Kurt Badenhausen , FORBES STAFF
I cover sports business with rare dips into b-schools, local economies
Forbes’ 2017 look at the world’s highest-paid athletes featured three of the biggest sports stars on the planet at the top in Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James and Lionel Messi. The trio banked a combined $259 million for long seasons of work on the pitch and court, as well as their endorsement partnerships.
One night is all it took for Floyd Mayweather to exceed their combined total Money. Mayweather came out of retirement, seemingly willed a fight to happen with Conor McGregor via social media and then produced the biggest single payday in the history of sports, with his cut of the fight worth $275 million.
Mayweather tops Forbes’ annual list of the world’s highest-paid athletes for the fourth time in seven years at $285 million, including $10 million from endorsements, appearances and memorabilia.
Mayweather set his record payday in motion more than a decade ago when he paid $750,000 in 2006 to terminate his contract with promoter Top Rank. Mayweather wanted to get in the boxing promotion game and control his future bouts.
The move has been a knockout financially for Mayweather. His last 15 fights, starting with Oscar De La Hoya in 2007, generated $1.7 billion in pay-per-view revenue from nearly 23 million paying customers. Mayweather Promotions has been part of each bout, taking a cut of the PPV, gate, sponsorships, merchandise and international TV.
Mayweather has promoted or co-promoted the four biggest fights, from a financial perspective, in the history of the sport (De La Hoya, Canelo Alvarez, Manny Pacquiao, McGregor). “He completely changed the entire landscape of how the business of boxing is done,” says Mayweather’s longtime confidant, Leonard Ellerbe, who serves as CEO of Mayweather Promotions.
In contrast to the endless negotiations to a Pacquiao fight, Mayweather-McGregor came together rather quickly, after months of back-and-forth on social media between the biggest stars in boxing and mixed-martial-arts. The August 2017 bout was officially announced in June, with Mayweather and UFC serving as co-promoters.
The fight ended with a TKO in the 10th round, pushing Mayweather’s record to 50-0. The action proved more entertaining than most expected. The fight fell just short of Mayweather-Pacquiao financially, but it still produced the second-biggest numbers in the history of the sport, with 4.3 million PPV buys and a $55 million gate. Total revenue topped $550 million.
The fight fell just short of the $600 million haul for the 2015 Pacquiao fight, but Mayweather’s paycheck was 10% bigger, thanks to a greater cut of the total revenue pie for Mayweather Promotions compared to 2015.
Mayweather was guaranteed $100 million and McGregor $30 million ahead of the bout. The two fighters ultimately received more than two-and-a-half times their guarantees, with Mayweather at $275 million and McGregor roughly $85 million. Mayweather’s paycheck was three times as much as his opponent, due to his role as the promoter of the bout and as the ‘A’ side of the fight. McGregor’s cut came from co-promotor UFC, which paid the Irishman just over half its share, according to multiple sources.
The fight pushed Mayweather’s career earnings to $1 billion, joining Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods as the only athletes to earn 10-figures since turning pro. Could another big money grab be in Mayweather’s future? Ellerbe threw cold water on the idea and said, “He’s done!