If you are an athlete how can you create a startup and grow a business as you transition from your sports career?
Former pro basketball player, Ferran Martinez knows exactly what’s needed, so we asked him to share his top tips on how to turn a sporting career into a successful business.
Sport requires passion. Passion for the game, passion for your fans, passion for your own success. Yet, to turn your sporting passion into a successful business, you need to look long term and keep things in perspective.
You may be winning now, your fans may love you now, but what happens if you get injured or have to retire for some unexpected reason?
The mistake most athletes make is to focus on how good it feels to be at the top of their game, never looking at the steep downward slope facing them. Yes, sport is your calling, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for life after sport.
No one is more acutely aware of this problem than I am, having reached the height of my Basketball career at the tender age of 19, playing for my national team in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
At the time, I had fame, money and skill. But I knew that wouldn’t be enough to set me up for life. What I needed was a carefully managed career to help bring money in even after I retired from the sport.
Here are five tips I learnt along the way and which I hope will help you create a successful business.
1. Sports is only the first step
To break into the world of professional sports, you need to train hard and earn an income. At the beginning, you’ll also need to hold down another job to fund your training and/or study. It’s tough.
The moment you do arrive at your professional sporting career can feel amazing – like you’ve finally arrived. But it’s important to keep an eye on the long game. Sport is but the first step in your lifelong career with most athletes retiring in their thirties due to the physical demands.
To give yourself the best chances of creating a business after sports, I highly recommend completing your education. It’s incredibly hard to train and study full time and it may delay your career by a year or two, but it’s certainly worth it if you want to have any kind of income in your forties.
Better education can also help you avoid poor career decisions, such as signing a bad contract.
2. Make your money work for you
When you start seeing the big bucks rolling in, the temptation is to spend it all on sports cars and luxury trips, especially if you didn’t have these things growing up. But don’t get carried away with having a good time. Long-term, sports cars will devalue and holidays will become little more than photo albums.
I’m not suggesting you don’t have fun with your newfound wealth but just remember: it won’t last forever. Investing your money wisely, however, can pay big dividends down the line, providing a new source of income that can continue past your sports career.
I love technology, so I invest a lot of my money in tech companies. I know not all of my investments will pay off but, if I am sensible, enough will pay off to make it worthwhile.
If you don’t know what to invest in, choose property – it’s one investment that is likely to retain or grow in value over time.
Find a good financial advisor who your trust and try to diversify your investments so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. It’s not the most fun or sexy of ways to spend your money, but it’s the one most likely to keep the money coming in.
3. Foster your fan connection
No athlete could build a successful career without fan support. Fans will be pitch side cheering you on and will be the first people to support your career after sports. Unfortunately, many athletes tend to see their fans merely as spectators and fail to connect with them in any meaningful way.
Then there are players like Magic Johnson who, despite retiring from professional basketball in 1996, still has a huge fan following.
The difference is, he connects with his fans on a personal level. He meets them in public, takes photos, and is always kind and generous. These fans then support his charity work, buy his products and merch, and may even invest in his businesses.
That’s actually why I set up GlobaTalent, to allow athletes to connect with fans and raise money to support their careers. Fans get a personal connection to you while sharing in a cut of your future income, helping you financially during the difficult early days of your sports career.
Starting a business after retiring from sports also tends to require outside investment. While banks and angel investors will often demand a big chunk of the business in return for their financial support, fans will be happy to support you in return for a lower stake and an ongoing sense of personal connection.
4. Capitalise on your image
The more successful your sporting career, the harder it will be for you to hold a normal job after you retire.
People will stop you in the street to ask for photos and signatures, assume you got super rich from your career, or simply treat you differently. Celebrity comes hand in hand with sporting success but can make ‘normal life’ difficult.
Celebrity does, however, open up new potential ways to earn money. It gives your influence which can be converted into income, especially in the world of social media.
You can promote other brands, become an ambassador for a business, or set up your own. Consider the number of people who have a George Foreman grill compared to the number of boxing fans. He retired in 1997 yet still has a steady income from grill sales.
Take a good look at your personal brand and image. What is your public persona? Is it positive or negative? Do you have a plan on how to build and manage your image over the course of your career?
Hone your image and personal brand and look after it at all costs. Engage with fans in positive ways as much as possible, give back to the community, get people to join you on your journey. When people feel a part of your brand, they will support you at every stage of your sports and business life.
5. Be a force for good
One way to quickly build a positive reputation (or rescue you from a negative one) is to use your influence to support good causes. A big fan following can be mobilised to generate game-changing funds for charities and other good causes.
An athlete who mobilises their ten million fans to donate just £1 each would raise enough to pay 33,000 students’ tuition fees or open a new mental health unit, for example.
Fans will appreciate you using your influence on behalf of a good cause and will feel intimately connected to you as a human being, rather than simply a sports star. It will also keep you relevant even after you retire.
Creating a lifelong career from your sporting talent needn’t be hard but does require some long-term thinking. Sports is the first step. Get the finance, find the time to train, and stay in school. That way you’ll nurture your talent while securing your future.
Then use your sports career as a stepping stone, utilising your image, reputation, and fan base to grow your career and income streams. Finally, make sure to be smart with your money, investing in long-term projects.
Following these steps, even the most modest of sports careers can be developed into strong post-retirement business giving you a substantial post-retirement income. Good luck!
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Ferran Martínez is one of the co-founders of GlobaTalent. He is a former pro basketball player for FC Barcelona and Spanish National Team, a Laureus member, led sports entertainment at several private banks and is now a successful entrepreneur.
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