Tiger, basketball, baseball players dominate the Fortunate 50
Over the five years we've tracked the money game, the Sports Illustrated Fortunate 50 has featured hundreds of athletes worth billions of dollars. As we present our fifth annual rundown of the 50 top-earning American athletes (taking into account salary, winnings, endorsement and appearance-fee income), we drew a number of conclusions:
The 50 has its power players. Over the past five years, a handful of the same names keep popping up in the top 10. Tiger Woods, of course, has been the runaway leader all five years, and has topped an inconceivable total of $100 million two years running. (Thanks to his dynamite year on the course in '07 and indomitable endorsement portfolio, Tiger leads this year's list at nearly $128 million -- click here for Golf.com's breakdown of his off-course income.)
Joining Tiger most years has been his rival Phil Mickelson (No. 2 this year at $62.4 million -- click here for Lefty's ever-growing endorsement lineup). Yankee teammates Alex Rodriguez (No. 7, at $35 million) and Derek Jeter (No. 10, $30 million this year) are mainstays as well. But the hoops duo of LeBron James (No. 3, $40.5 million) and Shaquille O'Neal (No. 6, $35 million) are the only other athletes who have joined Tiger every year in the top 10.
Basketball and baseball are still king. Not surprisingly, NBA players have dominated the list in years past, and '08 is no different. In keeping with form, more than half of the 50 are pro hoopsters -- including each of the Boston Celtics' Big Three -- Kevin Garnett (No. 8, $31 million), Paul Pierce (No. 34, $17.8 million) and Ray Allen (No. 38, $16.7 million). Similarly, it's still good to be a Yankee: Of the 10 baseball players on the list, four are on the Steinbrenner family payroll (with one more Yankee on our list of top-paid foreigners).
There are only seven football players on the list, two of whom have been mainstays (No. 9 Peyton Manning, $30.5 million, and No. 33 Tom Brady, $15 million), one new candidate who will likely stick around for awhile (No. 50 Eli Manning) and another four who, much like their predecessors, will likely appear for one year only thanks to front-loaded new contracts with huge signing bonuses.
There are always odd surprises. Broken-down LaVar Arrington's inclusion in '04 was a prime example of an athlete on his way out. And some athletes never justified their huge paychecks, but made frequent appearances on the 50 in years past, such as Keith Van Horn and Allan Houston. This year the eyebrow-raiser is boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. (No. 4, $40.3 million), whose penchant for self-promotion makes Dennis Rodman look like a librarian.
But even though Pretty Boy's final haul of $20 million for his bout with British folk hero Ricky Hatton last December would have by itself put him on the list for a second straight year (we included his fight with Oscar De La Hoya on last year's list), it was his one-fight pro-wrestling deal that pushed him into the upper echelon. (Interestingly, we chose to add his $20 million in WWE money to the endorsement and appearance-fee column, rather than deeming it "salary." You can choose to agree or disagree.)
The lack of female athletes is striking. For only the second time, the Fortunate 50 features zero female athletes. Serena and Venus Williams, despite their resurgences over the past few years, haven't earned enough on the court to keep up with the boys, nor did they renew the huge endorsement deals they had when they were dominating the WTA.
And for now, the shine appears to have come off 18-year-old Michelle Wie, the only other woman ever to make the list (No. 22 last year). Wie's inability to win tournaments has soured event organizers on her, and the appearance fees that helped her earn millions in '07 have accordingly dried up.
International stars are closing the gap. It's clear that when it comes to international sports, the horrible exchange rate on the dollar is making sportsmen (and women) abroad even richer. And so it's valuable foreign currencies that distort the numbers on our International 20 list of the top-earning foreign athletes.
Most members remain the same, but with the value of the American dollar dropping more than 20 percent on the Euro over the past 12 months, the numbers are definitely inflated. Three Formula 1 racers earned in excess of $27 million, and the nine soccer players on the list earned $20 million or more.
Of course David Beckham, No. 1 on the International 20 with a total of $48.2 million, is now making most of his money in good old American greenbacks. But since he's earning a portion of sales of both Los Angeles Galaxy tickets and his No. 23 Major League Soccer jersey -- now the top seller in the entire world -- his brand name has never been more lucrative.
Beware of the young stars. In the past, we've correctly predicted that Future Fortunates Amaré Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Kevin Durant and JaMarcus Russell would make the list (we also whiffed on a few, most notably Freddy Adu). Topping this year's list of Future Fortunates are Danica Patrick, Chris Paul and Joba Chamberlain.