Risk is fundamental to the world of sports. Athletes risk injury and, in some cases, death for fame and riches. Coaches expose family members to media scrutiny and fan antagonism. Front office personnel work on short-term contracts, moving like nomads across the country to stay in the business. And team owners invest billions with the hopes of franchise success and financial glory. But, for fans, the risk remains minimal.
Fans sink time, emotion and disposable income into sports, buying tickets and gear, placing bets, watching games and overanalyzing team decisions. But, in the grand scheme of the sports industry, our risk is a pittance. Pennies not dollars. Nickel slots not high stakes poker. Sometimes that’s not enough. Crave more skin in the game? Meet Fantex.
You’ve likely never heard of Fantex. But the company’s offering is intriguing and it deserves some attention. The brokerage services firm provides fans the opportunity to invest in the athletes we root for. As children we bought and sold football, baseball and basketball cards. Now we can buy stock in a sleeper running back or sell high on a point guard that has peaked. While Fantex’s vision presents images of hundreds of athletes’ names on marketplace buy-sell boards, it remains a blurry dream.
In reality, Fantex is still testing the market, fine-tuning its offering to the public and growing its client base. Star 49ers tight end Vernon Davis and Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery are among just a handful of professional athletes Fantex has secured deals with. And the asterisk at the end of its tagline—Invest in the Lifetime Earnings of Pro Athletes*—confirms the dollars you invest aren’t exactly in an athlete.
“… holders of shares of a Fantex, Inc. tracking stock will have no direct investment in that brand contract, associated brand or athlete. Rather, an investment in a tracking stock will represent an ownership interest in Fantex…”
So the 150 shares of EJ Manuel you invested—oops on you—is truly an investment in Fantex, Inc. Follow me for a minute. Fantex has a deal with athletes and you have a deal with Fantex. So my investment in Jay Cutler is purely in the time I spend watching him implode on Sunday afternoons. Fantex, meanwhile, banks on the athletes they sign to keep making money. A March 2015 Fortune article explains it well: “when Fantex signs a new professional athlete, it sets an amount that it will pay him—a one-time fee—in exchange for the athlete giving Fantex a set percentage of all his future earnings, on and off the field…” Vernon Davis received $4 million from Fantex while Alshon Jeffery got nearly $8 million. Did Fantex write those checks from their own stash of cash? No chance.
Once a one-time athlete fee is established, the athlete’s payment is raised via an IPO of said player. The brokerage services firm raised $4 million from an IPO of Vernon Davis. They sold enough shares of the company to pay Davis the $4 million fee in exchange for a small percentage of his future earnings. It’s a quick payday, and some media exposure, for athletes that sign up. And investors, also known as fans, make money by selling back stock when prices are high as well as collecting on dividends, which can be paid as often as quarterly. The troubles with that are, at a minimum, twofold: share prices are fairly stable reducing the likelihood for substantial gains and Fantex readily admits that it “has not paid dividends on a consistent basis for any of its tracking stocks.” And these are just the basic rules, the more nuanced ones are captured in footnotes and fine print littered throughout the company’s website. For a sports fan like me it’s just too messy.
The theory behind Fantex is great—invest in the athletes you love and win when they win—but the “athlete marketplace” isn’t ready quite yet. The investment is too complicated and, for the financially adept, it’s the wrong balance of risk-reward. And the stable of athletes isn’t sexy enough yet to attract a high volume of investors. Fantex might become a hit, eventually. But, for now at least, it’s an early stage concept that warrants watching.