Being the best pays off (usually)

Anytime an athlete is the best at his or her sport, good things tend to happen to that person’s annual income.

A recent column on listed the best-paid athletes in 30 sports. I found the information enlightening, not only in terms of the amount of money some athletes are paid, but the sports named on the list.

Making a list of sports isn’t as easy as you think. In some cases, there seems to be a fine line between what’s simply a game or activity and what is considered a sport.

In any case, the list represents official base salary or earnings from the most recently completed season or calendar year, and excludes endorsements, appearance fees, sponsorship money and other sources of extra income, unless otherwise noted. Figures were converted to American dollars where applicable. For sports not listed, official salary data were unavailable.

Have fun trying to guess some of the highest-paid athletes in their respective sports.

Let’s start with a few facts:

Lowest-paying sport: Women’s bowling.

Highest-paying sports (tie): Baseball and boxing.

Gender breakdown: 32 men, 11 women.

Total money earned: $238,536,500.

Average amount earned per athlete: $5,547,360.

The highest-paid athletes are baseball player Alex Rodriguez and boxer Manny Pacquiao at $32 million. Pacquiao earned his purse in just two fights, while Rodriguez had to toil all spring, summer and early fall. Of course, I’m sure Pacquiao put in a lot of time working out in the gym.

In the NBA, the highest-paid athlete based on the 2010-11 salary was Kobe Bryant at a mere $24.8 million.

Peyton Manning takes the prize in the NFL with a salary of $15.8 million.

Bowling pays well enough if you excel, but it’s not the easiest way to make a living, especially if you’re female. The top men’s bowler last year was Walter Ray Williams, who earned $152,670. By contrast, the top female bowler was Shannon Pluhowsky with earnings of $40,300.

Let’s see if you find some of the following numbers as astounding as I did. The top earnings for men playing beach volleyball were $387,700; the top prize money for women in the sport was $351,300.

The best bull rider earned $1,594,527 in 2010. Pardon the pun, but that’s a lot of bang for the buck.

Fishing is far more than a recreational activity. The top earnings in the Bassmaster Elite Series was $915,500. Go fish!

The top salary in the Japan Sumo Association was $400,000. I don’t know if that includes all you can eat in the buffet line.

Surfing is another area of great disparity between the incomes for men and women. The top man earned $516,000 in prize money, while the top woman earned $140,700.

In a rare salary reversal, albeit a small one, the top woman triathlete earned $239,800 last year while the top male triathlete earned $223,600.

If billiards is your game, you could make a respectable living at the top of the pay scale. The top man earned $118,494 and the top woman earned $67,930.

How about a game of darts? The top performer earned $1,044,000 in 2010.

The top racquetball player earned $300,000 in appearances, fees and sponsorships.

The list also includes, auto racing, distance running, drag racing, equestrian, golf, hockey, horse racing (jockey), mixed martial arts, poker, rodeo, skiing, sled dog, soccer, squash and tennis.

Just in case you worry about how these best-of-their-sport stars manage to feed their families with what they receive in salaries, sleep more easily knowing that most of them also have appearance fees and product endorsements to fall back on.

Oh yes, I failed to mention one sport or category that all of us can surely appreciate—eating. But that’s a column for another day.

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