Comparative analysis of the highest earnings of women and men in different sports, including chess

The sports income landscape is marked by significant gender disparities, with top female athletes generally earning less than their male counterparts across different sports. This article examines the income differences between top female and male athletes in tennis, soccer, basketball, golf and chess, highlighting the factors contributing to these disparities.

The sports income landscape has significant gender disparities, with top female athletes generally earning less than their male counterparts in several sports. Let’s dive into some of the most famous sports in the world.


Best winner: Novak Djokovic
Annual earnings: approximately $44.6 million (including endorsements)

Best winner: Naomi Osaka
Annual earnings: approximately $57.3 million (including endorsements)

*Tennis stands out as an anomaly where a top female athlete, Naomi Osaka, outperformed the top male athlete, Novak Djokovic. Osaka’s significant sponsorship deals contribute significantly to her income, indicating a higher market value and brand appeal than many male counterparts. However, this does not reflect a general trend in tennis, where overall winnings from prize money are even higher for men in many tournaments.*


Best winner: Lionel Messi
Annual earnings: approximately $130 million (including endorsements)

Best Winner: Alex Morgan
Annual earnings: approximately $4.6 million (including endorsements)

*Football reveals a stark contrast in income, with Lionel Messi’s earnings eclipsing those of Alex Morgan. This significant gap is due to differences in league revenue, sponsorship deals and prize money. Men’s football commands higher broadcast rights and a larger global audience, which translates into significantly higher earnings for top men’s players.*


Best winner: LeBron James
Annual earnings: approximately $96.5 million (including endorsements)

Best Winner: Diana Taurasi
Annual earnings: approximately $1.5 million (including endorsements)

*In basketball, LeBron James’ earnings are astronomically higher than Diana Taurasi’s. The income disparity is driven by the NBA’s lucrative television contracts, ticket sales and sponsorship deals, which far exceed those of the WNBA. The women’s league continues to grow its audience and commercial appeal, leading to lower salaries and sponsorship opportunities.*


Best winner: Tiger Woods
Annual earnings: approximately $68 million (including endorsements)

Best employee: Nelly Korda
Annual earnings: approximately $3.5 million (including endorsements)

*Golf has a significant income gap, with Tiger Woods’ income far outweighing Nelly Korda’s. The men’s tour offers higher prices and male golfers tend to land more lucrative sponsorship deals. The LPGA has made progress in increasing its visibility and sponsorship, but it still lags behind the PGA in overall revenue.*


Chess also has a notable disparity in income. Magnus Carlsen, the world’s top male chess player, earns significantly more than Hou Yifan, the top female chess player, and Ju Wenjun, the reigning women’s world champion. The total prize money for the World Chess Championship events alone amounts to 750,000 euros, including 500,000 for the Open and 250,000 for the female candidates.

Carlsen’s higher revenues are due to larger prize pools in open tournaments, higher event entry fees and more substantial sponsorship deals. The chess world is working toward more inclusive reward structures, but significant gaps remain.

Factors contributing to income disparities

  1. Audience and Market Demand: Men’s sports generally attract larger audiences, leading to increased advertising revenue, ticket sales and broadcast rights.
  2. Sponsorship and endorsements: Companies are more inclined to invest in male athletes due to their broader reach and marketability. However, exceptions like Naomi Osaka demonstrate the potential for high-level female athletes to garner substantial support.
  3. Prize money: Many sports award higher prize money to men due to greater financial investments and revenue generated from men’s events.
  4. Media Coverage: Greater media exposure of men’s sports increases their commercial value, further widening the income gap.
  5. Historical and cultural factors: Traditional views and historical precedent have long favored men’s sports, creating deep-rooted financial inequalities.

Close the gap

Efforts to close the income gap include promoting prize equality, increasing media coverage of women’s sports, and promoting sponsorship deals for female athletes. Initiatives such as those of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) for equal prize money at major tournaments and campaigns for better media representation are steps in the right direction. Increased investment in women’s sports leagues and grassroots programs can also drive long-term growth and financial parity.


Although some female athletes, particularly in tennis, have begun to close the income gap with their male counterparts, significant disparities remain in most sports. Addressing these imbalances requires concerted efforts from sports organizations, sponsors and media entities to create a more equitable landscape for all athletes.

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