Finance

DON’T BLOW IT

The story of an athlete blowing through financial gain faster than completing a 40-yard dash makes an all-too-common headline. Issues of how these young, usually immature stars spend their sudden wealth are often bandied about in the media, and they are held up as examples of what not to do. Recently, ESPN featured “How to Blow $5 Million,” detailing examples of wasteful spending by up and coming sports stars. It was enough to make fans shake their heads – partly disgusted by the excess and partly envious that they themselves didn’t have the ability to be that story.

It’s an old story that haunts many professional athletes. In fact, they make colossal salaries, but some jocks don’t have a clue as to how to manage their million dollar sign-on bonuses, let alone contemplate a future after retirement.

Meet the Sports Financial Advisors Association.

This Scottsdale, AZ., -based nonprofit association was founded in 2004 after its current president and co-founding member, Jonathan Miller, realized that the information being presented during a workshop for financial advisors sponsored by the National Football League’s Players Association was off target and was not going to score a secure financial future for professional athletes.
“There were four of us attending, and we walked out of the meeting and looked at each other. We all felt that the program was just an attempt at marketing, and that we needed to do something more about the financial problems of professional athletes,” Miller said.

It may be tempting to think that someone being paid millions of dollars to play a game doesn’t have any financial challenges.

“In reality, the opposite is quite true,” Miller said.

“The biggest issue really is no different than for a lottery winner. It is sudden money, and they do not know how to deal with that. A young man or woman in their 20s, who is also in the public eye, being given a ton of wealth – with very little education on how to handle that wealth – becomes a target,” Miller noted. “It is a very difficult position to be in. There is a lot of peer pressure and a lot of ego. They need that ego and self-confidence to play at the elite level, but all too often it spills over into their financial lives. They figure, ‘I am the world’s best at what I do, so I must be the best at everything.’”

So much of the time, they don’t have even the most basic money skills. They don't know about balancing a checkbook, let alone figuring out how to invest the huge payout so that it lasts a long time after leaving their respective court or field of play.

That’s why Miller and the SFAA are pushing for a comprehensive education program for athletes. This program would begin in high school, continue on through college, and would remain as part of their contracts and training throughout any time spent playing professionally. The reason is because the game isn’t going to be played forever. That day of transition from being a paid athlete is coming.

“Most aren’t ready for it,” Miller said.

“Every athlete hits a period of transition – whether that means failing to be drafted out of college or even being picked up by a college out of high school. It also means getting injured while playing in college; or playing at a professional level and eventually either getting cut, injured or playing out a full career and retiring,” he added. “That transition is very difficult. We are trying to work with the athletes to educate them.”

Miller devotes significant chunks of time to making sure that student athletes are well cared-for from a financial perspective. His most pressing concern, though, is equipping other financial advisors to assist athletes, coaches and retirees via the association. The SFAA conference is held every year to teach athletes, their advisors and families about the intricacies of working with professional athletes. Advisors need to understand the playbook when it comes to the financial needs of athletes for whom the income is a one-time shot. This differs from other well-heeled professionals, such as doctors or lawyers, for whom income is consistent over time, rather than coming as a gushing blast of financial gain that quickly chokes off once the athletic performance is over.

“If you give a doctor a million dollars when he turns 22 – and he blows it – that's okay because he can go out and have a salary, and have the potential to earn money,” Miller said. “But for an athlete, the big money comes only once.”

Miller’s primary focus isn’t solely on getting those lump sums invested quickly and appropriately, either. He also talks seriously with athlete clients about their attitudes toward money and toward their own futures. This is especially true with college athletes who, under pressure from college coaches and administrators, can be taken advantage of in terms of being told to focus on their sport rather than balancing their time with education on their future financial decisions.

“For example, they can be told that if they aren’t thinking about football 100 percent of the time, they are stealing from the university – and so some of them end up not performing up to their academic potential, which will impact them later in life,” Miller said. “That kind of pressure is something our association is working to end.”

Miller’s hope is that someday soon, stories of athletes making prudent financial decisions and setting secure courses for themselves and their families will outnumber those sad stories, written to pull on the heartstrings of fans, that point out excessive spending by a once-favorite star player who’s now financially destitute.

Learn more about the Sports Financial Advisors Association online at www.sportsfinancial.org

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