By Demetris Constantinou, APC Sports Consulting, Nicosia, Cyprus
Over the past two years, we have all been tasked with navigating unchartered territories, given the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. A catastrophe of unparalleled proportions, which, nevertheless, left us with many lessons that should be considered, as we try to move towards the post-Covid era.
Professional athletes have been amongst the hardest hit by this pandemic, not necessarily in monetary terms, but in terms of seeing their status quo being challenged.
Athletes have to rethink the way they approach their financial well-being and have to recalibrate their strategy towards financial freedom. In this Post, we will explore how athletes should plan ahead, learning from the lessons of the Covid-19 era, to emerge financially stronger and more independent. Specifically, we will focus on why the pandemic has made the case for the need for multiple revenue streams, and how such streams can be pursued by professional athletes.
An athlete’s overall revenue is made up of income from multiple sources, whether the athlete’s base salary, endorsements, or any other form of income. Whilst the ultimate goal is to maximize revenue, it is equally important to keep track of where the revenue comes from, and be able to spread it amongst different channels, especially as athletes move towards the later part of their sporting careers.
The first and most basic revenue stream is the athlete’s salary, which is the amount of money an athlete receives to perform on the field of play, regardless of the sport in which they participate. Salaries will likely take up the largest portion of the athlete’s revenue and are relatively stable, given that salaries are mostly determined in long-term contracts, and do not substantially vary unless an athlete is in free agency.
The second most common form of revenue is endorsements. In simple words, athletes get paid from companies to market and promote their products and services in order to reach wider audiences. Endorsements are amongst the most popular revenue streams for athletes and can sometimes overtake salaries, especially for more famous athletes.
Moving on, a third and increasingly popular revenue stream is investments. Investments can take various forms and can be completely irrelevant to the athlete’s sport. Nevertheless, the general characteristic of investments is that they aim to use the athlete’s large capital to create more wealth and increase the athlete’s revenue.
Finally, but certainly not conclusively, athletes can earn revenues from other, more unconventional sources, such as participating in TV shows, giving motivational talks, or even producing their own books and movies. Amongst others, examples include Draymond Green, the NBA Forward who, in 2020, began participating in the “NBA on TNT” sports show providing commentary and opinions on the current affairs of the League. Lebron James, the basketball superstar who, earlier in 2021, released “Space Jam: A New Legacy”, a movie built on cartoon characters, which serves as the continuation of “Space Jam”, the 1996 family movie starring Michael Jordan. Finally, Tom Brady, the famous American Football quarterback, in 2017, authored his second book; “How to Achieve a lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance”, which is estimated to earn him about US$20.3M per year.
Having laid out different types of revenue channels, it is important to understand why the need for multiple revenue sources in the first place, and how new revenue channels, apart from the traditional salary, can help athletes achieve financial freedom.
An athlete’s short-lived career makes the strongest case for multiplying the athlete’s revenue channels, given that the main revenue stream – their salary – is only available for an average of 8-12 years, depending on the athlete’s sport. No athlete can live a financially independent life only on 12 years’ worth of salary, even if that salary reaches the astronomical numbers that some athletes are paid. Athletes need to reduce their dependence on their salaries and build a resilient financial trajectory which involves other forms of income, such as endorsements, investments, whether passive or active, and become involved in multiple lines of business, preferably unrelated to their sport.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which led to NBA players taking a 25% pay cut and MLB players foregoing a large part of their salaries, proved that salaries are highly susceptible to uncertainties. That, in combination with the short time span of athletes’ sporting careers, creates the need for diversification and the pivoting towards other sources of revenue.
Another motive for athletes to multiply their revenue streams, is the fact that salaries are by nature capped. One may say that capped salaries are not an issue, but why should someone leave money on the table when it is available? It is no secret that famous athletes across all sports, such as Conor McGregor (UFC), Lebron James (NBA) and Roger Federer (ATP), make much more from their endorsements, compared to their salaries, simply because their leagues cannot reward them for their off-the-court successes.
The good news is that, in the case of multiplying their revenue streams, athletes do not have to re-invent the wheel but can rather follow the examples set by other athletes in various leagues.
The football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, serves as a great case of how an athlete can multiply their revenue channels. Ronaldo’s yearly earnings in 2017 were estimated to be around US$100M, only US$58M of which derived from his salary. About US$35M of his earnings came from endorsements for companies like Nike, Toyota and others, whilst the rest came from investments in his own line of footwear, fragrance, as well as other miscellaneous investments.
Another champion in securing multiple revenue sources is the NBA veteran Chris Paul. Paul earns income from over six different revenue channels, including his endorsements from State Farm, his investments in Beyond Meat and Hyperice, as well as his position as the president of the NBA Players’ association. Chris Paul has also invested in various real estate properties and cars, giving him the flexibility to generate additional revenue at any moment, as necessary.
Finally, a notable mention and a great entrepreneurial mind is the Tennis superstar Serena Williams. Similar to the above athletes, Serena Williams earns a large portion of her income through her winnings and endorsements, but what makes her a noteworthy reference is her investment in the creation of Serena Ventures. Williams essentially created her own venture capital firm to invest in businesses across multiple industries. By doing so, Williams leveraged her brand to maximize her flow of revenue whilst minimizing any associated risk.
Despite the above examples, it is important to note that there is no blueprint as to how an athlete can safeguard multiple revenue streams. An athlete needs to focus on putting together the right team, including a strong sports agent and financial advisor. Such a team, led by the examples set by financially successful athletes, can open the door for the establishment of multiple revenue channels, and the path towards financial freedom and security.
For more information on how athletes can build multiple revenue channels, log onto ‘www.apc-sport.com’
 TB12 Competitors, Revenue, Alternatives and Pricing (growjo.com)
 Pro Athletes, Pay Cuts, and the COVID-19 Pandemic | The Manual
 Highest paid athletes in the world 2021 | Statista
 Ronaldo Net Worth 2021, CR7 Salary & Endorsements - Sportskeeda
 Who are the most famous athlete investors? (investopedia.com)
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