Ronaldo on course to become highest-paid athlete in the world
By Peter Staunton
If football is the world's game then Cristiano Ronaldo is head and shoulders above the rest as its chief salesman. The three-time Ballon d'Or winner is now the highest-paid team sportsman on the planet and has been confirmed as the richest football player in the world with the publication of the 2015 Goal Rich List.
Footballers were once lagging far behind the US 'big three' sports stars in terms of their bankability but Ronaldo out-earns all of them now and Lionel Messi isn't far behind.
Ronaldo is not, yet, out on his own as the highest-paid athlete in the world but he will be. According to the recently published Forbes list of the 100 top-paid athletes, Ronaldo earned $80 million in 2014, second only to Floyd Mayweather Jr. The 37-year-old welterweight is estimated to have earned a mammoth $105m.
Ronaldo earned $52m between salary and bonuses with the other $28m coming off the field. He expertly renegotiated his Real Madrid contract in 2013 to make him the best-paid player on the planet - a status befitting him as the world's best player.
His endorsements and commercial deals include that long-standing contract with Nike, equatable to what the American sportswear manufacturer pays Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, as well as a newly announced partnership with the Sacoor Brothers clothing company. Ronaldo also runs his own 'CR7' underwear line which has now been expanded to include a range of shirts and footwear.
The shoe line has caused ructions with Nike, who reportedly demanded that the Portugal captain drop sport shoes from his range. Instead, the line features dress and smart/casual shoes produced in collaboration with Portugal Footwear. Ronaldo's latest venture is now an employer in a highly specialised industry; he is becoming an all-encompassing economy all to himself.
Mayweather boasts no endorsement deals at all but there is no denying that 'Money' remains the biggest draw, not only in boxing, but in all sport.
In 2013, he signed a two-year, six-fight deal with Showtime which guarantees him at least $32m every time that he steps in the ring. He also takes a large chunk of the pay-per-view earnings. For his September 2013 bout against Saul Alvarez, for example, Mayweather is reckoned to have cleared $70m. His two fights against Marcos Maidana in 2014 brought that $105m total mentioned above. Not bad for just over an hour's work.
May 2 brings the long-awaited showdown between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. The Filipino's promoter, Bob Arum, estimates that the purse for the fight will be around $300m. A 60-40 split of the money has been agreed with the lion's share going to Mayweather. That means that he is likely to earn $180m for his 36 minutes' work on the night.
Later in the year, Mayweather will bring the curtain down on his illustrious career, which he will be attempting to improve to a perfect 50-0. His final fight, even against a name who does not command the attention like Pacquiao, should again earn him at least $100m. That will likely be that for Mayweather, whose earning potential will dramatically lower once he hangs up his gloves.
With him out of the running, the stage is set for Ronaldo to reign in 2016 - not only as the highest-paid team athlete but the highest paid, full stop. It will be the first time that a footballer tops the list; the richest footballer and the highest-earning sportsperson in the world. That is his destiny.
Kurt Badenhausen, Senior Editor at Forbes, is in agreement. "Companies are always going to be wary of aligning themselves with Mayweather for personal endorsements but that has never been how top boxers make their money," he says.
"Ronaldo should continue to add to his personal endorsements as long as he continues to perform at a high level."
Ronaldo is now 30 but is less than two years into his five-year mega-deal at Madrid. Factor in his earnings from elsewhere and Ronaldo could well become the third man, after only Mayweather and Tiger Woods, to break $100m in a single year.
Competing for top spot will be LeBron James, who earned around $72.3m in 2014, according to Forbes. The Cleveland Cavaliers superstar is a year into a two-year deal with his hometown team after leaving NBA champions the Miami Heat. Once LeBron decides what he is doing after the 2015 season then it is conceivable that he might strike out for Ronaldo.
Just behind is Lionel Messi on around $65m for the year with Kobe Bryant rounding out the top five on $61.5m. The United States remains the nation that pays the best with 60 athletes featuring on the Forbes list. Footballers based in Europe, however, feature in six of the top 20 slots. There are 15 in the top 100 and that in itself is evidence that the best of the best are capable of matching the salaries, and now the endorsements, of their American counterparts.
You may have seen that bizarre Japanese commercial which appeared last year featuring Cristiano Ronaldo with what looks like a mini-drone in his hand. Ronaldo smiles and merely holds it. Everyone else who appears in the ad shoves the "Pao Facial Fitness" exerciser into their mouths and nods their heads to make the wings flap. The whole thing looks like something straight out of 'Zoolander'.
The episode might have had people sniggering but you can be sure the Portugal captain didn't do it for free. A quick glance at the cheque on offer might have had Ronaldo breaking out in a broad grin even without the help of the smile-enhancing product he was advertising. Ronaldo is the world's top-earning footballer and no other player in the world is capable of exploiting their image like he does. That is why he banks more cash than anyone else.