The skill and verve of the nation’s richest sportsmen has proved to be little match for the strength of the Australian dollar over the last year.
In the latest ranking of Australia’s biggest sports earners, golfer Greg Norman kept his top spot in the BRW Top 50 Sports Earners, generating $15 million last year.
But that’s markedly less than the $20.9 million he claimed in the previous’ year’s list, before the value of the local dollar shot up nearly 43 per cent against the greenback, eating into the fortunes of players who earn large parts of their incomes overseas.
Nonetheless, the US PGA tour veteran is head and shoulders above other Australian sporting figures, with a record of 15 years at the top of the list.
“These golf guys do very well,” said BRW deputy editor John Stensholt, who edited the list. “Golf is a career that can last 40, 50 years even for a lot of these people.”
“In other sports when you hit 30 you’re washed up. In golf, you’re just beginning,” he said. BRW is published by Fairfax, owner of this site.
Australian-born basketball player Andrew Bogut leapt to the No. 2 spot in the list with $14 million last year, up from the No. 5 spot. The Milwaukee Bucks centre is in the first of a five-year $US 60.5 million ($66 million) contract extension with the team.
He displaces soccer star Harry Kewell, who fell to No. 3, with earnings of $9.5 million last year, down from $10.5 million. Mr Kewell plays for Turkish soccer club Galatasaray.
Like most of the entrants on the list, Mr Kewell has made his fortune overseas. And like most of the top earners, he’s seen his wealth squeezed by the strong Australian dollar over the past year.
In fact, the total value of wages, prize money and endorsements hit $167.1 million in 2010, down 3 per cent from the 2009 total of $172.6 million.
Mr Stensholt said it’s also possible that, based on falling earnings, Australian sports stars aren’t being replaced by a new crop of up-and-coming talent as quickly.
“Perhaps there is still a long way to go for a lot of young athletes,” he said. “A lot of the list is the same for a number of years and that perhaps indicates to me there is a dearth of young talent coming in several sports.”
Also, there has been a decline in full-time sponsorships for sports stars in recent years, with companies more likely to seek one-time contracts around tournaments.
Four names from the motor sports world made the top 10 this year. Formula One star Mark Webber remained in his No. 4 slot from last year with $9 million.
Motocross star Chad Reed was the fifth biggest sports earner last year, with $8.8 million, nudging him down from the No. 3 spot the year before.
Cricket captain Ricky Ponting was the highest ranking name from his sport at No. 12 in the list, earning $4.26 million, or more than double the previous year. Brett Lee came in No. 15 with $3.5 million.
Australian cricket players have fared better this year because of the one-off bonus paid to a number of them under their contract from Cricket Australia, Mr Stensholt said. Also, playing in the Indian Premiere League has boosted incomes for local cricket players.
Lleyton Hewitt’s fortune suffered as the tennis player battled a hip injury, earning $2.9 million in 2009 from $6.6 million the year before, knocking him to the No. 18 spot from No. 8.
Hewitt, nonetheless, still ranked as the top tennis player, ahead of Samantha Stosur at No. 35, taking in $1.5 million, which made her the top female sports earner of last year.