The word ‘sport’ in the United States says to us football (American not soccer), hockey, baseball and basketball. Around the rest of the world, sport means soccer, rugby, cricket and tennis, as well as motor racing and global festivals of sport like the Olympics.
But in recent years, the internet has given rise to e-sports, a new ‘virtual’ sport where people compete against each other online playing video games. E-sport gamers play as individuals, but some now play professionally and there are also teams and official leagues and tournaments. They may not be ‘real sports’, but we cannot ignore the spectacular rises in their popularity, nor the amount of money top e-sports players can earn.
Although the most popular sports worldwide are soccer and cricket with 4 billion and 2.5 billion fans respectively, e-sports had 385 million viewers in 2017 with 30% year on year increases in viewer figures. The e-sports market is expected to be worth $1650m by 2021.
Traditional sports teams are now investing in esports for revenue and brand development reasons.
In terms of earnings, the traditional sports superstars continue to lead the way. The three highest-paid American footballers in 2019 were Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger.
1. Russell Wilson
According to Forbes’ 2019 world’s highest-paid athletes list, Russell Wilson was ranked 6th, one place below Roger Federer, with wages of $89.5m, topped up with winnings of $80.5m and endorsements of $9m. Quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson signed a contract extension in April 2019, making him the highest-paid player in the NFL. Wilson has some impressive career statistics and his career has gone from strength to strength from his junior days. Wilson and his wife have also now joined the MLS Seattle Sounders’ ownership group.
2. Aaron Rodgers
Ranked 7th in Forbes’ list, Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, earned $89.3m in wages and a further $80.3m and $9m in winnings and endorsements. Like Wilson, Rodgers has a long list of career statistics going back to school and college football, and he is considered by many in the game to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. In August 2018, Rodgers signed a four-year extension with the Packers worth $134m, featuring a $57.5m signing bonus.
3. Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger was ranked 12th and earned $55.5m in wages with $54.5m and $1m in winnings and endorsements. Roethlisberger is a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and in April 2019 signed a two-year contract extension worth $68m with a $37.5m signing bonus. Roethlisberger is known for playing outside the pocket in what he calls “backyard football”.
Esports players’ earnings are not at these levels, but Kuro Takhasom, the highest-earning e-sports gamer, has earned nearly $3.5m during his gaming career. Also, winning e-sports tournaments can earn a player up to $25m in winnings, sponsorships and appearance fees. Pocketing a few million dollars for sitting behind a computer seems a pretty good return on investment, but e-sports players can’t yet match the earnings of global soccer icons like Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar Jr or even our top football stars.