Forget the gym—the boardroom is becoming an equally important domain for an athlete. With multi-million dollar contracts being doled out like candy to professional athletes these days, there is more capital than ever for sports stars to invest and remain financially firm once they hang up their cleats. It wasn’t long ago that a McDonald’s endorsement or a Gatorade commercial was seen as the pinnacle of earning, but now athletes are finding importance in equity, starting their own businesses, and the power in franchising.
Stacker compiled a list of 50 athletes who became business tycoons, using information from news reports. We chose athletes from a wide variety of sports—from skateboarders and snowboarders to soccer stars and Super Bowl winners—who have become just as well known for their business exploits as their athletic achievements. Many of these athletes are recognized on powerful lists like Forbes, but there are somber stories in addition to those gleaming with success. Just like any business investment, there are dizzying highs and hard-hitting lows—celebrities have long been targets of get-rich-quick schemes, so today’s athletes have to be more diligent than ever in not only protecting their investments but choosing the right ones.
Fashion design, food and drink, and even golf course design are some of the more popular methods for athletes to invest their money, but there’s also money to be made in interior design, beef production, and yoga. There are some expected names on here, including some of the world’s most popular athletes. But do you know about the linebacker that became a sports apparel maven or the former baller turned rapper and music maven?
NASCAR, NCAA basketball, NBA, NHL, and MLB spring training make for a packed upcoming month of sports action. While we enjoy these athletes’ exploits on the field, click through the slideshow and get inspired to make the most of your worth.
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Tony Hawk rose to skateboarding fame as part of the Bones Brigade, scored an acting gig in “Police Academy 4,” then launched Birdhouse skateboards in 1992. Hawk began making over $100,000 yearly as a teenager and is regularly reported as the world’s highest-paid action sports star. A successful video game added to Hawk’s legacy, which includes multiple X Games victories and a slew of innovative aerial tricks.
Venus Williams has won over $40 million in prize money through a tennis career that includes seven Grand Slam championships. In 2007, Williams launched her own fashion line, EleVen, which joined her business portfolio that included an interior design firm. In 2009, Williams became a part-owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
Before millions of fans smelled what The Rock was cookin’, Dwayne Johnson played defense for the University of Miami football team. After mostly retiring from professional wrestling, The Rock became an action-movie star and is reportedly one of the highest-paid actors ever. Johnson’s Seven Bucks Productions creates a variety of hit TV shows and films, and recently The Rock received a signature line from Under Armour.
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Two years after retiring from the NBA in 2016, Kobe Bryant won an Academy Award for a short film, “Dear Basketball,” released by his Granity Studios company. Bryant’s $6 million investment in BodyArmor sports drinks netted him $200 million over a few years. Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash on January 26.
A five-time WNBA All-Star, Angel McCoughtry is one of women’s basketball’s most lethal scorers. But since women’s basketball salaries have long paled compared to NBA stars, McCoughtry and others have sought out additional methods to build a nest egg. McCoughtry, 33, became a successful businesswoman by starting a chain of ice cream shops.
Diamond Dallas Page was once a standout basketball player before he entered the world of professional wrestling. After his in-ring career ended, Page became a dedicated yogi and started DDP Yoga. The program was featured on “Shark Tank” and is particularly popular among wrestlers—who incur many injuries over their career—but also everyday folk have become immersed in “Beefcake Yoga.”
Mia Hamm, after completing one of the most storied careers in soccer history, entered the boardroom. Hamm is one owner of the LAFC soccer club and also works with FC Barcelona and A.S. Roma. The Mia Hamm Foundation raises funds for bone marrow transplants and to create more opportunities for girls and women in sport.
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Megan Rapinoe is outspoken in her advocacy for equitable pay and the two-time World Cup champion carries the same message with her Re-inc lifestyle brand that embraces gender-neutral design and inclusivity. Rapinoe has a multitude of endorsements, but she’s not just another celebrity shill; Forbes described Rapinoe as a “disrupter and national treasure.”
Former running back Justin Forsett made one Pro Bowl during a nine-year NFL career and now is tackling hygiene. Forsett and college teammates created ShowerPill, a product that acts like a disposable wipe for the body to replace having to shower multiple times a day. Forsett appeared on “Shark Tank,” and although he did not leave with a deal, ShowerPill stirred enough interest to create $15,000 in sales a few hours after the episode aired.
After Mario Lemieux’s Hall of Fame hockey career, the six-time NHL scoring champion became a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Lemieux, who won two Stanley Cups as a player, has delivered three more to the Penguins franchise as owner. Locally, Lemieux also opened the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex and his foundation raises millions for cancer research.
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After retiring from baseball, former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter led an ownership group to purchase the Miami Marlins for $1.2 billion. Jeter also started The Players’ Tribune, a website with personal stories crafted by athletes. The Players’ Tribune launched in 2015 with $58 million in funding, backed by companies like Alphabet.
Percy Miller (better known as Master P) was supposed to star on the University of Houston’s basketball team. Master P eventually played preseason games for the Toronto Raptors, but his slam dunk came in the music industry. Master P founded No Limit records, which he claims sold over 75 million records, and enabled Miller to fund several media ventures outside of music.
Before Lonzo Ball ever played an NBA game, he was making waves in the business world. Ball’s father, LaVar, helped create the Big Baller Brand, of which Lonzo was supposed to be the face, helping to sell expensive basketball shoes. However, Big Baller Brand eventually flamed out, proving that not all young entrepreneurs craft success stories.
As one of the world’s most popular athletes, Lionel Messi should be a magnet for endorsements. Messi, who earned a reported $127 million in 2019 thanks to deals with Adidas, Pepsi, and other brands, has taken his name branding up a notch. Messi works with Audemars Piguet to create luxury watches that regularly sell for $30,000–$60,000.
Oscar De La Hoya collected a gold medal and world boxing championships, then followed his in-ring career with more success as a promoter. Established in 2002, Golden Boy Promotions put on some of the biggest fights over the past two decades. Canelo Alvarez, Manny Pacquiao, and Deontay Wilder are just some champs to have Golden Boy promoted fights.
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Although Michael Jordan hasn’t played in the NBA in almost 20 years, he remains one of the world’s most recognizable and influential athletes. Since 2010, Jordan has been the majority owner of an NBA franchise in Charlotte. Jordan also regularly finds his way into TV commercials, and the Jordan Brand line of athletic wear remains a worldwide force.
Marshawn Lynch returned to the NFL late last season, but the running back known as “Beast Mode” was already making gains off the field. Lynch started Beast Mode Apparel and restaurants as the foundation of a business “empire” according to Ad Age. Lynch’s most savvy business move might be saving most of his NFL salary and living off endorsements.
Marques Colston retired a Super Bowl winner and then sought to score a touchdown in the investment game. Colston is a co-owner of the Main Squeeze Juice Co. and invests in start-ups like Enerskin, which produces compression athletic gear. Colston also owned a piece of the former Philadelphia Soul indoor football team.
A groundbreaking racecar driver, Danica Patrick also knows how to navigate the business world. Patrick helped create Somnium wines, owns a clothing line, and started a podcast. Patrick has numerous endorsements and has been cited as one of the world’s most influential people.
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Drew Brees is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history and is still going, but his success is not confined to the football field. Brees is a best-selling author, noted philanthropist, and owns several restaurant franchises. Brees is also a partner and executive board member of equity firm Franworth, which specializes in health and fitness franchising.
Magic Johnson found success owning movie theaters and even became an owner of the Los Angeles Lakers after winning five NBA titles with the franchise. Johnson has also been an owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Sparks and runs a development company that focuses on multicultural communities.
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Among Cristiano Ronaldo’s current ventures: perfumes, denim, gyms, and underwear. As the first person to reach 200 million followers on Instagram, Ronaldo undoubtedly has mass market influence, and the soccer star has big plans for business after he retires.
You might not expect two NFL athletes to become cupcake honchos, but that’s exactly what Brian Orakpo and Michael Griffin have accomplished. Gigi’s Cupcakes, started by the two former Tennessee Titans, gained national recognition in a Microsoft commercial. As Griffin told ESPN: “It's not just about investing. It's about learning where your money is going. Players' businesses often fail because they're hands-off. They just throw money at stuff. And when it does fail, you don't know why it failed."
Lance Armstrong earned millions in endorsements after winning seven Tour de France titles, but was stripped of the championships and much of his earnings after Armstrong was found guilty of doping. Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation also lost prestige, but he rebounded financially with an early investment in Uber.
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Since 1994, George Foreman has helped sell tens of millions of George Foreman Grills. The Grill is actually the creation of Salton Inc., with Foreman playing the role of celebrity endorser. Regardless of official titles, the Foreman Grill is often considered one of the best sports marketing deals in history.
Carl Banks is beloved in New York for helping the Giants win two Super Bowls. After football, Banks started GIII Sports, which creates officially licensed apparel for the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, and college teams. GIII recently revived the Starter Jacket brand and works with Alyssa Milano’s Touch apparel for women.
As a two-time NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons, Vinnie Johnson was known as “The Microwave.” But after his career, Johnson became known for selling automotive parts. Piston Automotive supplies Ford and GM and grew from a single Detroit facility to a company with locations across the Midwest.
John Elway played his entire career with the Denver Broncos and led the franchise to its first two Super Bowl titles. Later, Elway entered the Broncos front office, and also owns many restaurants and car dealerships, some of which he sold to AutoNation for $82.5 million.
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Kristi Yamaguchi captured the hearts of Americans with her 1992 Olympic gold medal in figure skating. Later, she wanted to outfit them in comfortable athletic wear, starting the Tsu.ya fashion line. The clothing line later closed, but Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation remains committed to promoting child literacy.
Before J. J. Watt became a football star, he was a pizza delivery person. Now, Watt works in conjunction with major corporations like Reliant Energy, but his true power lies in philanthropy. Watt raised over $41 million for Hurricane Harvey relief and has also donated to citizens affected by mass shootings.
LeBron James not only has top-selling sneakers and tons of endorsements; he is a true media mogul who understands the value of equity. James and friend Maverick Carter started production company SpringHill Entertainment before launching Uninterrupted, a media venture with backing by Warner Bros. Some of James’ most notable entertainment successes include “The Shop” on HBO, helping produce a 2 Chainz album, and starting a health and wellness company with Cindy Crawford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Lindsey Vonn.
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