Targeting a certain demographic group isn’t new to the franchising sector. For several years, military veterans have been sought out by franchisors who feel that their previous experiences prepare them nicely for franchise ownership.
In a similar fashion, the life of a professional athlete also appears to be a background that offers very suitable preparation for becoming a franchisee. Being a professional athlete involves an extended demonstration of teamwork, leadership and self-discipline – all assets that help franchisees. As International Franchise Association president and CEO Steve Caldeira puts it, “Professional athletes are strong leaders in the ultra-competitive sports arena, so they inherently understand the importance of working as a team and as part of a system to achieve success.”
The link between former athletes and franchising is further bolstered by the fact that traditionally a professional athlete’s career can be short – the average length of a pro athlete’s career is typically under 10 years (e.g. in the National Football League – NFL, it’s estimated at six), and many don’t get paid the lucrative contracts that the media is obsessed with.
“Today’s professional athletes realize they need to think about what to do for a second career. Eighty-five or 90% are making a few hundred thousand dollars a year and they can’t play very long,” Michael Stone, a former NFL football player, said in an interview with the OC Register. This means most athletes will need to find work after they retire from athletics – and owning a franchise, or multiple franchises, is a becoming a popular option.
Even the playbook of a sports team is adaptable to the business franchise world. In the October 2011 issue of Franchising World, former National Hockey League (NHL) player and current president of Mr. Handyman International, Alex Roberts outlined in an editorial piece some of the ways in which running a successful franchise is similar to running a successful sports team. Here are some of those common principles:
- Positive attitudes are contagious within a team.
- Every team member must be held accountable.
- Leaders should build relationships with every member of the team.
- Maintain discipline in your organization and lead by example.
- Know your competitors.
- Winning teams have a playbook. 
To facilitate the linking former pro athletes and franchises, enter the Professional Athlete Franchise Initiative (PAFI). Introduced by Stone’s Coliseum Enterprises in the summer of 2010, the mission of the PAFI is to “advocate the value of the franchise industry to the professional athlete community while at the same time advocate the value of the athlete community to the franchising industry.”
And it didn’t take long for high-ranking decision makers in franchising to take advantage of the burgeoning talent pool spotlighted by the initiative. By the end of 2010, representatives of both the IFA and the PAFI struck a deal to “provide training and guidance for former pro athletes who are interested in owning and running a franchise or investing in them as a group.”
The collaboration between the IFA and the PAFI will hopefully create work opportunities, not only for former athletes who are seeking a second career, but also a large amount of people simply looking for work.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at a number of former pro athletes that have successfully transferred their talents from the playing field to the franchise boardroom.