More than 10,000 athletes from 204 nations will participate in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Most Olympians scrape by through a combination of small sponsorships, minimal stipends from the national governing bodies for their sports and part-time jobs. That is the reality for the vast majority of Olympic athletes, who ply their trade in sports the general public only pays attention to every four years when the Games roll around.
And then there are these guys. They travel by private jet and are the rock stars of global sports, with billions of dollars at stake. The 20 highest-paid Olympians earned $448 million collectively over the past 12 months. They are almost entirely made up of basketball stars with eight-figure salaries and tennis pros armed with fistfuls of multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals.
Roger Federer is the highest-paid Olympian with earnings of $54.3 million between July 2011 and July 2012. Federer is once again at the top of his sport after his seventh Wimbledon crown this month and 17th Grand Slam overall. The win elevated him to the No. 1 ranking in the world, and he broke the record for most weeks ranked No. 1 in a career, which was previously held by Pete Sampras at 286.
Federer rarely plays doubles on the ATP Tour, but he won a gold medal in doubles at the 2008 Beijing Games. Everything Federer touches seems to turn to gold. He earned $9.3 million in prize money over the past 12 months and an estimated $45 million from appearances and sponsors. Federer has the most impressive endorsement portfolio of any athlete on the planet. His blue-chip roster of sponsors includes Nike, Rolex, Wilson, Credit Suisse, Gillette, Mercedes-Benz and more. Federer also commands more than $1 million per exhibition and is heading to South America at the end of the year for a series of these very lucrative events.
Federer is one of seven tennis players among the 20 highest-paid Olympians. Maria Sharapova ranks No. 4 at $27.1 million and Novak Djokovic ranks No. 8 at $19.8 million. Spain's Rafael Nadal earned $32.4 million over the past 12 months, but dropped out of the Olympics last week due to knee problems.
Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade caused a stir three months ago when he asserted that NBA players should get paid for appearing in the Olympics. "It's something you want to do. But it's taxing on your body. You're not playing for the dollar. But it would be nice if you would get compensated," Wade told reporters after a Heat practice in April.
Wade led the 2008 U.S. Olympic gold medal team in scoring, but will miss London after knee surgery. His fellow basketball player are not getting paid directly for their participation in the Games, but Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola and others ink lucrative endorsement deals with elite NBA players knowing these athletes will get global exposure in the Olympics and NBA playoffs. The more exposure they get, the more valuable they become for the brands.
Nike pays LeBron James and Kobe Bryant upward of $15 million a year including royalties and sends both stars overseas for store openings and basketball clinics. Olympic basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski is on the Nike payroll along with every member of the team except for one player: Kevin Love, who has a deal with Chinese brand 361 Degrees. But he still wears Nikes on the court.
James leads a group of 12 NBA stars among the 20 highest-paid Olympians with earnings of $53 million, which ranks second overall. In addition to Nike, James has endorsement deals with McDonald's, Coca-Cola, State Farm, Dunkin' Donuts, Audemars Piguet and Upper Deck. Eight members of the U.S. Olympic basketball team made the cut, as did four NBA players representing other countries, including Spanish brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, who earned $17.2 million and $10.9 million, respectively, over the past year.
The one athlete outside of tennis and basketball among the highest-paid Olympians is track star Usain Bolt, who ranks No. 7 with estimated earnings of $20.3 million. Bolt announced himself to the world with a triple-gold 2008 Olympic performance that saw him set world records in the 100 and 200 meter sprint events. Bolt earns the bulk of his income through endorsements and sponsor bonuses for record race times. Partners include Gatorade, Hublot, Nissan Motor and Visa, but his biggest sponsorship deal is with Puma, which pays $9 million annually. The only athlete bigger than Bolt at the 2008 Games was swimmer Michael Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals in Beijing. Phelps will be back in London looking to add to his 16 overall Olympic medals. Phelps does not crack the top 20 highest-paid Olympians, but earned an estimated $7 million over the past 12 months from 11 sponsors that include Speedo, Visa, Omega, Subway and Under Armour. He inked a deal last year with Procter & Gamble to be the global face of Head & Shoulders. P&G is running a marketing campaign this year featuring Phelps in more than 200 countries.
Phelps' biggest competition in the pool is Ryan Lochte, who made roughly $2 million this past year from sponsors like Gillette, Nissan Motor and AT&T. Lochte also has medal bonuses with partners Speedo and Gatorade that could push his income close to $3 million with a strong performance in London.
Athletes will be chasing gold medals in London the next two weeks across 26 sports, but these 20 have already won the gold.