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NFL veteran Martellus Bennett: 'I'm trying to build a Disney'

Daniel Roberts

Martellus Bennett spent 10 seasons in the NFL, during which he was tight end for five teams and won a Super Bowl ring. But he says football was just the first chapter in his story.

After announcing his retirement last month, Bennett is turning immediately to his “life’s work”: The Imagination Agency, his creative firm for children’s content.

Bennett created the agency while he was playing football, and through the agency he’s written and published two children’s books, “Hey AJ, It’s Saturday” and “Hey AJ, It’s Bedtime.” (The AJ character is based on his daughter Austyn Jett.)

‘I’m going to be like the Apple or Nike of children’s content’

He quietly built the agency to seven full-time employees, and with football out of the way, he now has huge ambitions for the size and scope of the business.

“I’m trying to build a Disney,” he tells Yahoo Finance. “Not only as a creator, but also be able to create universes where then that content can go into toys, and live on multimedia platforms, whether it’s apps, books, movies, cartoons. It’s like building a whole world, which takes a lot of money.”

In addition to Disney, he’s taking some cues from Apple and Nike. The “AJ” books have an interactive app, a paperback edition, and an edition that comes in a box, “because I’m going to be like the Apple or Nike of children’s content.”

That’s a tall order. But Bennett says he’s been diligently recording business lessons he’s learned from coaches and team owners in the NFL.

“I built my company a lot while playing for the Patriots,” Bennett says. “Bill [Belichick] would do something, and I’d be like, ‘Oh, I want to do the same thing at my company.’ The way they manage things, the way Robert Kraft was, the way the organization was run… I used it as a time to build an identity of how I’d want to lead and run a company.”

Martellus Bennett leaves the field after the New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field on Dec. 18, 2016. (Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports)

‘Every athlete is an entrepreneur’

Whether or not his fellow athletes were working on their own businesses, Bennett sees every pro athlete as an entrepreneur, working tirelessly to improve their own product: themselves. It’s an apt analogy in a league where careers can be short-lived—just 3 years on average.

“I think every athlete is an entrepreneur,” he says. “Our job is to better our product to present to a new team every year. So every single year it’s like the iPhone 8, it’s like Martellus 2.0, Martellus 3.0. I always looked at it like that.”

At the same time, Bennett says there aren’t many fellow athletes he has looked to for personal business influence, because he doesn’t want to just endorse products, or even invest money in someone else’s company—he wants to grow his own company instead. “For what I’m trying to build, I haven’t had an example,” he says. “There’s a lot of guys who use their likeness—to do movies, and do other business stuff, but not too many guys are actually making product. I’m making product, it’s a different thing. A lot of guys are holding up Coke cans and get paid a lot of money to do that, but no one’s making a Coke can. I’m the guy that’s trying to make the Coke can.”

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite. Sportsbook is our sports business video series and podcast.

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