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Watching the UEFA Champions League Final, quickly followed by the first Ashes test match, and later in the summer by Wimbledon made me ponder which is the most lucrative sport to play? writes David Little, a Partner in our Corporate and Commercial department who increasingly handles Sports Law cases too.

A good place to start is the Forbes Rich List. Despite Virat Kohli being the highest earner in the mega-rich Indian Premier League, no cricket player even features in Forbes’ list of 100 highest-paid athletes.

Cricket, therefore, is not one of the sports which pay the most, it’s not even close. In fact the most lucrative sport is not even included in my headline.

Perhaps motor racing pays well? According to Sportsmonkie the current global market value of the auto racing industry already touched US $7 billion in 2023.

But it’s only tenth in their list of the richest sports.

Next on their list is Tennis. Some of the greatest tennis players are also on Forbes’ Rich list, and the winner of Wimbledon will this year receive £2.5 million. Just playing in, and reaching the first round pays out £55,000 to each player.

Djokovic has amassed around £135 million in prize money after winning 22 Grand Slams and 93 ATP titles overall. But the reality is more professional players end up in debt due to spiralling travel and accommodation costs than make a living.

Big pay days in boxing make it one of the most lucrative sport on Sportsmonkie’s list, but not everyone commands the pay per view status of a Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao bout, where it touched 4.6 million PPV buys. Their ‘fight of the century’ earned US $410 million in revenue.

Cricket is the next most lucrative sport to play, but only 15 countries play this sport professionally which is bolstered by the income generated by the Indian Premier League, which earned US $633.62 million last season. Each franchise in that tournament bagged $79.2 million in revenue, on average. Virat Kohli, holds his place among the richest athletes of 2022, having earned nearly US $24 million, the most among all professional cricketers, mostly through his endorsement deals.

Golf follows cricket as the next best sport to play as a professional, but once again of the three thousand or so professional players globally the spoils of the £5 billion industry are mostly shared amongst the world’s 100 elite players.

At last football makes its entry onto the list of the world’s top ten most lucrative sports. But only at five. It may be the most popular sport in the world, amassing over £500,000 billion a year, almost half of all professional sports’ income, but the number of professionals in the game is relatively small. Of the four professional leagues in England in League 2, the lowest tier, the highest ranked player at Harrogate Town earned £30,000 last year, the most junior player just £3,000. Meanwhile the average salary of footballers participating in the Premier League now earn an average yearly salary of £1.75 million.

Two of the greatest footballers of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, hold their places among the highest paid professional sportsmen, each with fortunes in excess of £100 million.

The most lucrative sports to play all hail from North America. Ice hockey, the national sport of Canada is followed by American Football, basketball and the top sport to play is… baseball.

Of the 100 athletes on the Forbes list, 26 play baseball, 21 are American footballers, and 18 play NBA basketball. Also on the list are sportsmen and women from football (twelve), tennis (seven), golf (five), motor racing (six), and boxing (four).

If this has whetted your appetite and you want to know which are the richest sports by income generated, that’s another list, which you’ll find here. Enjoy!

Contact our Sports Lawyer

David Little, is a Partner in the Corporate & Commercial team and also Head of Sports Law for the firm. If you would like to contact him please quote Ref CB404 on either 07968 027343 or 020 7631 4141 or email

The above is accurate as at 20 June 2023. The information above may be subject to change.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Category: Blog, News | Date: 20th Jun 2023

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