Judo is the world's most popular martial art. From its Japanese origins, the sport has grown incredibly over time. The modern athlete has to balance between fame, money and the constant pressure of performing at an elite level. Sport as an industry continues to grow and generate billions of dollars in revenue yearly due to commercialization and sponsorships. But just how rich are the world's best Judoka?
It is important to note that most Judokas do not have sponsorship deals. Judo is not a feature on mainstream media. Commercialization is an important and vital attribute to how much money will be circulating in a sport, and because Judo is an individualist sport, there is a disparity between the average Judoka and the world best and most famous.
The winners of the big events will make the most money. Competitions won from the International Judo Federation bring in some real income. A good case is world champion Majlinda Kelmendi who won Gold in Rio and received 50,000 US$ for her exploits.
Figure 1: Teddy Riner dons a tuxedo.
Teddy Riner is somewhat of an anomaly in Judo. He has an estimated net worth of around 245 million dollars. He is Judos all-time great athlete and has had stints in the MMA as well. His earnings also stem from sponsorship deals with cosmetics and smart investments made in restaurants. He owns a small football team, his own brand of vodka and has a top selling perfume and clothing line.
The bulk of his riches does not come from Judo. He received 50,000 US$ for each of his Olympic gold medals from the International Judo Federation
Figure 2: Kayla Harrison.
Kayla Harrison has an estimated net worth of around 0.4 million dollars. Just like Teddy Riner Judo propelled her to stardom, however, the bulk of her net worth also stems from work she does outside of judo. She makes her earnings from her motivational speeches and books.
Figure 3: Travis Stevens.
Travis Stevens is a member of the U.S. Olympic Judo team. He participated in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. As of 2016, he was ranked world number 5 in his weight class. Travis Stevens is paid by the US Olympic committee. But this fee is minimal, and Travis Stevens works on his Jujitsu school to earn extra money as well.
The reality is that there isn't much money in Judo for athletes who aren't at the very top of the pile, in simple terms, those that win. Professional Judo leagues are not as commercialized as other sports, for example, the English Premier League recently signed an 8.3 billion pound TV revenue deal, money that trickles down to the clubs and the players as well. This doesn't happen in Judo. Judokas are not on a fixed salary and only get paid well if they win. Teddy Riner and Kayla Harrison are at the peak of their sporting talent, but they primarily make the bulk of their earnings elsewhere, and the importance of commercialization and sponsorship are aspects of Judo that are not as strong.