As Jay Z famously said “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!” Athletes have a reputation for being somewhat naïve and narrow-minded about their image from a financial point of view. They turn up to training, sign the shirts and keep focused on the big W. Then again, others have the savvy to cash in on their name and set themselves up for life. But entrepreneurial initiative comes in many forms. Putting your name to a pair of shoes or a grill will see the cash flowing in nicely, yet some like to invest their time and effort into more charitable ventures. It takes a big heart to try and combat disease, famine and inequality and sports stars can be the perfect ambassadors to bring attention to these issues.
Our obsession with celebrity culture means athletes can put their stamp on just about anything and we eat it up, even if the link between the product and person is tenuous. No one in their right mind would believe LeBron James chows down on McDonalds before a game or David Beckham spends halftime refreshing with a Pepsi, but somehow that’s what we’re told to believe. What we admire more than anything is an athlete putting themselves out there to plug what they are truly passionate about. Starting a business is the American dream and these athletes have the star power and capital to make that dream become a reality. It’s hard enough for us mere mortals to get by, so these people have all the advantages on the path to success.
Without any further adieu, here are the Top 15 Best Athletes Turned Entrepreneurs.
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15 Tony Hawk
It’s easy to take for granted the fact Tony Hawk’s name is synonymous with skateboarding, but his ascension to superstardom comes on the back of some terrific business instincts. In 2009 Hawk was the highest-paid action sports athlete on the planet at $12 million, selling his name on everything from shoes to bicycles, clothes, a best selling autobiography and of course, skateboards. His video game series has amassed over a billion dollars since their inception in 1999, and while his peers lived the rockstar lifestyle partying in Southern California, Hawk enjoyed the best of both worlds.
14 Maria Sharapova
She doesn’t look like she treats herself to many sweets, but Maria Sharapova has cashed in on people’s love for gummy bears and gumballs to set up her own Sugarpova Candy Lounge in Wimbledon. Speaking to Newsweek last year, the tennis superstar explained, “When I was a little girl I loved sweets (and) two years ago it just hit me: ‘Why not do something with candy and create a business of my own?’” The tennis crowd in London love their sweets, so this indicates that Maria has a lucrative career after she hangs up the racket. Sharapova has become the highest paid female athlete on the planet, making $29 million in earnings in 2014.
13 David Beckham
So long as he doesn’t open his mouth, David Beckham cannot help himself but impress on those that watch his every move. The softly spoken cockney soccer star collected $42 million in endorsements after retirement last year, plugging everything from the Chinese Super League to Adidas, H&M, Samsung and Breitling. But Becks appreciates where hr comes from and acknowledges what he has to offer, becoming a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador this year to bring attention to poverty and preventing violence to children across the globe. Throw in his ownership of the new Orlando City MLS franchise and it’s easy to see everything he touches brings in dollars or cameras, a valuable asset to any organization.
12 Vinnie Johnson
A decade in the NBA is probably the last thing Vinnie Johnson cares about. His love for the Detroit Pistons and business Piston Automotive makes the champion point guard a legendary figure in the maligned city. After back-to-back titles in 1990 and 1991, Johnson started Piston Automotive centered in the City’s Empowerment Zone, employing over 200 workers. He took this success to new heights by becoming the chairman of The Piston Group, leading to sales surpassing $85 million. You can call that a slam dunk.
11 Oscar De La Hoya
Fighters these days promote themselves, so why not cut out the middle man? Golden Boy Oscar De Le Hoya put his name and reputation to good use by starting a promotional company, aptly named ‘Golden Boy Promotions.’ The organization reportedly rakes in millions annually through a series of real estate ventures, fight promotions and projects that tap into Oscar’s popularity with Hispanics. The iconic boxer publicly flirted with the idea of coming back into the ring to fight Floyd Mayweather, but the guy has a business to run after all.
10 Lewis Howes
Lewis who? Mr. Howes’ story is nothing short of extraordinary, starting out as a promising wide receiver to make the NCAA record for yards in a single game before snapping his wrist during his second Arena League match. All of this occurred before he transitioned into a professional handball player, but it’s his business ventures that define Lewis as a public figure of intrigue. In 2008 he founded the social media sports marketing firm SportsNetworker, and a membership website for sports executives called Sports Executives Association. Think a real life Matthew McConaughey in Two for the Money.
9 LeBron James
To the naked eye LeBron appears just as good at selling himself as he does shooting hoops. An admirable role in the Amy Schumer flick Train Wreck came after the development of his own firm, LRMR Marketing. His moves from Cleveland to Miami and back again manifested because he had the power written in his contract. Put simply, LeBron is never dictated to by any NBA administrator. Such is his business savvy he created a bidding war between Nike, Adidas and Reebok to sponsor him before he even bounced a ball in the NBA. LeBron redefined what it meant to be a free agent on the open market by controlling every part of his image and career direction.
8 Venus Williams
It’s not hard to be labeled the quiet achiever of the family when your sister is Serena Williams. As her younger sister wins Grand Slam finals and makes headlines with her outrageous outfits and on court antics, elder sibling Venus is building an entourage of business empires. Her $75 million net worth comes with a packed schedule. These include endorsement deals, creating the interior design business V Starr Interiors, being a partial owner of the Miami Dolphins, a franchise owner of Jamba Juice and managing an athletic clothing line called EleVen. How does she have time to play tennis?
7 Craig Bellamy
Craig Bellamy made a name for himself in British football as a firebrand journeyman, playing for everyone from Celtic to Liverpool, Newcastle to Manchester City and many clubs in between. At the height of his career in 2008 he saw an opportunity not to make profit, but make a difference by establishing the Craig Bellamy Foundation. The organization works to educate young children in Sierra Leone through soccer to help lift them out of poverty and give them a pathway to a brighter future. Bellamy’s reckless attitude on the pitch is usurped by a heart of gold off it.
6 Cal Ripken Jr.
A glittering career as shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles spanning two decades (1981-2001) proved to be just the start of Cal Ripken Jr.’s journey. The MLB stalwart who was capped off with a Hall of Fame induction came before the creation of Ripken Baseball, a family run business that he is now CEO of. The organization is one part of what he calls the ‘Business of Cal,’ running everything from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to two different minor league teams, a stadium design business, two youth baseball academies and a licensing and memorabilia company. The ventures together generate $30 million annually.
5 Roger Staubach
There are few stories in football that parallel with Roger Staubach’s incredible transition from Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl winner to real estate mogul. He decided to become a broker in the 1970s to support his young family in case his NFL career finished before creating his own company in 1977. A lot of groundwork in the 1990s and 2000s paid off by 2008, creating 50 offices in North America and employing 1,100 people. JLL’s payout for Staubach Co. totaled a staggering $640 million, quite the profit from an idea he had 31 years prior.
4 Wayne Gretzky
Arguably the greatest player to ever pick up a hockey stick, Wayne Gretzky took to business in the same manner as the ice – with no inhibitions and wonderful skill. Endorsement deals came naturally to the biggest name in the sport, from Coca-Cola to Sharp Corporation and Domino’s Pizza. But it was the decision to put his name to the EA Sports video games Gretzky NHL that raked in the big bucks. Top this off with a restaurant business in downtown Toronto, becoming an executive officer for the Hespeler Hockey company and turning a $2 million profit on a vintage Honus Wagner cigarette card, and it’s easy to see why Gretzky will never have to stress about paying a bill for the rest of his life.
3 Michael Jordan
While some athletes go bankrupt through reckless spending and bad advice, others cash in when it counts. The best of the best in the NBA made no mistake, joining Forbes list of billionaires this year and rocketing to the 513th-richest person in the United States. His $US 500 million stake in the Charlotte Hornets increased in value to $US 752 million. A deal with Nike pocketed a cool $US 90 million in 2013 and his Air Jordan shoe line is estimated to bring in $US 100 million per year on current sales.
2 George Foreman
Fighters of the golden generation in the 1970s are expected to be either dead, incapacitated or retired into a quiet corner by 2015. Not George Foreman. The legendary adversary to Muhammad Ali will be forever grateful he listened to his wife, because it was on her advice that Foreman decided to try a grill brought to him by attorney Sam Perlmutter. After a narrow loss to Shannon Briggs in 1997 at the tender age of 48, Foreman was handed a check for $1 million from the first batch of grill sales. The company Salton who developed the grill made $200 million by 1998 and decided to pay George $137.5 million for using his name in perpetuity. Such is his allegiance with the brand many people below the age of 30 only know him as a grill salesman, but a wealthy one at that!
1 John Elway
John Elway didn’t need to ride off into the sunset like champions past. The Hall of Famer and Super Bowl winning Broncos quarterback loved Denver so much he decided to run and maintain multiple business interests in the area. As well as creating products for Bassett Furniture and running two steakhouses, he developed the Elway Foundation to combat child abuse. The Broncos welcomed him back into the fold in 2010, becoming the executive vice president of football operations which was enough to convince Peyton Manning that Denver was right for him. Elway ventured outside of the region in 2002 to co-own the Arena Football League’s Colorado Crush, with the team becoming champions just three years later.
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