Former Athletes and Business: ‘The Breeze of Opportunity Is Always Blowing’

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Photo via Dhani Jones

The time of athletes being “dumb money” in business is over, and player business opportunities were at the heart of a discussion between two former NFL players at CES: Dhani Jones and Isaiah Kacyvenski.

An 11-year NFL veteran, Jones has since led an accomplished TV career and invested in 35 companies, many in the FinTech industry. He said the amount of people who want to engage with athletes is incredible and provides more opportunity than ever for athletes to have a place at the table. He also said it’s important for businesses to understand athletes have a lot to offer.

“A lot more athletes are pushing the envelope and embedded in the process, wanting to learn and use the platform,” Jones said.

Jones said his life has been defined by a combination of curiosity and discipline imprinted on him from having two military parents. The curiosity helped him define who he was off the field and what he’s done since stepping off it for the last time.

Now, it’s easier for athletes to find a spot for themselves, beyond the one percent of athletes with major marketing deals.

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“The democratization of tech is affording the opportunity for athletes to get involved,” Jones said. “Football and sports used to be a uniform; now it’s full frontal and people see everything that an athlete is, no longer as just a test subject. We’re now the experts consulted to make a better case for what you want to accomplish. The doors are knocked down.”

Athletes have a finite amount of time playing the game and therefore a finite earning opportunity in their athletic lives. Kacyvenski brought up a statistic that nearly 80 percent of athletes end up bankrupt. Jones said part of an athlete’s business success is about changing their mentality and realizing their voice has value.

The transition to business also isn’t too difficult, he said, as all athletes treat their bodies as though they’re entrepreneurs. A harder jump is into investment, but he made an easy analogy to help that transition.

He equated a sports career to youth being seed investments, with parents buying equipment and early training. College is Series A with the scholarship. Meanwhile, professional sports is further Series investments, and the longer they play, the more they can invest in themselves and learn the ins and outs of investment.

“A lot of guys are starting to invest now and starting to be looked up to, like, Chris Bosh and Andre Iguodala,” Jones said. “Guys that are investing now have reached that level of investor and now we can achieve by learning from those that have done it.”

A lot of athletes have the passion, ability, and desire to make it in the business world, and often all it takes is an extra step of mentorship from a business person, Jones said. He has benefited greatly from a relationship with Dan Gilbert.

“Most players need that final inch, a final lesson as well as a nudge,” he said. “Those same skills to get to an elite level are just an unbelievable value as you step away from the game.”

Finding the right opportunities are all about listening to the surroundings, he said, explaining one of his two rules: the breeze of opportunity can come from anywhere. The second is, it’s not about you, it’s something greater than yourself.

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“It’s a 2019 cliché, but do whatever it is you’re passionate about,” Jones said. “But also, the breeze of opportunity can come from anywhere. Do what you really love to do, but also listen to the surroundings and have some level of sensitivity to what people are saying to you. If people keep talking to you about clothes and clothes and clothes — well, you know what? You might want to go into clothes.”

Those hoping to work with athletes also don’t need to go for name recognition, Jones said. Establishing a relationship with an athlete also isn’t hard; it only takes finding common ground.

“Make sure they’re authentic to what they do,” he said. “If they are, it won’t be like work. It’s a partnership in the same way you formulate the people you’re working with. Build a community filled with the best ambassadors for your business.”