Messi unseats Floyd Mayweather, who held the crown last year, and was the leader four times in seven years.
Behind Messi is longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo (No. 2), who earned $109 million between his salary and endorsements. Serena Williams (No. 63) returned to the ranking, after no women appeared in 2018.
Cost of admission to the 2019 list is the highest ever at $25 million, up $2.1 million from the previous year. Endorsement income experienced an increase of 12.5% to $987 million this year.
“The global impact of soccer is clearly reflected in earnings in 2019, with the top three athletes on the list being Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar.
But basketball players continue to dominate the top 100 overall with 35 athletes on the list earning a total of $1.29 billion, with 72% of that income coming from salaries rather than endorsement deals.” said Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor, Forbes Media
The list of elite athletes consists of players from ten different sports. NBA stars lead with 35 basketball players among the top 100, down from 40 in 2018, headed by LeBron James (No. 8 with $89 million).
Football was the next most-represented sport with 19 players, followed by baseball with 15, and soccer with 12.