According to Sportingintelligence's Global Sports Salaries Survey (GSSS) for 2016, United sits fourth in the list.
The Premier League giant rose from sixth, with its average annual first-team pay now around $A9.5m.
That still leaves it behind the Cavs ($10.8m), MLB's New York Yankees ($9.63m) and NBA's Los Angeles Clippers ($9.61m).
But it marked the first time in the survey's seven-year history that United has topped all other football clubs.
The arrivals of star names Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba have had an impact, but United sits sixth in the Premier League.
LaLiga champion Barcelona ($9.38m) and United's rival Manchester City ($9.02m) were the only other football outfits in the top 10.
NBA teams make up 14 of the top 20, with the GSSS pointing to the league's new TV deal as well as the effects of Brexit.
Behind the Manchester clubs, the only other Premier League teams in the top 60 are Chelsea (34), Arsenal (47) and Liverpool (60).