The Age of Athlete Entrepreneurship
In the modern era, we have witnessed a fascinating trend in the world of sports – the rise of athlete entrepreneurs. Gone are the days when athletes were solely focused on their careers within the confines of their respective sports. Today, a growing number of current and former athletes are embracing the challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurship, leveraging their unique skillsets, fame and financial resources to build successful businesses. This article explores the rise of athlete entrepreneurship, the factors driving this trend and the remarkable success stories that have emerged as a result.
Factors Causing the Paradigm Shift
In an era where athletes are increasingly exploring their entrepreneurial ambitions, a convergence of factors has paved the way for the rise of athlete entrepreneurs.
1. The Shift in Athlete Mindset
Traditionally, the primary focus of athletes was on training, competition and maintaining peak performance. However, a shift in mindset has occurred, driven by factors such as increased financial literacy, desire for long-term security and a quest for purpose beyond the arena. Athletes are recognizing that their careers as sports professionals have an expiration date and that building a business alongside their athletic pursuits can provide financial stability and a fulfilling career in the sports “afterlife.”
2. Capitalizing on Personal Branding
Athletes possess a unique advantage in the business world – personal branding. They often have a loyal fanbase and enjoy significant media attention, allowing them to create a powerful personal brand. By leveraging their fame and the emotional connection they have with their fans, athletes can attract investors, secure endorsements and build a customer base for their entrepreneurial ventures. Their personal brand can also serve as a platform to promote and launch products or services, giving them a competitive edge in the market.
3. Diverse Ventures
Athlete entrepreneurship encompasses a broad spectrum of ventures, spanning various industries. Some athletes choose to invest in existing businesses, while others establish their own startups. Common entrepreneurial endeavours include venture funds, clothing lines, fitness products and apps, sports academies, restaurants and media production companies. These ventures often align closely with athletes’ passions and interests, making them more likely to succeed due to their deep understanding of the target market and industry.
4. Social Impact
Throughout their careers, athletes often witness the transformative power of sports and experience firsthand the positive influence they can have on individuals and communities. This exposure to the broader impact of sports fuels a desire to create meaningful change beyond their athletic endeavours. By venturing into entrepreneurship, athletes can leverage their platform, resources and personal brand to address social issues, support causes they are passionate about and make a lasting difference. Becoming an entrepreneur allows athletes to channel their passion, influence and financial resources towards initiatives that align with their values, creating a sense of purpose and fulfilment that extends far beyond the field of play. Whether through charitable foundations, community projects or sustainable business ventures, athlete entrepreneurs strive to leave a positive and lasting legacy, while also inspiring others and creating a better world through their entrepreneurial pursuits.
5. Learning from Personal Experience
Athletes bring a unique perspective to entrepreneurship, drawing upon their experiences as high-performing individuals, skilled team players and masters of discipline and perseverance. The qualities that drive success in sports – such as goal-setting, resilience and strategic thinking – also translate well into the business world. Athletes are accustomed to working under pressure, managing setbacks and adapting to changing circumstances, all of which are vital skills in the entrepreneurial journey.
Several athletes have successfully made the transition to entrepreneurship, leaving a lasting impact on the business world:
- LeBron James – The NBA superstar launched “Uninterrupted,” a media platform that allows athletes to share their stories directly with fans. James also co-founded “SpringHill Entertainment,” a production company that focuses on creating content for diverse audiences. He is also the co-owner of Blaze Pizza franchises in Chicago and South Florida.
- Steph Curry – The four-time NBA champion founded SC30 Inc., which manages his off-court brand partnerships, media, investments and philanthropy. Given his proximity to Silicon Valley, Curry has considerable exposure to investing in tech opportunities, including companies such as SnapTravel, which allows people to book hotel rooms through messaging apps, and Palm, which is attempting to reinvent the smartphone space.
- Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – The two golf legends launched TMRW Sports, a company focused on harnessing technology to build novel, progressive approaches in sports, media and entertainment for the next generation of sports fans, beginning with an indoor golf league in partnership with the PGA Tour.
- Alex Rodriguez – The former professional baseball shortstop and third baseman founded A-Rod Corp, an investment firm focused on technology, real estate, wellness, sports and entertainment businesses. In addition to leading A-Rod Corp, Rodriguez is CEO of Slam Corp, a special purpose acquisition company seeking to acquire a target for the purpose of completing a qualifying transaction on the Nasdaq.
- Ryan Whitney and Paul “BizNasty” Bissonnette – Together, the two former NHLers, who are lesser known for their on-ice performances, launched Spittin’ Chiclets, a popular hockey podcast which was later acquired by Barstool. After achieving rapid success, the team converted their massive following into a top-selling flavoured vodka brand, known as Pink Whitney.
- Serena Williams – While in her prime, Williams founded Serena Ventures, a firm with goals to support innovative founders and promote the emergence of companies run by women and people of colour. She also owns a portion of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins with her sister, Venus.
- Naomi Osaka – The tennis superstar left IMG, her former agency, and co-founded Evolve, the first female-athlete-led talent agency. Osaka has already signed Nick Kyrgios and Ons Jabeur as marquee athletes.
These are just a few of the notable athletes-turned-entrepreneurs – there are many others who are redefining what it means to be an athlete in today’s day and age.
The rise of athlete entrepreneurship represents a paradigm shift in society. Athletes are no longer confined to their sporting careers but are using their fame, skills and personal branding to build successful businesses. By embracing entrepreneurship, athletes are securing their financial future, finding post-sports career fulfilment and inspiring future generations. This trend is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit that lies within athletes and the endless possibilities that await them beyond the field of play.
The Sports, Media and Entertainment Group at Aird & Berlis has experience working with professional athletes with their off-field ventures across a broad range of industries. Please contact the author if you have any questions or require any assistance.