Each year since 2004, Sports Illustrated has published the Fortunate 50, its deeply researched, ranked list of the 50 highest earning active athletes. This year, for the first time, the list is a joint effort between SI and Fortune.
Compiling the Fortunate 50 is a complex and multifaceted operation. Estimating endorsement deal values is a risky game, and even player salaries from their sport, which are more easily attainable, are not always publicly known in their exact totals.
Last year, the sports world was surprised to see boxer Floyd Mayweather sitting atop the herd at No. 1. This year he’s there again. Mayweather’s new deal with Showtime — he ditched HBO — gets him some $45 million for a single fight, thanks to a high guaranteed purse and sizable cut of the pay-per-view returns. Apart from boxer Floyd, the 2013 list includes 25 baseball players, 12 basketball players, 9 football players, two golfers and a NASCAR driver.
1. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The May 4 welterweight title bout with Robert Guerrero brought Mayweather a guaranteed purse of $32 million, with his pay-per-view cut yielding at least another $13 million. Once he gets a similar payday for his Sept. 14 fight, likely against Saul (Canelo) Alvarez, he should hit $90 million in 2013 earnings. From two matches alone Mayweather, 36, stands to make nearly as much as Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander will from his five-year, $140 million extension.
2. Lebron James
James has bounced back from the stain of The Decision in 2010, leading Miami to the ’12 NBA title and repairing his image. New deals followed, with the likes of Baskin-Robbins and Samsung. LeBron, 28, also has one of the biggest contracts with Nike (NKE) and is a part owner of the Liverpool soccer club. On the court he’s underpaid: The four-time MVP earns less than the Nets’ Joe Johnson and the Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire, for example.
3. Drew Brees
Brees, 34, had a relatively small base salary last season ($3 million) but landed a gargantuan $37 million signing bonus with his new contract in July 2012. He has traded on his family-man image by plugging products like Dove, Vicks VapoRub, Chase, Verizon (VZ), Tide and now Wrangler.
4. Kobe Bryant
Winding down his career as LeBron hits his stride, the 34-year-old Bryant isn’t losing deals, but he doesn’t have many new ones coming in. While Kobe still benefits from a long contract with Nike, his other sponsors aren’t huge names; they include Smart Car and Lenovo.
5. Tiger Woods
Tiger is back — he earned more than anyone on Tour over the past 12 months — but sponsors have been slower to return. Woods’s current deals are with Nike, EA (EA), Rolex, Kowa (a heat rub), Fuse Science, Upper Deck and NetJets. In the past two years various lists have put Tiger’s portfolio in the $50 million range; don’t believe them. Marketing experts say that even $33 million is generous, but no one really knows how much his deal with Nike is worth. (The best estimates put it at $20 million per year.) And now that Nike is using him in TV ads again (with the ascendant Rory McIlroy), you can bet the Swoosh sees fresh value in its biggest golf star. Phil Mickelson makes more in endorsements, but the 37-year-old Woods made double on the links.
6. Phil Mickelson
In golf (and tennis), more than in other sports, endorsement contracts are heavily rankings-based and full of performance bonuses. At 42, Mickelson isn’t winning as much, but he’s still a sponsor’s dream because of his likability. In an ad for arthritis medicine Enbrel (for which he likely earns $7 million a year), he’s decked out in sponsorships: KPMG on his visor, Barclays (ATMP) on the chest of his polo, Callaway (ELY) on the sleeve.
7. Derrick Rose
Rose’s deal with Adidas alone is worth more than $10 million a year. Add that to Powerade, Wilson, Skullcandy (SKUL), and local Chicago sponsors like Giordano’s pizza, and you see why Rose, 24, has suddenly catapulted into the top 10. Even though he hasn’t played a single game this season due to a torn left ACL, his jersey is the fifth-highest selling in the NBA. (Carmelo Anthony’s of the Knicks is No. 1.)
8. Peyton Manning
Manning’s salary suddenly pales in comparison with Brees’s (and with the new ones signed by Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers), but he remains football’s biggest endorser and one of the most marketable athletes in American sports: Reebok, Wheaties, DirecTV (DTV), Gatorade, Papa John’s (PZZA) and Buick all see the 37-year-old QB as a sure-thing investment.
9. Alex Rodriguez
Still the highest-paid player in baseball, A-Rod’s 10-year, $275 million deal goes through 2017 — though it’s likely the oft-injured slugger won’t still be playing then. He doesn’t have much left in endorsements apart from Nike, Vita Coco and Rawlings. But it’s not like he needs them. Rodriguez, 37, also gets a $6 million bonus if he ever reaches 660 homers. (He has 647.)
10. Zack Greinke
The Dodgers, who have the highest payroll in the majors as well as four players on this list, signed Greinke, 29, to an astonishing six-year, $147 million deal in December that includes $17 million in salary this season plus a $12 million signing bonus. It was the largest contract ever for a righthanded pitcher before the Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander deals surpassed it.
Want to see athletes 11-50? Head over to SI.com for the full list.