By Thomas Calhoun
When a professional athlete is looking ahead at life after their career on the field, they are faced with a choice: will they keep working or retire permanently? While the wealth from their player salary over the years may be enough to live comfortably, many athletes are extremely quick to rush back into the industry that they originally found success in. Many times, this return to sports may be in the form of coaching, announcing, advising, or in even working the front office. Recently, we have also seen many athletes taking a different path back into the games they love. I’m speaking of course, about team ownership.
Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes got a head start on just that when he received his $503M contract extension last year and decided to put it right back into the city that paid him. Being a passionate fan of baseball, Mahomes’ ultimate goal was to continue to grow his relationship with a community he had become part of, and extremely proud of. Purchasing a stake like this requires a sizable investment, but as we are continuously seeing a rise in player salary coupled with the increased importance of athlete business endeavors, the belief is that we will start to see a trend in active players investing in teams as a next step in their business endeavors to help set themselves post-retirement. Mahomes’ commitment to Kansas City is now helping to grow two fanbases simultaneously - through his skill on the field and now as a businessman.
Building and evolving community seems to be a motivating factor for other athletes as well. Future NFL Hall Of Fame running back Marshawn Lynch has recently invested into the NHL’s newest expansion team, Seattle Kraken. While Lynch is not originally from Seattle, he played there for many years and became a crowd favorite in The Emerald City. Lynch’s new step into ownership is rooted in giving back to the local community. He and his fellow owners, including pop singer Macklemore, are dedicated to continue diversifying and providing community support. Macklemore’s primary focus is making the team more socially and environmentally friendly. He understands the value and importance of using local celebrities to market sports teams saying, “I think that the Kraken have been really open and excited about bringing in local talent. I think the other thing is just making sure that we're exposing all people to the game." Between Macklemore & Lynch’s efforts, this young franchise will hopefully bring fans to the game from all different backgrounds.
A trend in ownership we have been especially keeping our eyes on is seeing women begin to take the reins of franchises. Serena and Venus Williams began a wave back in 2009 that created a massive shift in ownership for women in sports. The Wiliams sisters have had incredible tennis careers and were looking to invest their money in a different sector of the industry. Being from the South Florida area, Williams and Williams bought into the Miami Dolphins in 2009, making them the very first Black female minority owners in the NFL, and its value has more than tripled since their buy-in. Williams and Williams paved the way for African-American girls in the sport of tennis and they continue to pave the way for all women with a move like this. More recently, Tennis Hall of Famer, Billie Jean King, along with several other women, bought a stake in the NWSL Club (National Women's Soccer League), Angel City FC. Angel City FC owners’ mission is to change the culture for women in sports, and a continued increase in women’s team ownership hopefully means greater equity and opportunities across the board. Following her, Naomi Osaka became a minority owner for the NWSL Club, The North Carolina Courage. Osaka spoke about what this meant to her, stating it’s “far more than being a team owner, it’s an investment in amazing young women, who are role models in their fields, and inspiration to young girls everywhere.” Osaka is setting an example of how women becoming more involved in all aspects of sports can show younger generations of women that they, too, can have a seat at the table and seize these types of opportunities.
As we continue to see franchises experience new ownership from current athletes and former athletes, it’s important for prospective buyers to consider how their investment in a team can affect the city, the future of the franchise, and the industry as a whole. Investing in team ownership is, on the surface, a financial move. However, when owners look to take that investment one step further and create positive change and impact, we expect to see an even further rise in passionate fandom. We’re excited to see who the next big team owner will be. But most importantly, we’ll be paying extra special attention to what they will do with that ownership power, and how that will change the nature of the sport or franchise for the better.