In Which Industry do Stars Earn More – Music or Sports?

Whatever your opinion on footballer’s wages, there’s no denying that they’re amongst some of the more highly paid performers in the world. Because their careers are in the public eye, their wages are more well known than those of billionaire businessmen and women, and at this time of year – after a bust summer transfer window – it’s impossible to escape the stories about the high wages clubs are paying out.

 You Can Always Bet Ronaldo Has High Wages

At the center of many of those recent stories is the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Juventus back to the club where he originally made his name: Manchester United. One of the most talked-about moves of the summer, the superstar signed for his former club for a reputed £385,000 a week. While that’s an incredible figure, it’s still some way short of his previous salary in Europe – £500,000 a week. Manchester United is betting a lot of money on Ronaldo helping to improve their chances of winning the Premier League this year, and if you’re into sports betting, it might be worth checking out the odds, because wherever Ronaldo goes, goals follow.

Top Earners in Sports

 Nowadays sports stars don’t just earn their millions on the pitch, many of them have side projects which net them a pretty decent income by themselves. Top stars like Ronaldo and Messi have grown global brands around their images. Ronaldo has his CR7 clothing line and investment in hotels and gyms. Messi has a lifetime sponsorship deal with Adidas, as well as his own clothing line.

Messi and Ronaldo are often pitted against each other by fans trying to choose one as the greatest player of their generation, and it’s decidedly difficult to pick definitively one or the other. But if you’re looking at the financials, then Messi takes the top spot – for 2021 anyway – with a combined income of $130 million, compared to Ronaldo’s $120 million.

However, Messi is not the highest-paid sports star of all: for 2021 that honor falls to Connor MacGregor. Most of his earnings come from sponsorship deals and sales of his whisky brand, but his return to the ring in January saw him pocket around $22 million for a single fight.

Across the pond, America’s sports stars aren’t doing too badly either. Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott recently signed a four-year contract extension which brought his yearly earnings to $107.5 million dollars. Most of the are on-field money, meaning he just beats Messi to become the highest-paid athlete, and the rest come from sponsorships and investments. Turning to the NBA, it’s no surprise to see LeBron James at the top of the list. The 36-year-old superstar starred in Space Jam: A New Legacy which saw his earnings soar to $96.5 million for the year.

Top Earning Musicians

 2020 was a quiet year for live music, and this hit the pockets of the industry’s top earners hard. For the first time, top paid lists weren’t being decided by concert revenue, giving new artists a leg up over touring masters. Instead, streaming revenue has had a big impact, as musicians have sought new ways to release and promote music.

Topping the high earner’s charts for 2020 was, somewhat unsurprisingly, Taylor Swift with $23.8 million, despite having no touring revenue. Swift does however have a strong following of younger fans which has led to her having the second-highest streaming revenue last year. Streaming music is more popular amongst certain genres, like hip hop, and younger generations, whereas rock bands and legacy musicians – those who have been recording for decades – tend to rely more on sales for their income.

Second to Swift is Post Malone, a hip-hop and rap artist, with $23.2 million. More than half of this came from touring revenue at the beginning of 2020 before live music found itself canceled. Veteran singer Celine Dion is third on the list for the same reason – her $17 million from 23 tour dates makes her the top touring artist in terms of revenue from 2020.

Sports vs Music – who Earns the Most?

You can see quite clearly from the above figures that it’s the sports stars who have the highest earning capabilities, but let’s look at some of the reasons why:

  • Sports stars are more likely to branch out into other areas such as clothing lines and property ownership, and this is counted towards their overall income. In fact, where musicians have done the same, they have had similar success – for example, Diddy, Beyonce, and Justin Timberlake – but it isn’t recorded in the same way.
  • Musicians don’t earn a weekly wage; instead, they rely on fluctuating sales figures. If they don’t release a new album or go on a tour, their only earnings will come from existing material which they have very little control over. By contrast, sports stars earn a guaranteed base amount, supplemented by bonuses for appearances, goals scored, etc.
  • Sports stars have a shorter shelf life than musicians. If you were to compare the lifetime earnings of bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Eagles, with the lifetime’s earnings of Eric Cantona, Pele, and Eddie Jordan, you’d find that they ultimately made more money from their chosen careers than those who had to retire after their peak.


It’s difficult to compare the two worlds when so much has to be taken into consideration. Sports stars have contracts that guarantee their wages, whereas musicians are reliant on revenue and sales, The current climate has definitely been more favorable to sports starts, even with reduced wages for 2020, but that doesn’t mean it will be that way in the future. Ultimately, it is down to the individual and how they manage their finances.


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