his extension with the Lakers.
This year’s 50 highest-paid athletes earned $1.4 billion combined, or $28 million on average. That’s down 11% from a year ago, thanks in large part to the drop in Woods’ earnings and the inactivity of Floyd Mayweather, who hasn’t fought in 13 months after appearing at No. 2 on last year’s list with earnings of $65 million. The minimum to make the list was $18.8 million, compared to $21 million in 2010.
Another big factor in the drop in athlete earnings is the NFL lockout. The owners locked out players in March, and very few contracts were signed beforehand, including no blockbusters with big signing bonuses in the short offseason.
Last year’s NFL draft class also failed to land a player on the list. The top two picks, Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh, signed rich contracts with guarantees of $50 million and $40 million, respectively, but most of that money has not yet been paid out. Last year nine NFL players made our list, but this year only three made the cut, led by No. 13 Tom Brady at $31 million.
Once again women are under-represented among the top-earning athletes. Tennis player Maria Sharapova is the only woman who cracked the top 50 for the second straight year. She ranks 29th with earnings of $24.2 million, largely from her lucrative Nike deal, which pays her royalties on her lines of tennis apparel and Cole Haan shoes.