How Much Money World Cup Athletes Really Make

The FIFA World Cup is a quadrennial international football (aka soccer) tournament played by 32 national teams. As the biggest and most-watched sporting event in the world, the World Cup takes a game played in every corner of the globe and puts it on the global stage. Watched by billions of people, it seemingly transcends sports and becomes the ultimate form of cultural expression for many who have a passion for the game. 

In 2018, players traveled to Russia for a chance to win the 21st FIFA World Cup and to make instant patriots of everyone back home ... for at least a month. They're likely also hoping a chat with their financial advisers is in their future because a lot of money rides on every kick, header, tackle, and save. From mind-blowing prize money to boycotts and airplanes loaded with cash, we've got the scoop on the insane amount of dough at play among the world's top teams and favorite players. Let's talk about how much money World Cup athletes really make. 

Record-setting prize money at the 2018 World Cup

If battling for one's country against the top soccer players in the world wasn't motivation enough, how about a share of a record $400 million to be awarded to the 32 qualifying teams at the 2018 World Cup? Let's do the breakdown. According to Goal, reaching the finals is worth "a minimum of $9.5 million." If a team survives the group stage but gets eliminated during the round of 16, it will go home "with an extra $4 million." The four teams eliminated in the quarter-final stage "will receive a further $4 million" each, totaling $16 million." How much do the final four teams receive? Prepare yourself. 

Depending "on how well they do," the beaten semi-finalists "who contest the third-place play-off will share $46 million, with $24 million going to the winner and $22 million going to the loser." So even if you lose, your team takes home tens of millions of dollars.

Excuse us while we go practice our push pass, as soon as YouTube shows us what that is. 

The World Cup Champion scores $38 million

What's at stake in the 2018 World Cup final?  A whopping $66 million, with the runners-up receiving $28 million and the champions walking away with $38 million. This boatload of cash comes from projected World Cup revenues that FIFA — the governing body — expected "to exceed $5 billion."

According to CNBC, the World Cup is "the most lucrative and costliest soccer event because those who pay for the tournament are not necessarily those who see its profits." While FIFA makes billions every four years, the host nations often wind up in debt. The 2018 host country, Russia, with 11 host cities and 12 venues, saw its costs reportedly skyrocket from $600 million to $11.8 billion. According to USA Today, 57.6 percent of that expense comes from the country's federal budget, 13.6 percent is footed by regional governments, and 28.8 percent is anted up by "legal entities," a category that includes private and state-run companies.

Germany lost out on a huge bonus

According to the German Football Association (via Sports Illustrated), German players would have received 350,000 euros (about 406,000 dollars) each if they successfully defended their 2014 World Cup title. Seeking back-to-back titles for the first time in the nation's history, association president Reinhard Grindel said the exorbitant bonus would be "great motivation" for the team. Ya think? He added, "That would be a title for the eternity and certainly worth a special bonus. But you can feel in this team, that the sporting challenge is the main focus and not the economic aspect."

Alas, Germany lost its first match of the 2018 World Cup to underdog Mexico. According to QZ, the Germans have a word for that: Auftaktniederlage, which describes the national shame of suffering a "loss in the first game of a competition." That's right: Come for the World Cup salary facts; stay for the German language lessons. 

A player's loot may be in limbo

Although teams will be swimming in money after the World Cup, FIFA typically lets the national federations decide how "to reward the 23 players on their squads," reported USA Today. In 2014, Germany promised its players a $408,000 bonus if they won a fourth World Cup title. That may seem like a lot, but for players under contract with wealthy European clubs such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Arsenal, that sum is "the equivalent of a few weeks" salary.

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke admitted that bonus issues distract from the game, and according to USA Today, he said "FIFA will seek written agreements from federations" to ensure players get their dough following the 2018 World Cup. What kind of cheddar are we talking about? At the 2014 World Cup, FIFA "set aside $70 million to distribute at a rate of $2,800 per player per day," reported USA Today. "The money is shared between each player's current club and any other he played for in the two previous years during qualification matches."

But money problems have historically caused more World Cup drama off the field than what's promised on it, so let's take a look at some of the most intense rifts between players and their home countries.

Ghana's team wants cold hard cash

Here's one of the wildest payment disputes in World Cup history: The 2014 Ghana team threatened to skip a game unless it received the appearance fees owed to its players. The catch? The money was to be delivered in cold hard cash. According to The Telegraph, coach Kwesi Appiah said this was due to the players not having bank accounts and because "the practice in Ghana has always been paying the money in cash." The Ghanaian government reportedly flew $3 million in cash to Brazil and each player pocketed $100,000. Just in case you didn't catch that, the government loaded $3 million onto a plane and flew it to Brazil so its squad wouldn't miss a game.

Coach Appiah claimed the issue caused him to have "sleepless nights." As for the logistics of that much cash floating around, midfielder Christian Atsu said, "I think we will keep it in our bags and we'll just lock them."

It's pay to plane for Cameroon

The team that represented Cameroon in the 2014 World Cup included striker Samuel Eto'o, 2005's FIFA world player of the year and four-time winner of the Africa player of the year award. Eto'o and the rest of his team initially refused to board a flight to Brazil because they wanted more money. According to the BBC, coach Volker Finke said players thought the £61,000 [about $81,000] they would receive for participating in the World Cup was too low. 

After an emergency meeting with the nation's football federation, the team reached a deal and arrived at the tournament 20 hours behind schedule. "Everything has been resolved," Cameroon Football Federation President Joseph Owona declared, explaining that the team needed to be "mobilized for all to look in one direction."

We feel there needs to be a reality show every four years about World Cup players battling their governments for money. 

The Nigerian team knows how to negotiate

Members of the Nigerian 2014 World Cup squad boycotted a training session over fears they wouldn't get paid. The situation became so tense that Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, had to intervene. According to The Guardian, the players complained about "the structure of their bonus payments," prompting the president to get on the phone with the Nigerian Football Federation to personally ensure the money would be forthcoming. That effectively ended the pay dispute, with team captain Joseph Yobo proclaiming, "We are here to play for our country."

Three of the world's highest-paid athletes are playing

It's no secret that soccer players make crazy bank, but if you need further proof, look no further than Forbes' 2018 list of the world's highest-paid athletes. Among the 100 sports stars, three soccer players competing in the 2018 World Cup appear in the top five. 

Just below the top spot nabbed by boxer Floyd Mayweather's mind-boggling $285 million, comes Argentinian legend Lionel Messi –  one of the greatest soccer players of all time — with a cool $111 million. Pulling up in the third spot is Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo with $108 million and too many accolades to count (not to mention his $1 billion shoe deal with Nike.) Rounding out the top five is Brazil's Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior (known as just Neymar) at $90 million. Forbes calculated earnings by adding "salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements, licensing and appearance fees." 

Don't you dare drop that trophy!

The Lombardi Trophy hoisted at the Super Bowl — that other football sport — is worth about $2,000. The Larry O'Brien Trophy that NBA great Michael Jordan kissed six times: $13,000. If you win a baseball World Series, you could pawn that glorious piece of metal for roughly $19,000. As for hockey's Stanley Cup? Don't drop it. You're carrying more than $23,000 over your head. These jaw-dropping figures come to us courtesy of USA Today, who researched the value of these iconic emblems. As for the World Cup Trophy? It is far and away the most expensive. 

Created by Italian artist Silvio Gazzaniga, it has an estimated worth of $20 million, reported CNBC. It's so valuable that past winners receive only a gold-plated replica. The award reportedly stands "about 14.5 inches tall, is made of 13.5 pounds of 18-carat gold and resembles two athletes raising their arms up in victory while holding up the world." The winning country's name is engraved on the base. 

Okay, okay, so the trophy itself doesn't line a player's pockets, but in a way, putting your hands on this thing is sure to give you the Midas touch.