As point guard for the Phoenix Suns, two-time most valuable player Steve Nash is best known for dribbling, passing and shooting.
But the Canadian professional basketball player also has a keen interest in business development, and recently became an equity partner in Liquid Nutrition, a Montreal-based company that sells “functional” beverages to consumers, which serve as healthy meal replacements.
Mr. Nash is also a master franchisee and plans to open 20 Liquid Nutrition stores in British Columbia, where he was raised, including some in the dozen-plus fitness and sports clubs that bear his name.
Mr. Nash is among a growing number of pro athletes who are moving into franchising in preparation for life after their sports careers end. Some may look to franchising as a way to provide a future living, others who are financially set for life may want to continue a legacy and compete on a different stage.
While Mr. Nash has had a long and lucrative career, not many athletes are as fortunate. According to the NBA Players Association and Sports Illustrated, about 60 per cent of NBA players are bankrupt five years after retiring, while 78 per cent of NFL players are in financial trouble two years after retiring.
Former NFL player Michael Stone says that franchising is a viable way for athletes to ease into life after their sports careers end. He formed the Professional Athletes Franchise Initiative (PAFI), an organization that connects professional athletes and the franchise community. Its primary mandate is education and it recently struck a deal with the International Franchise Association to provide guidance for athletes interested in franchising and connect them with reputable franchisors, though it doesn’t do the actual matchmaking.
“As many athletes move toward retirement, they have a great story to tell and a great history, but they have a gap in their résumé,” Mr. Stone says. “A lot of them wonder what their second career is going to be, and not a lot of them are ready for that transition.”
Mr. Stone says franchising is well-suited to athletes. “I played seven years in the NFL and you always had a playbook or instruction manual. With a playbook, you know the plan, you just have to execute it to perfection. Franchising provides that plan and the structure is already in place in terms of marketing and operations,” he says.
Liquid Nutrition president Glenn Young also believes franchising is a good way for athletes to move forward. “In pro sports, athletes get a paycheque every two weeks and, when they stop playing, that stops. It’s a rude awaking. If you haven’t prepared for that end date when your pro career stops, it can really force some pretty significant lifestyle changes,” he says “The athlete community is getting more sophisticated about managing their brand and their businesses.”
In return, he acknowledges the benefit to franchisors, who get high-profile athletes with marketability and ample cash to invest.
“Pro athletes like Steve [Nash]have so much influence and exposure, they can help build a brand like ours,” he says.
Among the growing number of athletes who have turned to franchising are tennis star Venus Williams ( Jamba Juice); former Dallas Mavericks/Miami Heat forward Jamal Mashburn ( Papa John's, Outback Steakhouse, Dunkin' Donuts and Toyota); Milwaukee Bucks forward Drew Gooden ( WingStop); and former NHL defenceman Steve Smith, who played for the Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames ( East Side Mario’s).
Mr. Nash, for one, says he thinks “franchising offers a unique opportunity for someone like me who can't be super involved in the day-to-day business operations.
“My NBA career has exposed me to so many different businesses and given me the opportunity to choose what I feel would be a great partnership that aligns with my overall brand and personal beliefs,” he says.
Brad Gushue, a 2006 Olympic gold medalist curler, plans to open three Menchie’s self-serve yogurt franchises in St. John’s, with the U.S. chain’s recent expansion to Canada.
“Being a curler, I don’t make as much money as a hockey player, and I had to find other ways to make a living,” Mr. Gushue says. “I was in New York City and came across the [self-service yogurt]concept and fell in love with it.”
After finding a Menchie’s link on the Internet, he went to Toronto to meet with Michael Shneer, president of Yogurtworld Franchising Corp., the master franchisor of Menchie’s in Canada.
“I think the biggest factor for me was taking a concept that I liked from people that made it work in different cities and even different countries,” Mr. Gushue says. “I don’t have to reinvent the wheel; I get to rely on other people’s experience instead of learning by trial and error.”
Calgary Stampeders quarterback Kevin Glenn invested in a Tim Hortons franchises in his hometown of Detroit in 2008, and is about to open his sixth outlet. He is involved in day-to-day operations during the off season and works with Tim Hortons on community programs, camps and charitable initiatives.
“It takes a lot to own your own business,” Mr. Glenn says. “People think you get awarded a franchise and you just open the doors and sell stuff. That’s not what happens. You have to actually work.”
Oxford Learning Centres, a Canadian education franchise, is expanding into the United States and one of its first franchisees is NFLer Brandon Flowers, a cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs. He opened an outlet in his hometown of Delray Beach, Fla., with plans to open a second franchise in Kansas City.
Mr. Flowers doesn’t have to worry about financial security after recently singing a $50-million contract extension but bought into the franchise because “I saw an opportunity to give back to the community I grew up in, and not just by writing a cheque,” he says. “Five years go, I was in the same position a lot of these kids are in. When you’re good at football, you have 100 people that want to help you on the field, but none of that counts unless you can get the grades to get into college.”
Matt Baxter, Oxford’s director of franchising, says that one of his former University of Western Ontario classmates, Vaughan Martin of the San Diego Chargers, plans to open Oxford franchises in California and Oxford is in talks with several other football players.
“These guys are competitive and they have the drive to get up and get up in morning, to succeed, to help people,” says Mr. Baxter. “They are also household names, which is a huge advantage.”
Special to The Globe and Mail