Cash deals that put sporting stars in a league of their own

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The Independent Online
Sponsorship and the satellite revolution have brought a spiralling increase in the earnings of Britain's top sportsmen, a new survey suggests.

Not surprisingly, footballers, golfers and boxers dominate the list of 50 best-paid performers in the country, compiled by Total Sport magazine and based on income over the past year. The three-times US Masters champion Nick Faldo sits comfortably on top with pounds 8m, with the Formula One world champion Damon Hill finishing second on pounds 7m.

The poll reflects the millions poured into sport by Rupert Murdoch's Sky Television and reveals a much higher earnings average than the last survey, produced in 1993 by Business Age. Then, the cricketer David Gower - on around pounds 250,000 before his retirement - made the Top 50. This time, he wouldn't get a look in, with the Liverpool and England centre forward Robbie Fowler propping up the table with an estimated pounds 474,500.

Money earned from competitive play, plus sponsorship and marketing deals qualified the nation's sporting favourites to join the elite. Notable absentees include the tennis player Tim Henman, the athletes Roger Black and Sally Gunnell, the jockey Pat Eddery, the England cricket captain Mike Atherton and the former England rugby captain Will Carling. Only one woman, the golfer Laura Davies, makes the list - in 17th spot.

The growing presence of footballers in the Top 50 (29 now, as opposed to 14 in 1993) proves that satellite television's domination of the game is highly lucrative for all concerned.

Sponsorship deals also rattle up the pound signs. Danny Kelly, editor of Total Sport, said: "These people are bigger than pop stars and film stars in the advertising market. Whether you are talking about training shoes or cup cakes, sports stars are highly marketable.

"Nick Faldo has been earning money like that for years. He has been the name people want to get on their golf clubs... Of the pounds 8m, we calculated only about pounds 800,000 came from American tour earnings."

But Britain's best still languish a long way behind their American counterparts. The boxer Lennox Lewis, who has seen his 1993 best of pounds 10.5m dip to pounds 4.5m, can only dream of the pounds 26m his ring rival Mike Tyson collected in 1995. Not one homespun star can be found in the world Top 50 of sports earnings.

And just to prove that success is no guarantee of a bulging bank balance, the rower Steve Redgrave and his partner Matthew Pinsent - Britain's only gold medallists at the Atlanta Olympics - come nowhere near making a splash in the money stakes.

Top 10 earners

1. Nick Faldo (Golf) pounds 8m.

2. Damon Hill (Formula One motor racing) pounds 7m.

3. Frank Bruno (Boxing) pounds 5.5m.

4. Lennox Lewis (Boxing) pounds 4.5m.

5. Naseem Hamed (Boxing) pounds 4m.

6. Eddie Irvine (Formula One motor racing) pounds 2.8m.

7. Colin McRae (Rallying) and Colin Montgomerie (Golf) pounds 2.5m.

9. Paul Gascoigne (Football) pounds 2.2m.

10. Stephen Hendry (Snooker) pounds 2.1m.