By Matt Cradock published
American business magazine, Forbes, have released their top-10 'Highest-Paid Female Athletes' for 2021, with athletes earning a combined $167 million before taxes in 2021. According to Forbes' estimates, that's a 23% increase over 2020 and a 16% jump from the previous record of $143.3 million, set in 2013.
Unsurprisingly, half of the list was filled with female tennis stars, with Naomi Osaka ($57.3 million), Serena ($45.9 million) and Venus Williams ($11.3 million) and Garbine Mugurzura ($8.8 million) occupying four of the top five places. The other athlete in the top five was gymnast legend, Simone Biles ($10.1 million), who finished in fourth.
Jin Young Ko enjoyed yet another superb year on the LPGA Tour, securing the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in November and claiming $1.5 million and LPGA Player of the Year honours in the process. Although she lost her world number one ranking to Korda, the South Korean did also pick up five LPGA Tournament wins in five months.
Korda also picked up five victories this season, including a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. The 23-year-old also claimed her first Major title at the Women's PGA Championship, finishing as the world's number one after a tight tussle throughout 2021 with Ko.
2021 has been a fantastic year for women's golf and 2022 seems to be shaping up nicely as well, especially with the recent announcement about the addition of the US Women's Opens first-ever presenting sponsor in ProMedica. As a result, the tournament's purse for 2022 has nearly doubled from $5.5 million to $10 million.
On top of that, there are also plans to increase the tournament purse to $12 million over the next five years, with the 2023 edition of the event being held at Pebble Beach for the very first time. Other future venues revealed in the announcement were Riviera Country Club, The Inverness Club, Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Interlachen Country Club and Oakland Hills Country Club.
Although there have been increases over previous years regarding female athletes earnings, Osaka and Williams account for the majority of the rise in 2021. On top of that, unfortunately, none of the other athletes come close to placing on the list of the world’s highest-paid athletes of either sex, with Osaka finishing 12th and Serena Williams 28th.
Venus Williams, who is the third-highest-paid woman on the list, missed the cut-off for the overall top 50 athletes by more than $20 million. Moreover, the threshold for the top ten of the women’s list is actually lower than it was a decade ago, with the athlete in 10th position, earning $5.7 million in 2021 (down from $6.1 million in 2012.
But, there are so many more positives to take out of this list than negatives. Firstly, leagues are adding new owners in the NWSL (National Women's Soccer League) and more franchises are being created, with TV ratings rising over a number of female sports.
Another positive is that the list features an array of athletes from different sports. In 2019, tennis players made up all 10 positions in the list. For 2021, we see only five tennis players, the sport's lowest tally in more than a decade, showing that there is now more than one sport where female athletes are earning good money.
For the first time in years, a gymnast and a basketball player rank in the top-10, with five sports represented across the 10 names. You could also make an inclusion for football (soccer) stars, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, who came up just shy of making the top ten. This is notably a big deal, as both play a team sport, where salaries lag behind the prize money available in individual events like golf and tennis.
Matt studied Sports Journalism at Southampton Solent University, graduating in 2019. Now a freelance writer for Golf Monthly and the PGA, he covers all aspects of the game, from Tour news to equipment testing and buyers’ guides. Taking up the game at the age of six, Matt currently holds a handicap of 3 and despite not having a hole in one…yet, he has had two albatrosses. His favourite player is Rory McIlroy, despite nearly being struck by his second shot at the 17th during the 2015 BMW PGA Championship.