The World’s Highest-Paid Female Athletes 2022

Iga Swiatek

the time Serena Williams announced in August that she was ready to hang up her racket after 27 years in professional tennis, she had built an estimated fortune of $260 million. That made her one of only two athletes, along with her old rival Maria Sharapova, on the list of America’s richest self-made women.



From Grand Slam champ to World No.1, the rise of Iga Swiatek




Williams stands out in any number of ways, not just with her open-era-record 23 Grand Slam singles titles but with her career prize money of $94.8 million—more than double the WTA Tour’s next-best figure, and more than quadruple the LPGA Tour’s top mark. With total career earnings of $450 million including endorsements and other business endeavors, she is light years ahead of any other female athlete.



The good news, however, is that, after paving the way for other female athletes to start earning bigger bucks, she may not be such an outlier for long. Fellow tennis star Naomi Osaka has joined her as one of just two women on the list of the world’s 50 highest-paid athletes, and in fact surpassed her in annual earnings starting in 2020. Now, a new group of marketable sports stars is coming of age and already earning millions. In fact, eight of 2022’s top-earning female athletes made at least $10 million, double the number from a year ago and the first time more than seven women have hit that milestone since Forbes introduced the ranking in 2008. Among the women in that earnings stratosphere this year are four newcomers to the list: freestyle skier Eileen Gu and tennis aces Emma Raducanu, Iga Świątek and Coco Gauff.

In all, the world’s 25 highest-paid female athletes hauled in an estimated $285 million in 2022 before taxes and agents’ fees, with the top ten accounting for $194 million of that total—up 17% from the 2021 top ten’s record $167 million. With $51.1 million in earnings, Osaka is No. 1 for the third straight year, followed by Williams with $41.3 million.“I think everybody’s seeing a tremendous amount of momentum with women’s sports and women’s sports sponsorships,” says Cameron Wagner, who leads Elevate Sports Ventures’ brand representation business as chief client officer. “We’ve made a ton of progress. We have a ton of progress left to be made, but brands are starting to see the value in women’s sports here and today as a driver of their business.”




World number one Iga Swiatek wants equal salary for women




Thayer Lavielle, executive vice president at The Collective, a women-focused division of powerhouse sports agency Wasserman, says the pace of change began to pick up in 2019, which, among other things, was the year the U.S. women’s national soccer team filed its discrimination lawsuit. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 wiped out ticket revenue and dented some sponsors’ budgets, but Lavielle notes that the experience may have had long-term benefits for women’s sports leagues, which in many cases were the first to return to play and which saw viewership increases as fans were stuck at home and glued to their devices.



This year featured no shortage of high points. The success of the UEFA Women’s Euro soccer tournament bled over to club leagues, with attendance in England’s Women’s Super League up 200% over last season and Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga topping last season’s total attendance in just seven weeks. FIFA announced last week that it was launching a Women’s Club World Cup, not long after releasing a report that found that 77% of women’s soccer leagues had a title sponsor in 2022, up from 66% in 2021.



Agent Max Eisenbud on Iga Swiatek: There are a lot of similarities to Maria  Sharapova




The WNBA, meanwhile, had its best regular-season viewership in 14 years, up 16% over 2021, and is now looking to add an expansion team. The National Women’s Soccer League final drew an audience of 915,000 on CBS, a 71% increase over last year, and the NCAA women’s basketball championship game averaged 4.85 million total viewers, the most of any college basketball game on ESPN—men’s or women’s—since 2008.



There is work still to do. A recent National Research Group report measured the value of all women’s sports broadcast rights in the U.S. at $47.7 million. That is an important step up from the $36.9 million of 2021, but it is a pittance next to, say, the $2.66 billion the NBA averages in its rights deals with ESPN and Turner Sports—a fee that is expected to at least double in new agreements that would start with the 2025-26 season. Against that backdrop, it is not especially surprising that WNBA salaries top out at about $230,000 while the NBA minimum is over $900,000.

The gap is narrower in individual sports such as tennis and golf, but while the LPGA Tour is boosting its prize pool to a record $101.4 million for 2023—up from $93.5 million—it will still be just a quarter of the PGA Tour’s $428.6 million. Even in tennis—which traditionally has the narrowest gender pay gap of any major sport and unsurprisingly accounts for 12 of this year’s 25 highest-paid female athletes, and seven of the top ten—women often make less at tournaments outside of the four Grand Slams.



The limited on-field opportunities mean female athletes have to rely on sponsorships and appearances much more than men. But “we have enough data and proof points that those media rights deals should be much, much higher the next go-around for many of these leagues,” says Elevate’s Wagner, and a couple of major women’s leagues will soon be able to put that theory to the test, starting with the NWSL, whose deal with CBS expires next year. The Premier Hockey Federation, a women’s league based in the U.S., recently showed the kind of immediate impact a new media deal can have on player pay. Less than four months after announcing a broadcast extension with ESPN, the league doubled its salary cap, to $1.5 million.



So with cause for optimism around all three of sports’ major sources of revenue—attendance, broadcasting and sponsorships—and new investors adding to leagues’ and teams’ war chests, expect the athletes’ pay to just keep rising.


“I tell distributors and brands this all the time,” says Elizabeth Lindsey, who works with Lavielle as Wasserman’s president of brands and properties. “Ignore this at your peril because the future is definitely female, your audiences are demanding it, and those who get involved, and get involved early, will reap the benefits of doing good and doing good business at the same time.”


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