By now everyone in the United States has, hopefully, gone through the painstaking process of completing and filing their tax returns. Unfortunately, for the vast majority, the numbers being entered in the income boxes will pale into comparison to those that will be compiled by the two most-highly rewarded soccer players in the world, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, when they file their returns in Spain later this year.
Not that either player will be filling out their forms themselves, of course, something which Messi has been at pains to point out during a continued investigation from the Spanish government into alleged tax fraud. Messi’s trial is set to begin in June and, having also featured in the recent trove of leaked documents known as the “Panama Papers,” there is plenty to concern Messi in the tax department.
Yet, he can console himself with the fact that for 2015, he was once again the world’s highest paid player. As the Argentine wrested back possession of the Ballon d’Or from Ronaldo, he also continues to surpass the other great player of his generation in earnings.
According to the latest survey by France Football, Messi racked up 74 million euros ($84.2 million) in 2015 in basic salary from Barcelona, plus bonuses and sponsorship deals. Ronaldo, meanwhile, lagged behind, as he did on the pitch with Real Madrid, with 67.4 million euros ($76.7 million).
The gap could be even wider when this year’s accounts are evaluated, with Messi’s income set to increase from next year due to a clause in his contract with Barcelona. However, much depends on Ronaldo’s next step in his career. The Portuguese superstar will enter the final two years of his contract this summer, the time when clubs generally aim to tie their players down to new deals. It is likely, then, that either Ronaldo will sign a new contract at Real Madrid or move, perhaps to Paris Saint-Germain, where he could potentially earn even more.
But the salaries earned for their performances on the pitch are just part of the money taken home by Messi and Ronaldo. And it is away from the pitch where Ronaldo has an edge. According to Forbes, Messi took in $22 million in endorsement deals last year, while Ronaldo eclipsed him with $27 million. And Dr. Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis, believes it is Ronaldo’s more outsized personality and cultivated appearance that make him more marketable.
“I think the endorsement edge goes to Ronaldo, and it will probably remain because he has the extra bit of flair, looks, style that Messi has not demonstrated,” he said. “Another variable is that you never know what’s going on behind the scenes–how aggressive are each of these players and their teams of people, their managers and their staff, in seeking opportunities.”
As an illustration of Ronaldo’s appeal, it was recently revealed by WikiLeaks-style website Football Leaks that Ronaldo earned 1.1 million euros ($1.25 million) from Saudi Arabian telecommunications company Mobily for a day’s photoshoot and meet-and-greet, five signed Portugal shirts and two social media posts.
What’s clear is that, even at the age of 31, there is little sign of the earnings of Ronaldo, or the 28-year-old Messi, decreasing anytime soon, either on or off the pitch.
“They play an international game that is the most popular sport in the world, so that helps their reach,” Rishe added. “Both are still at a point in their careers where they are still very productive and they’re very successful.”