Top 10 Athletes turned Startup Investors

Uma Patel
VC Content Creator
Top 10 Athletes turned Startup Investors

Sports endorsements have had a long reputation for being the financial lifeline for athletes post-career. Today, based solely on endorsements, Lebron James earns four times what he earned as a professional basketball player. Another avenue for post-career income is through investing in real estate. With athletes frequently traded between teams and rarely staying with their home team, developing expertise in property investment can be a smart strategy. Not to mention, real estate holds a relatively low bar for entry and can be a major source of passive income. Real estate also has a relatively low barrier to entry and can generate significant passive income. However, the rise of tech startups and social media has begun to reshape how athletes handle their finances. As a result, a growing number of professional athletes are taking on a new role: venture capitalist.

Shaquille O’Neal

O’Neal holds stakes in several restaurant franchises including Five Guys, Auntie Anne’s, Papa John’s, and Krispy Kreme. Additionally, he has invested in an estimated 150 car washes and 40 fitness centers. In terms of tech startups, O’Neal famously invested in Google’s Series A round in 1999 before it went public in 2004 at a $100 million valuation. During the same time, O’Neal reportedly invested in another tech giant, Apple Inc. Additionally, he made a $1 million investment in Ring video doorbell which was later bought by Amazon for $1 billion. Another profitable investment was in the ride-sharing app Lyft, which after making an initial investment in 2013, went public in 2019 at a $22 billion valuation.

Net Worth: $400 million

Twitter: @SHAQ

Other Investments:

Serena Williams

Serena Williams is one of the only female GPs that came out of the professional sports world, which is largely due to the gender pay gap within professional sports leagues. Before entering VC, her $55 million contract with Nike was one of the largest endorsement contracts signed by a female athlete. Other profitable endorsements included Gatorade, Beats by Dre, and Pepsi just to name a few. In 2014, Williams founded Serena Ventures after learning that fewer than 2% of all venture capital funding went to women. Today the firm has made close to 60 investments with 53% of those companies founded by women. Additionally, 47% of those companies are led by black founders while 12% are led by Latino founders. Some of the fund's most notable investments include Impossible Foods, Noom, and MasterClass which all have over a billion-dollar valuation.

Net Worth: $250 million

Twitter: @serenawilliams

Other Investments:

Roger Federer

Besides a number of successful brand partnerships with Mercedes and Uniqlo, Federer is most recognized for his investment in the Swiss running shoe and apparel brand, On. The exact amount is undisclosed but some estimate he invested close to $54 million in 2019 while also supporting product development of THE ROGER line. The company went public in 2021 at a valuation of $6.5 billion. Federer is believed to have a 3% stake in On, valued at around $180 million.  Federer also invested in the Chilean food tech startup, NotCo, which achieved unicorn status after it raised $235 million in its Series D round. NotCo has a $1.5 billion valuation.

Net Worth: $550 million

Twitter: @rogerfederer

Mario Götze

Companion-M is a dynamic media and venture firm co-founded by Mario Götze, aimed at empowering early-stage entrepreneurs in technology, SaaS, climate tech, health tech, and web3. With a portfolio of over 40 startups, including ed-tech platform Junto and sports tech startup ScorePlay, Companion-M's investment strategy centers on a deep connection with the founding team and a shared vision for transformative innovation. The ultimate goal is to identify and support startups that can have a positive impact on society, driving the journey toward a better future. Besides startups, Companion-M also invests in funds like World Fund, a Berlin-based climate tech fund.

Net Worth: $50 million

Twitter: @MarioGoetze

Other Investments:

Lebron James

A number of fruitful investments have made Lebron James the second NBA player to reach billionaire status, the other being Michael Jordan. James, invested in Blaze Pizza and owns 19 franchises, his original $1 million investment has now grown to over $25 million. James also held a stake in Beats Electronics before Apple ultimately bought the company for $3 billion. In addition, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lindsey Vonn, Cindy Crawford, and Lebron James founded the health and wellness company Ladder. Other personal endeavors include the production company Springhill Entertainment and the media company Uninterrupted. Not to mention, James invested in the Fenway Sports Group and as a result became part owner of the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool Football Club, and a few other teams.

Net Worth: $1 billion

Twitter: @KingJames

Kevin Durant

Durant founded the sports, media, and entertainment company Thirty Five Ventures (35V) in 2016 along with business partner Rich Kleiman. The fund has made an estimated 40 early-stage investments in areas of information technology, fintech, cryptocurrency, health and wellness, and media sectors. Some of the highlights in his investment track record include Robinhood, in which he invested in 2017 at a $1.2B valuation, and in July of 2021, went public at a $32B valuation. Another was the food delivery app, Postmates which he made a $1M investment in 2016 and was later acquired by Uber in 2020 for $2.6B. Along with the Postmates investment, Durant was part of a marketing campaign delivering Nikes to people who ordered them through Postmates.

Net Worth: $200 million

Twitter: @KDTrey5

Other Investments:

Alex Rodriguez

Rodriguez leads A-Rod Corp which includes a venture arm that has internal and external capital invested in over 30 companies. In addition, Rodriguez co-founded VCP Ventures, which is a partnership with Marc Lore. VCP invests in technology and tech-enabled B2B and B2C companies operating in the sports, media, and entertainment sectors. The firm prides itself on offering the VCP playbook and network to founders to put them on an accelerated growth timeline. One notable early investment by A-Rod Corp was in the social media app, Snapchat, buying shares in 2016 when its parent company was still private. The company went public in 2017 with a $23.6 billion valuation.

Net Worth: $350 million

Twitter: @AROD

Other Investments:

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan was the first player in NBA history to become a billionaire due to a combination of endorsements, sponsorships, corporate partnerships, and investments. Jordan has been in partnership with Nike for 38 years with some estimating the sports star making close to $1.6 billion in total from the deal. Not to mention, the success of The Jordan Brand which hit a $4.8B revenue in 2021. Jordan’s ownership in the Charlotte Hornets after he bought it in 2010 for US$175, is what skyrocketed him to a billionaire when the value of the franchise rose in 2014 with the team now being worth $1.7 billion. In terms of startups, Jordan has reportedly made 11 investments with the most recent being in the NFT marketplace, MetaPlex during its Series A.

Net Worth: $2 billion

Other Investments:

Earvin “Magic” Johnson

Magic Johnson Enterprises was founded in 1987 as an investment conglomerate to provide high-quality products and services toward supporting ethnically diverse and underserved urban communities. Johnson became the first person to reach a franchise agreement with Starbucks in 1998 in which he acquired and eventually sold 125 stores. Another lucrative deal was in sports teams with one being his co-ownership of the LA Dodgers which was purchased for $2 billion. In 2022, Johnson released an NFT Anthology set in collaboration with Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot. The venture fund reportedly has 10 portfolio companies where they invest early stage in areas such as energy, analytics, software, and sports. Johnson also serves on the board of directors for Cameo which allows celebrities to send personalized messages to fans and sports licensing company, Fanatics.

Net Worth: $620 million

Twitter: @MagicJohnson

Other Investments:

Chris Smalling

Smalling co-founded For Good 2021, a venture capital consultancy. The fund offers between £50,000 to £1 million to founders tackling social and environmental issues. A past investment includes Piñatex, a pineapple-leaf textile, by creators Ananas Anam. Since being commercialized in 2016, Piñatex has been used by 500 brands. There has also been a number of investments in food tech including All Plants which offers plant-based meals. In addition, Heüra makes 100% plant-based meat products. Before starting a venture Smalling is said to have entered the investment space through a series of “cold calls” to founders building interesting companies. In fact, Smalling contacted the founders of All Plants and Ananas Anam through a cold email.

Net Worth: $26 million

Twitter: @ChrisSmalling

Other Investments: