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Who Makes the Most Bank – Musicians or Athletes?

Adam M. Young | December 20, 2017
Musicians versus athletes.
We examined the annual Forbes lists of the Top 25 highest paid Musicians and Athletes for the period between Jun. 2016 and Jun. 2017. It's Musicians vs Athletes, and we're crunching the numbers to see how they compare.

For sure, the Forbes analysis has some holes. The time frame isn’t ideal because it misses out on the seasonal tours and album releases as well as the beginning of the baseball season. Taylor Swift’s reputation album, for example, didn’t drop until November and her tour in 2018 doesn’t start until May. This means that her earnings will be much higher for next year’s rankings.

That said, it’s still interesting to look at the numbers and see who the fans are dropping their hard-earned money on.

To set the parameters, earning for this period includes all proceeds from music sold, concert tours, player salary and endorsements – all pretax. For the purposes of simplifying the analysis by categories, we’ve combined several of the music genres (after all, is Beyonce Pop or Contemporary R&B?). There’s a lot of confusion in this area and the fact is, there's a lot of crossover in themusic business.  The categories for this analysis are: Pop/R&B, Rap/Hip Hop, Rock/Alternative, Country/Folk and DJ. The sports categories is much easier to classify since there are no Bo Jacksons or Deion Sanders playing two sports anymore.

The Results

It wasn’t a total landslide, but of the combined $2.8 Billion earned by the top 50 combined, the top 25 Musicians earned about $400 Million more than their athlete counterparts. In fact, the top three and seven out of the top ten are in the musician group.

Musicians: $1.58 Billion
Athletes: $1.18 Billion

Top overall individual earners among Athletes and Musicians

Highest Overall: Diddy (Brother Love or Love) - $130M
This is interesting because Diddy did not release any new music in the time frame. His cash cows were the “Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour,” Ciroc Vodka and the sale of one-third of his Sean John fashion line. The sale earned him $70M.

The Top 25 Overall

     1. Diddy $130M

     2. Beyoncé $105M

     3. Drake $94M

     4. Cristiano Ronaldo $93M

     5. The Weeknd $92M

     6. Coldplay $88M

     7. LeBron James $86M

     8. Guns N’ Roses $84M

     9. Justin Bieber $84M

     10. Lionel Messi $80M

     11. Bruce Springsteen $75M

     12. Adele $69M

     13. Metallica $67M

     14. Roger Federer $64M

     15. Kevin Durant $61M

     16. Garth Brooks $60M

     17. Elton John $60M

     18. Paul McCartney $54M

     19. Red Hot Chili Peppers $54M

     20. Andrew Luck $50M

     21. Rory McIlroy $50M

     22. Jimmy Buffett $50M

     23. James Harden $47M

     24. Lewis Hamilton $46M

     25. Drew Brees $45M

Total by Category

Musicians: $1.2B
Athletes: $0.7B

Of the Top 25 overall rankings, Musicians significantly out-earned Athletes.

Category Breakdowns

Earnings Among the Top 25 by Music Category

     Rock/Alternative   $520M

     Pop/R&B   $513M

     Rap/Hip Hop   $266M

     Country/Folk   $93M

     DJ   $83M

In a near tie, Rock/Alternative and Pop/R&B easily out-earned the other 3 categories by a nearly 2:1 margin.

Earnings Among the Top 25  by Athlete Category

     NBA Basketball   $388M

     Soccer   $244M

     Golf   $165M

     Auto Racing   $121M

     Tennis   $102M

     NFL Football   $95M

     Track   $34M

     MMA   $34M

NBA Basketball clearly out-earned all other categories with eight stars earning nearly $400M, followed by soccer with four in the Top 25. Soccer has 2 in the overall Top 25 with Cristiano Ronaldo weighing in at No. 4 with $93M and Lionel Messi earning $80M to take the No. overall spot. LeBron James is the top NBA and US athlete earner with $86M.

What We Learned

When it comes to how the fans support stars of the music and sports worlds, it's clear that among the top earners in these two industries, musicians earn the most, at least for the time frame examined in the Forbes study.
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