Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams have played only 30 matches between the two of them in 2022, as injuries and extended breaks kept them off the court. But the two tennis aces remained the biggest draws for brands looking to reach a global audience through female sports stars.
The result: Osaka ($53.2 million) and Williams ($35.3 million) are the highest-earning female athletes on the planet, and the only ones who cracked Sportico’s top 100 athletes—male or female—published in May.
Osaka has taken control of her business this year by launching her own agency, Evolve, with her longtime agent Stuart Duguid. “I’ve spent my career doing things my way, even when people told me that it wasn’t what was expected or traditional,” Osaka said in an email to Sportico in May. “Evolve is the natural next step in my journey as both an athlete and businesswoman, as well as a way to continue being myself and doing things my way.”
Osaka followed the path of other star athletes, like Jack Nicklaus, Roger Federer, Rory McIlroy, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who all left big agencies to go out on their own. Yet Osaka is the first woman to do it.
The move gives her freedom to craft deals any way she wants outside of the big agency structure. She has increasingly looked at partnerships where there is an equity component, including Hyperice, Sweetgreen, Modern Health, FTX and Autograph.
Williams, meanwhile, got a huge sendoff at the U.S. Open in what was widely viewed as her final match following a poignant essay in Vogue, but the 23-time singles Grand Slam winner said chances of a comeback are “very high” during a tech conference this week. She has earned $450 million during her career on and off the court.
Last year, Osaka and Williams were head and shoulders above the competition on earnings; gymnast Simone Biles came in at a distant third with an estimated $6 million. But this year, a new crop of female athletes is making its mark with sponsors, including a trio of teenagers poised to challenge Osaka for the top spot in the years to come.
Tennis player Emma Raducanu ($26.2 million) and freestyle skier Eileen Gu ($23.1 million) both had massive breakthroughs over the past 14 months.
Raducanu, who turns 20 next month, arrived in New York last year to play the U.S. Open qualifying tournament. She won her three matches to get into the main draw and shocked the sports world when she swept through that draw without dropping a set—the first woman to do that since Serena in 2014—to take the title and $2.5 million winner’s purse. She became the first qualifier in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam tournament and Britain’s first female Slam winner in 44 years.
Raducanu’s fairy-tale run through the tournament created a marketing phenomenon, boosted by her heritage and personality. She holds citizenship in both Canada, where she was born, and the U.K., where she was raised by her Romanian father and Chinese mother. Raducanu speaks fluent Mandarin and took to the U.S. Open’s Weibo account after the victory to thank her Chinese fans in Mandarin.
Her IMG agent, Max Eisenbud—who steered the careers of Maria Sharapova and Li Na—helped her navigate the plethora of opportunities after a breakthrough Grand Slam win. There was an intense focus in the U.K.; the country has a rich tennis history as the home of Wimbledon and had been waiting four decades for a woman to win a Grand Slam. Fashion magazines lined up to put her on the cover. She added multimillion-dollar agreements with HSBC, Tiffany, British Airways, Christian Dior, Vodafone, Porsche and Evian.
Gu, at just 18 years old, became the youngest Olympic champion in freestyle skiing when she pocketed gold medals in both big air and halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. But she drew attention from sponsors in the leadup to the games, especially in China, where she has significant appeal.
Gu grew up in San Francisco and originally skied for the U.S. team, but in 2019, she started competing for China, where her mother was born. The pivot drew international attention, and it was a boon to her bank account. She partnered with more than 20 brands leading up to the Olympics, and her face littered billboards at the Olympics. She appeared on the covers of the Chinese editions of InStyle, Marie Claire and Vogue. Her off-snow earnings were an estimated $23 million during our scoring period of May 2021 to May 2022.
Gu, who turned 19 last month, is now a freshman at Stanford living in a dorm and taking quantum physics, but she continues to work with a host of partners, including Red Bull, Louis Vuitton, Victoria’s Secret, IWC, Anta, Bank of China, Cadillac and more. She potentially has multiple Olympics in her future, where she could be one of the biggest stars.
Coco Gauff, 18, sits well behind Raducanu and Gu at $7.7 million and No. 8 overall, but she is poised to shoot up the earnings rankings if she continues her strong run on the court, which so far includes a French Open final and being the youngest singles player to qualify for the year-end WTA Finals championships since Sharapova in 2005. New Balance has been her partner since she was 14 and just released her first signature shoe.
The top 15 female athletes earned an estimated $214 million and hail from nine countries, while playing five sports. That sum includes prize money and salaries between May 2021 and May 2022 for active athletes during that period. The endorsement earnings estimates were compiled through conversations with those familiar with marketing agreements and also include royalties, memorabilia, appearances, media and businesses tied to their celebrity. We exclude investment income unless it is connected to an endorsement agreement. The figures are all before taxes and any agent fees.
The World’s Highest-Paid Female Athletes
1. Naomi Osaka: $53.2 million
Prize money: $1.2 million | Endorsements: $52 million | Age: 25
Evolve signed Nick Kyrgios as its first client beyond Osaka, and the Aussie has been playing the best tennis of his life since the move. The on-court results have not been as good for Osaka, who has dropped seven of the last nine matches she has played, a huge dropoff for the four-time Grand Slam champion.
2. Serena Williams: $35.3 million
Prize money: $300,000 | Endorsements: $35 million | Age: 41
Her investment firm, Serena Ventures, has bought into more than 60 companies, such as Impossible Foods, MasterClass, Noom and Tonal. She also owns a stake in Angel City FC and a sliver of the Miami Dolphins.
3. Emma Raducanu: $26.2 million
Prize money: $3.2 million | Endorsements: $23 million | Age: 19
Raducanu has struggled on the court since her breakthrough win in New York, which was only the second Grand Slam event she had ever played. She has a losing record in 2022, and her current year prize money of $696,000 ranks No. 58 on the WTA Tour.
4. Eileen Gu: $22.1 million
Prize money: $100,000 | Endorsements: $22 million | Age: 19
Gu won a third freestyle medal in Beijing with a silver in slopestyle, making her the first freestyle skier to win three medals in one Olympics.
5. Simone Biles: $9 million
Prize money: $38,000 | Endorsements: $9 million | Age: 25
Biles had a disappointing Olympics last year in Tokyo when she withdrew from most of the events after struggling with the “twisties.” She garnered praise for bringing attention to mental health and continues to be a popular pitchwoman for more than a dozen brands, including Athleta, Autograph, Powerade, Subway and Wheaties.
6. Jin Young Ko: $8.3 million
Prize money: $3.6 million | Endorsements: $4.7 million | Age: 27
The South Korean golfer won the 2021 LPGA Player of the Year as well as the CME Group Tour Championship, which carried a $1.5 million prize, the biggest in women’s golf last year. She has roughly a dozen endorsement deals, such as Solaire Resort & Casino Manila, LG Electronics, DAOL Financial Group, Bridgestone Golf, Titleist, Adidas, Nikon and Korean Air.
7. Iga Świątek: $8.1 million
Prize money: $5.6 million | Endorsements: $2.5 million | Age: 21
Świątek’s paycheck has soared since our scoring period ended in May, as she captured the French Open and U.S. Open titles. Her $9.4 million in prize money earned this calendar year is twice as much as No. 2-ranked Ons Jabeur. She has deals with Asics, Technifbre, Red Bull, Lexus and Rolex, and is in line for lucrative year-end bonuses as the world’s No. 1 player.
8. Coco Gauff: $7.7 million
Prize money: $1.7 million | Endorsements: $6 million | Age: 18
Gauff has been a rising star and dubbed by many as the heir apparent to Serena’s throne. Her biggest breakthrough came at the French Open this year, when she reached the finals of both the singles and doubles events. She reached the top five of the world rankings for first the time this week.
9. Ashleigh Barty: $7.6 million
Prize money: $5.1 million | Endorsements: $2.5 million | Age: 26
In March, Barty shocked the tennis world when she retired at the age of 25. At the time, she was the top-ranked player in the world and only two months removed from winning the Australian Open in her home country.
10. Leylah Fernandez: $6.4 million
Prize money: $1.9 million | Endorsements: $4.5 million | Age: 20
Fernandez beat three top five players, including defending champ Osaka, on her way to the 2021 U.S. Open final, where she fell to Raducanu. Lulelemon signed the Canadian this year to lead the brand’s push into tennis. She has more than 10 other partners, including Morgan Stanley, Subway, Google and Gatorade.
11 (tie). Alex Morgan: $5.9 million
Salary: $400,000 | Endorsements: $5.5 million | Age: 33
Morgan captured the 2022 NWSL Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer with a career-best 15 goals. Last year, Morgan, along with fellow star athletes Sue Bird, Chloe Kim and Simone Manuel, launched a female-focused media platform, Togethxr. Morgan’s endorsement partners, including AT&T, Hyundai and Nike, get a boost from her 10 million Instagram followers.
11 (tie). Megan Rapinoe: $5.9 million
Salary: $400,000 | Endorsements: $5.5 million | Age: 37
Morgan and Rapinoe both earn similar paychecks, but how they get there differs. While Morgan has a deep traditional endorsement roster, Rapinoe is a sought-after speaker and corporate consultant for brands. This summer, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Joe Biden.
13 (tie). Garbiñe Muguruza: $5.7 million
Prize money: $2.2 million | Endorsements: $3.5 million | Age: 29
The world ranking of the Spanish-Venezuelan tennis star has dropped, but she still maintains deals with brands like Adidas, Babolat, Beats, Jaguar and Nivea. The two-time Grand Slam champion is an investor in tequila brand Casa del Sol, founded by actress Eva Longoria.
13 (tie). Nelly Korda: $5.7 million
Prize money: $1.7 million | Endorsements: $4 million | Age: 24
Korda reached golf’s world No. 1 ranking last year and held the spot for a total of 29 weeks, longer than any other American since the rankings were introduced in 2006. She has a dozen endorsement partners, including UKG, Cisco, Franklin Templeton, Richard Mille, Titleist and Grant Thornton.
15. Lexi Thompson: $5.5 million
Prize money: $1.5 million | Endorsements: $4 million | Age: 27
Thompson turned pro in 2010 at age 15 and the following year became the youngest winner ever on the LPGA Tour. She ranks 10th on the all-time money list at $13.4 million. Cobra, Dex Imaging, Rocket Mortgage and UKG are among her endorsement partners.