You will probably never be a professional athlete or own your own sports team, but you might soon be able to own a piece of player by buying shares in their "brand." A new company is attempting to set up a sort of stock market for big league athletes, where investors provide upfront payments in exchange for a percentage of that athlete's future earnings.
The first big name to participate will Arian Foster, of the NFL's Houston Texans. The company behind the offering, Fantex, says they are preparing to sell $10.5 million worth of stock in Foster, of which he pockets a cool $10 million. (The rest goes to Fantex to cover their end of the deal.) Those who buy the stock will collectively share in 20 percent of Foster's future earnings, including contracts and endorsements. They can also buy and sell the stock on a special exchange that Fantex will also operate.
This is not the first venture of its kind that attempts to turn an entertainer into a corporation. In the 1990s, David Bowie set up a similar market to allow folks to invest in the future royalties of his albums. But not only was Bowie offering up a more tangible asset (his music) the value of a rock star with a deep catalog and an established track record is a little easier to guess at. An athlete's career — particularly a football player — can end at almost any moment.
That's one reason why the stock deal could appeal to the athletes as a sort of insurance policy. If Foster gets hurt or sees a big drop in performance, he already got some money up front. (Again, this especially important in the NFL, where contracts are almost never guaranteed.) There's always the risk that he's giving up future dollars or that he blows that original lump sum, but with shrewd financial management he could give away the 20 percent and still come out ahead in the long run.
For the investors though, it's a much riskier proposition. They can buy and sell the stock, but unlike a corporation, they do have not voting rights in Foster's career. They're relying on other companies — NFL teams and sponsors — to supply his income. He can turn down lucrative deals, or get misused by a bad coach, or retire at any time. There's no buybacks, or hostile takeovers, or mergers that could send your stock soaring to unforeseen heights. And when his career ends, so does the cash pipeline, whether you got your investment back or not. Even the Fantex marketing materials concede: "Investing in a Fantex Inc. tracking stock should only be considered by persons who can afford the loss of their entire investment." (Update: Reuters' Felix Salmon dug into the technical details of the Fantex model and discovered it's an even worse investment vehicle than it originally sounds.)
That probably won't stop die hard sports fans with disposable income from taking a chance on playing the game though. For them, this will be like fantasy sports with real money — although the money is almost beside the point. Predicting winners and losers is the most fun part. Just like Green Bay Packer fans who pay $250 for a worthless piece of paper that says they "own" America's only public sports franchise, they're just happy to be on the team.