Despite the immense popularity of European soccer domestically and around the world, nowhere comes even close to the overall earning power of elite U.S. athletes. Although those at the absolute peak of the soccer pyramid - see Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar - are also at the top end of Forbes' latest Highest-Paid Athletes ranking, the sheer weight of money flowing through U.S.-based sports is insurmountable.
Forbes' ranking takes into account on- and off-field earnings of athletes, and it is the incredibly lucrative deals that the established U.S. players are signing away from their day job that really tips the balance. While 2021/22's top earner, PSG soccer player Lionel Messi, brought in an estimated $55m in off-field earnings, the income he generated directly from playing the game was $75m. Compare that with second-placed Lebron James, and it's a mirror image - $41.2 on-field and $80m off-field. This pattern is repeated (to varying extents) in all of the soccer players and U.S. sports athletes in the top ten.