The Real Madrid forward tops Forbes magazine’s list for the first time, having earned $88million (£70.6m) last year, up from $80m (£64.2m) in 2015. Messi, meanwhile, follows in second-place with his income totalling $81m ($65m).
LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers small forward, is third in the list having earned $77.2m (£61.9m), while tennis’ Roger Federer ($67.8m/£54.4m) and the Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant ($56.2m/£45.1m) complete the top five.
Tiger Woods and Floyd Mayweather, two athletes who have dominated Forbes’ rankings in the recent past, placed 12th and 16th after relatively inactive years on the golf course and in the boxing ring respectively.
Forbes Sports Money Index 2016, top 20 athletes
- Cristiano Ronaldo , football, £70.5m
- Lionel Messi , football, £65.2m
- LeBron James , basketball, £61.8m
- Roger Federer , tennis, £54.3m
- Kevin Durant , basketball, £45m
- Novak Djokovic , tennis, £44.7m
- Cam Newton , American football, £42.5m
- Phil Mickelson , golf, £42.4m
- Jordan Spieth , golf, £42.3m
- Kobe Bryant , basketball, £40m
- Lewis Hamilton , Formula One, £36.8m
- Tiger Woods , golf, £36.3m
- Eli Manning , American football, £36m
- Joe Flacco , American football, £35.6m
- Tom Brady , American football, £35.3m
- Floyd Mayweather , boxing, £35.2m
- Rory McIlroy , golf, £34.1m
- Russell Wilson , American football, £33.5m
- Sebastian Vettel , Formula One, £32.8m
- Philip Rivers , American football, £30.4m