According to Forbes, the world’s ten highest-paid female athletes earned a combined $167 million before taxes in 2021, representing a 23% increase over 2020 and a 16% jump from the prior record of $143.3 million set in 2013.
While the figure looks rosy, Forbes noted that it is driven mainly by tennis stars Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. Osaka topped the list with $57.3 million while Williams came in second with $45.9 million. The two athletes are Black and tennis players. No other woman on the list has even a remote chance of ranking among the world’s highest-paid athletes of either sex, Forbes said.
The Forbes ranking of the highest-paid female athletes reflects earnings from the calendar year 2021, a change from past editions of this list, which covered the 12 months ending each June. Forbes said the on-the-field earnings figures include base salaries, bonuses, stipends and prize money. “The off-the-field earnings estimates are determined through conversations with industry insiders and reflect annual cash from endorsements, licensing, appearances and memorabilia, as well as businesses operated by the athletes,” Forbes added.
According to Forbes estimates, Osaka made $2.3 million on the field and $55 million off the field. Nearly all of her $57.3 million in pretax earnings comes from endorsements. Osaka has more than 10 brand partners, including Louis Vuitton, Sweetgreen and Tag Heuer.
Besides endorsements, she has equity stakes in VR startup StatusPRO and plant-based chicken maker Daring Foods. She also released a collection of NFTs on Tom Brady’s Autograph platform and launched a skincare line called Kinlò, purposely for melanated individuals. She created the product with Ghanaian-born dermatologist Dr Naana Boakye.
Osaka is a Haitian-Japanese tennis player with four grand slams. She was born in Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan in October 1997 to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother but has lived her life in the U.S. since age three and has dual Japanese and American citizenship.
According to her, she “grew up in a Haitian household in New York,” where she lived with her grandmother. Although she has often touted her Haitian heritage, Osaka plays tennis under the Japanese flag despite not being able to speak the language fluently.
Serena Williams earned $0.9 million on the field and $45 million off the field. Her earnings meant that she could have been the highest-paid female athlete in the world were it not for Osaka.
Despite her dwindling success on the court, she remains a big draw for advertisers. She has giant partners like Nike, Gatorade and, most recently, DirecTV.
The tennis, star, who was idolized by Osaka, was an executive producer on the 2021 film King Richard, which was about her father. She also has investments in more than 60 startups through her firm Serena Ventures, according to Forbes.
Williams has won a record 23 Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era. Also, she has achieved 14 Grand Slam doubles titles alongside her sister Venus and won four gold medals at the Olympics.
Coming in a distant third Serena Williams’ older sister Venus. In her prime, she became the first African American to attain the world number 1 ranking.
Venus has won 14 Grand Slam Women’s doubles titles with her sister Serena as her partner. Her dominance in the women’s tennis division started in 2000, winning 35 consecutive singles and six tournaments.
According to Forbes, Venus made $0.3 million on the field and $11 million off the field. She has not been seen often in the WTA Tour in recent times, playing only nine tournaments, and winning only three matches, in 2021. Thus, her partnerships these days have focused more on her celebrity than her tennis, Forbes said. The 41-year-old makes appearances and gives keynote speeches as a side hustle and she also has her own apparel brand, EleVen, which has collaborated with K-Swiss. The tennis star was also an executive producer on the film King Richard.
Fourth on the list of the highest-paid athletes is Simone Biles. She is arguably the most accomplished gymnast in U.S. history with 32 Olympic and world medals. Forbes estimates that Biles made $0.1 million on the field and $10 million off the field. She partnered with Autograph to release NFTs starting in August and joined mental-health startup Cerebral as “chief impact officer” in October, Forbes said. She was also the face of a cross-country post-Olympics gymnastics tour, the Gold Over America Tour.