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The new playbook for athlete investing

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Magic Johnson revealed this week that he has put millions of dollars into an infrastructure investing fund, in partnership with Jim Reynolds, CEO of the brokerage Loop Capital. Meanwhile, another retired mega-star athlete, Derek Jeter, is reportedly looking to buy the Miami Marlins.

Those two business moves look pretty different: a basketball star launching an infrastructure fund and a baseball star buying a baseball team. But they are part and parcel of the same investing trend: the traditional playbook for what athletes do with their money off the court or field has meaningfully changed.

In the not-so-distant past, the go-to move for sports mega-stars after retirement was to go straight into broadcasting. Look no further than this week’s brutal ESPN layoffs: dozens of the on-air analysts cut were former players who had been with ESPN, in some cases, since right after they hung up their cleats.

If you didn’t go into television, you set up for your post-career by making one or more of these types of popular investments: fast-food franchises (Junior Bridgeman, NBA veteran, who owns hundreds of Wendy’s and Chili’s locations; Jerry Richardson, former NFL player, now owner of the Carolina Panthers); car washes (NFL alum Andre Rison; NBA alum Charles Oakley); or car dealerships (NBA alums Jamal Mashburn and Karl Malone; NFL legend John Elway, now GM of the Denver Broncos).

And there was good reason why many of the athletes who took that path found themselves in the red a few short years later. (In the NFL, some reports say, the rate of eventual bankruptcy is 16%.)

But at some point in the past few years, in timing with the formation of a new tech bubble (arguably), the map changed. Athletes, both retired and still playing, are hot for tech, or in some cases, other non-conventional investing areas. Steph Curry, for example, backed the private-coaching platform CoachUp, doubling as investor and celebrity ambassador.

Derek Jeter is a perfect example of the new post-retirement business approach for star athletes. (Getty)

Carmelo Anthony launched a tech investing fund in 2014, Melo7 Tech Partners, with Stuart Goldfarb, a former executive at German media company Bertelsmann and a board member at WWE. Kobe Bryant launched a tech investing fund last year, Bryant Stibel, with Jeff Stibel, vice chairman of consulting firm Dun & Bradstreet.

The new formula is clear: star athlete + experienced financier = hot new fund. The athlete brings the name recognition, the money manager brings the deeper pockets. (And the athlete’s name helps pull in additional investors later on.)

That’s evident in both Johnson’s and Jeter’s news from this week. In Johnson’s case, his partner in the JLC Infrastructure Fund is the CEO of an established brokerage who businesspeople know. Jim Reynolds was a Hillary Clinton supporter but was nonetheless inspired, it sounds like, by President Trump’s stated intention of spending $1 trillion to rebuild America’s infrastructure, saying that fixing the country’s infrastructure is “not Democrat and not Republican, but the basic needs of the citizenry.” JLC is already making moves: Johnson and Reynolds are part of a group close to winning the bid to redesign the “Great Hall” of the Denver Airport.

Johnson’s other business efforts are well known at this point, including his prior ownership of more than 100 Starbucks franchises (and he has worked with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to open Starbucks locations in low-income areas), his Magic Johnson Theatres across the country, and his philanthropy for HIV/AIDS research.

In Jeter’s case, the Yankee has reportedly partnered with Jeb Bush and the two have a window of exclusivity to complete their fundraise and buy the Marlins. Jeter plans to be closely involved in the team’s operations, and he will likely be the face of the new ownership, just as Magic Johnson is the face of the Dodgers ownership. (Johnson is now also president of the Lakers.)

Of course, a retired athlete buying a team is nothing new. But Jeter has already done a lot more than that in the two-and-a-half years since his retirement. And he has done more with the $265 million he made in baseball salary than just putting it into startups, a new trend among athletes.

Jeter launched The Players’ Tribune, a sports blog that has become the go-to place for athletes to announce big news. He launched a book publishing imprint under Simon & Schuster. And he is still the owner of a handful of 24-Hour Fitness gyms in New York.

Baseball legend Cal Ripken—another rare example of a bona fide success in business after sports—told Fortune when Jeter retired, “He has enough money to actually be the money guy and the idea guy, too.”

Indeed, that’s what more and more athletes—after they retire as well as while they’re still playing—want to do: be the idea guy. Rather than just endorsing a product, they want to start their own business or do early-stage seed investing in startups, and have a hand in their development. It’s why Josh Martin, a linebacker with the New York Jets, spent his last NFL offseason interning with a venture capital firm.

As Kate Deines, a former member of the US Women’s national soccer team, told Yahoo Finance, “Unfortunately, athletes, in terms of understanding their finances and having a long-term plan, it doesn’t happen very often.” Johnson and Jeter—and Anthony, Bryant, and Curry, if their investments are successful—are models for the rest.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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