The Hidden Train Wreck – Professional Athlete Portfolios
Need capital for a floating furniture venture? How about an oxygen absorbing skin procedure? Well, if you are having any difficulty, just call an NFL, NBA, or MLB rookie. Even wealthy professional athletes have been impacted by the financial crisis, not to mention the aggressive sales tactics of the investment industry and the players’ poor money management skills. Many players are too busy concentrating on winning games, while their portfolios are suffering losses. The statistics are staggering. Here are the findings, according to an article published in Sports Illustrated earlier this year:
- “By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.”
- “Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.”
- The divorce rate for pro athletes ranges from 60% to 80%, based on estimates from athletes and agents.
- “According to the NFL Players Association, at least 78 players lost a total of more than $42 million between 1999 and 2002 because they trusted money to financial advisers with questionable backgrounds.”
These are not old, dementia-suffering widows living in Florida we are talking about, but rather professional athletes, many of which made multi-million fortunes during their playing careers. The article goes out of its way to demonstrate this is not a fringe issue affecting a minority of professional athletes. Numerous examples were provided, including the following:
- Ten current and former Major League Baseball players, including outfielder Jonny Damon of the New York Yankees, had some of their money tied up in the alleged $8 billion fraud perpetrated by Robert Allen Stanford.
- Raghib (Rocket) Ismail lost a fortune by investing in excessively risky ventures, including a movie about music label COZ Records; a cosmetics procedure company; a nationwide phone-card dispensing venture; and a framed calligraphy company opened in New Orleans two months before Hurricane Katrina hit.
- Drew Bledsoe, Rick Mirer and five other NFL retirees each invested a minimum of $100,000 in a failed start-up, which touted “biometric authentication” technology that potentially could replace credit cards with fingerprints. The players eventually sued UBS (the financial-services firm) for allegedly withholding information about the company founder’s criminal history and drug use.
- Torii Hunter, outfielder for the Los Angeles, invested almost $70,000 in living-room furniture that included inflatable rafts – perfect for those consumers living in flood zones. Suffice it to say, the results did not meet initial expectations.
- In addition to his legal problems, NFL quarterback Michael Vick filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year partly because he could not repay about $6 million in bank loans that he directed toward a car-rental franchise in Indiana, wine shop in Georgia and real estate in Canada.
- Retired NBA forward Vin Baker’s seafood restaurant in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, was foreclosed on in February 2008 due to nearly $900,000 in unpaid loans.
- “NBA guard Kenny Anderson filed for bankruptcy in October 2005. He detailed how the estimated $60 million he earned in the league had dwindled to nothing. He bought eight cars and rang up monthly expenses of $41,000, including outlays for child support, his mother’s mortgage and his own five-bedroom house in Beverly Hills, Calif.—not to mention $10,000 in what he dubbed “hanging-out money.” He also regularly handed out $3,000 to $5,000 to friends and relatives.”
- “Former NBA forward Shawn Kemp (who has at least seven children by six women) and, more recently, Travis Henry (nine by nine) have seen their fortunes sapped by monthly child-support payments in the tens of thousands of dollars.”
Besides irresponsible spending, and greedy advisors, contributing factors to all the losses are the “boring” and “unintelligible” nature of securities investments. Professional athletes like to flaunt investments like night clubs and car dealerships – there is a “thrill of tangibility,” according to SI writer Pablo Torre.
Professional athletes are not the only ones suffering losses. Ordinary investors have lost also and are learning it’s not what you make – rather it’s what you preserve and grow. The majority of the athletes do not realize their peak earnings years cover a very brief period, and therefore need to be more prudent with their money management since the windfall moneys must be spread over many years.
Trust is an important but difficult trait to find for many of these athletes since many opportunistic friends, acquaintances, and family members in many cases put their self interests ahead of the professional athlete’s needs. There is no simple formula for intelligent money management, however there are ways for athletes to protect their financial blind spots:
1) Educate Themselves. Learn the basics of what you are investing in. You may not learn the ins and outs but you can get a basic understanding of the expected return and volatility of your investments. Athletes often forget about diversification as well, “Chronic over-allocation into real estate and bad private equity is the number one problem [for athletes] in terms of a financial meltdown,” Ed Butowsky of Chapwood Investments says.
2) Trust But Verify. Ronald Reagan famously made those statements decades ago and the principle applies to money too. Many athletes pay tens of thousands of dollars for investment advice, so asking questions is advisable. Specifically, ask how performance is trending versus comparable benchmarks and get a view over multiple time periods.
3) Avoid Friends and Family. If possible, separating business from friends and family is a wise idea. When emotions mix with money, harmful decisions can damage the athlete’s financial future.
4) Determine Fees & Commissions. When investing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, fees and commissions can be substantial; therefore it is imperative for the athletes to know what they are paying their advisors.
5) Experience Matters. Check out the background of your advisor and determine the licenses and credentials they hold. If you were flying a plane in a heavy storm, you would want an experienced pilot flying the plane, not a flight attendant.
6) Budget. Establish an investment plan with a sustainable lifestyle that accounts for inflation. As veteran agent Bill Duffy says, whose clients include Suns guard Steve Nash and Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, “A pro athlete’s money is supposed to outlive his career. Most players never get that.”
Athletes spend their whole lives trying to make the professional ranks in order to earn the big bucks. Due to their high profile status, financial advisors and trusted individuals prey on the sports figures’ wealth. Unfortunately a majority of the athletes lack the money management skills and discipline to preserve and grow their earned wealth. Perhaps repeatedly shining a light on the dirty under-belly of this tragic problem will prevent future financial train wrecks from occurring. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to sift though the bankrupt remains of inflatable sofa raft companies and liquidation proceeds from failed night clubs.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.