The World's Highest-Paid Athletes

Forbes

Nothing can stop the Tiger Woods money machine.

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©AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

No. 1 Tiger Woods

Eight months on the shelf after knee surgery put a severe dent in his prize money, and killed his overseas appearance fees. One of his main sponsors walked away a year before their agreement was set to expire.

Yet Tiger Woods remains sports' highest earner with an annual income two and a half times larger than his closest competitor. The world's top golfer made $110 million during the past 12 months and is the best paid sportsman for the eighth straight year.

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Woods' knee injury caused his prize money to drop to $5 million from $25 million, but his overall earnings only fell $5 million thanks to an expansion of Woods' non-playing financial empire.

PepsiCo launched Gatorade Tiger last year in March with claims that it "helps focus your mind and your body." Woods receives a cut of sales for the four flavors sold under his name. When General Motors' problems caused Buick to terminate its $8 million a year deal with Woods one year early, the Woods camp moved quickly to sign a deal with AT&T to put the phone company's brand on his golf bag in Buick's place.

Nike is by far Woods' biggest benefactor with an annual payday of more than $30 million for the golfer. Woods profits from the success of the company's golf division, and last year sales for Nike Golf hit a record $725 million. Woods' most lucrative new endeavor is his golf course design business. Last year he announced plans for a third course to be built in Mexico. His other courses in Dubai and North Carolina are currently under construction.

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Our list of the highest-paid athletes looks at earnings derived from salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and licensing income between June 2008 and June 2009 and does not deduct for taxes or agents' fees. Overall, the top 20 earned $789 million, down 1% from last year. The cutoff to make the list was $30 million.

Drop-offs from last year include boxer Floyd Mayweather (has not fought since December 2007), NFL players Ben Roethlisberger and Dwight Freeney (both made the 2008 list after inking contracts with big signing bonuses) and Formula One driver Fernando Alonso (just missed the cut).

The highest-ranking of the four newcomers to the list is boxer Manny Pacquiao who earned $40 million over the last year, tied for the sixth most. Pacquiao cemented his claim as the world's best pound-for-pound fighter with convincing knockouts of Oscar De La Hoya in December and Ricky Hatton in May. The two blockbuster fights garnered more than 2 million pay-per-view buys in the U.S. and earned Pac-Man $30 million combined.

Pacquiao's massive popularity in his native Philippines is why companies like Nike and San Miguel beer have signed him to endorse their products. Pacquiao intends to use that popularity to run for political office when his ring career is over.

Our 20 highest earners have a very international flavor with Pacquiao one of eight non-Americans on the list. Finnish Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen earned $45 million over the past year, tied for second on our list with hoop legends Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Right behind that trio is global icon David Beckham who earned $42 million playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy and AC Milan, while schilling for Adidas, Giorgio Armani and Motorola.

Notable omission: the entire NFL, which didn't place anyone in the top 20 despite being the world's richest sports league. The league's salary cap keeps a lid on individual player salaries, and few players outside of Peyton Manning collect big endorsement deals. The top NFL earner during the past 12 months was Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha who made $22 million, mainly as a result of the three-year, $45 million contract he signed in February.

The World's Highest-Paid Athletes

Our list of the highest-paid athletes looks at earnings derived from salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and licensing income between June 2008 and June 2009 and does not deduct for taxes or agents' fees. Overall the top 20 earned $789 million, down 1% from last year. The cut-off to make the list was $30 million.

No. 1 Tiger Woods

$110 million

Woods has earned almost $900 million in prize money, endorsements and appearance fees during his 13-year professional golf career and next year is poised to become the first athlete to earn $1 billion during a career. Woods racked up more than twice the earnings of any other athlete over the past 12 months despite being sidelined for eight months after knee surgery thanks to lucrative endorsement deals with Accenture, Gillette and Nike as well as a thriving golf course design business.

No. 2 Kobe Bryant (Tie)

$45 million

Bryant secured his place among the NBA's all-time greats when he won his fourth NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers in June. The Black Mamba's popularity is at its zenith as his No. 24 jersey is the top seller in the U.S., Europe and China. Bryant pads his $21 million Lakers salary through endorsement deals with Nike, Upper Deck, Activision and VitaminWater.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (Tie)

$45 million

MJ retired as a player for the third and presumably final time six years ago, but he is still the most famous athlete in the United States. The Jordan Brand is approaching $1 billion in sales for Nike which turned Jordan into a marketing phenomenon. Jordan is on the short list of potential buyers for the Charlotte Bobcats where he is head of basketball operations and a minority owner.

No. 2 Kimi Raikkonen (Tie)

$45 million

Formula One's highest-paid driver finished a disappointing third in the World Championship standings last year after winning the title in 2007. This year has been even worse for the Iceman who sits in 10th place in the current standings. Ferrari resigned Raikkonen in September to a one-year contract extension keeping the Finn behind the wheel for Ferrari through 2010.

No. 5 David Beckham

$42 million

Becks is far from the best player on the pitch, but he is still the most famous which is why companies like Adidas, Giorgio Armani and Motorola pay him millions for his endorsement. Beckham spent five months on loan this year playing for AC Milan before his planned return to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy in July when the MLS season is half over.

Click here to see the full list of the World's Highest-Paid Athletes.

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