Outstripped Messi: Ronaldo Was the First Player to Earn $ 1 Billion in His Career

In the main football confrontation of our time, yesterday it became one zero more. Over the past year, Cristiano Ronaldo earned $ 105 million (before taxes) and took fourth place in the Forbes 100 Highest-Paid Stars of 2024, just one line ahead of his eternal rival Lionel Messi. But more important to their rivalry, Ronaldo became the first ever footballer to earn $ 1 billion.

The 35-year-old striker is only the third athlete to set the bar high before retiring. Before him, golfer Tiger Woods, who signed a long-term advertising contract with Nike in 2009, and boxer Floyd Mayweather, who since 2017 earned most of their income from royalties from paid views of their fights, could boast of such an achievement. At the same time, Ronaldo is the first such wealthy athlete in team sports.

Over 17 years of his career, he earned $ 650 million on the football field. By the end of the current contract with Juventus Turin in June 2024, this amount will grow to $ 765 million. Messi, who began playing at the highest level three years later than Ronaldo, from 2005- Go earned $ 605 million from direct professional activities. The only team sports competitor who came closest to the football tandem was Alex Rodriguez, who retired in 2016 at the New York Yankees after 22 years in Major League Baseball and earned for this time is $ 450 million. And, for example, the most popular glossy player of his generation DEvid Beckham retired from football with only gross income in $ 500 million, of which half received from side projects.

“Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest players in the history of the world’s most popular sport. Football is at an incredible boom today, ”says Nick Harris, author of Sporting Intelligence and editor of the Global Athlete Salary Rankings, which ranked teams from around the world by total income. “He collects full stadiums.”

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The rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi reached its peak in 2009, when the Portuguese moved from England to the Spanish La Liga and became the leader of Real Madrid – the historical rival of Barcelona, in which the Argentinean spent his entire career. The players spent the next nine years in the same championship and took turns taking the titles of the best football player in the world, while simultaneously and regularly improving the terms of personal contracts and increasing their own fan bases.

The competition between them was not only interesting from a sports point of view, but also profitable for the entire industry from a commercial point of view: in the 2010s, clubs actively expanded their audience and, thanks to the growth in the cost of television contracts, began to make excellent money. And Ronaldo and the Messiahs provided the show, being antipodes by nature: the assertive and selfish Portuguese built the image of a super athlete obsessed with his own physical form and the pursuit of titles, and the more relaxed and team-minded Argentine more often paid attention to his teammates and less often performed with harsh, ambitious public statements.

At the same time, both were in perfect order on the field. With Messi, Barcelona have won La Liga six times and won the Champions League twice. Real Madrid won two titles of champions of Spain with Ronaldo, but in the main European tournament they celebrated their triumph already four times. During the years of “internal Spanish” confrontation, both players took four awards for the best player in the world, and the matches between their clubs, known as El Clasico, broke world records for the number of TV viewers.

And if in recent years Messi has taken the lead in personal sporting achievements (in 2019 he received the sixth Golden Ball in his career), then on the field of commercializing his own star status, Ronaldo has no equal. Run by his influential compatriot Jorge Mendes’ agency GestiFute, the Portuguese is constantly expanding his fanbase, attracting brands with looks, hairstyles and sense of style, and more recently also showing on social media a more personal side of his life – family and young children. In January, the footballer became the first Instagram user with over 200 million followers. At the same time, the total army of his fans on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is 425 million users. Ronaldo can be safely called the most popular athlete in the world.

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Nike pays the athlete $ 20 million annually and signed a life-long contract with him in 2016. Ronaldo is the third athlete after Michael Jordan and LeBron James to have an everlasting bond with the brand. In May, the sportswear manufacturer announced the launch of the Mercurial Superfly 10th Anniversary Boot line that has become an integral part of the Portuguese image over the years. The brand also plans a children’s version, with which the brand decided to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its son Ronaldo. The insoles will feature the football player’s triumphant pose, his autograph and logo. Thanks to advertising contracts with manufacturers of Clear Shampoo, Herbalife Supplements and Abbott Medicines, the athlete’s income increases by another $ 45 million per year.

Ronaldo’s empire also has its own trademark CR7, combining his initials and team number. Forbes estimates this diversified brand generates a quarter of its annual ad revenue for the owner. This includes a line of branded lingerie launched in 2013, as well as a line of footwear, men’s fragrances and denim apparel. In 2015, the footballer became a partner of the Pestana Hotel Group hotel chain and a year later opened his first hotel in his hometown of Funchal on the island of Madeira, not far from his own museum, where his awards are displayed and personalized souvenirs are sold. Since then, he has also co-founded fitness club chain CR7 with Crunch Fitness, regularly uploading workout videos to YouTube, and has given his name to an educational course from Italian online university eCampus to launch the career of an influencer – social media influencer.

But the rivalry with Messi doesn’t end there. Ronaldo’s 2024 income includes a salary of $ 60 million. This is slightly less than the previous year, as in April, as a result of the pandemic, the footballer agreed to a salary cut by 30%.

Messi over the past year has become richer by $ 104 million with a salary cut due to the coronavirus by 70%. He, too, is expected to cross the billion-dollar gross revenue milestone next year, even before the completion of his current contract with Barcelona.