Superstars in the four major sports tend to make a fortune. If you’re one of the best of the best, you should be set for life. However, many athletes haven’t stopped there, and in fact they have made their real fortunes after their careers have ended. Stars and role players alike have found financial success in businesses connected to their playing careers as well as ones that have nothing to do with sports at all. Let’s take a look at the athletes who struck it rich in the business world after their playing days were over.
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If you’re of a certain age, you know Foreman more as one of the most fearsome heavyweight champions of all time, a man who utterly destroyed fellow great Joe Frazier, before being outfoxed and outboxed by Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle.” If you’re of a certain, younger age, you probably think of Foreman as, “the grill guy.” Foreman partnered with Salton Inc. in the 1990s to market its electric grill, and the George Foreman Lean, Mean, Fat Reducing Grilling Machine was a runaway success. As of 2009, over 100 million grills had been sold, and Salton paid Foreman $138 million for the right to use his name. Couple that with the percentage Foreman took for every grill sold, and estimates suggest that he made over $200 million in the deal.
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Horton might be the quintessential athlete whose bank account got fatter from his business ventures than it ever did from his athletic exploits. Horton played 24 seasons for the Maple Leafs, Rangers, Penguins and Sabres, but his name is most closely associated with his chain of doughnut and coffee shops. The first store, called Tim Horton Donuts, opened in Hamilton, Ontario in 1964. The business was worth millions by 1968. Horton died in a car accident in 1974, and at the time there were 40 stores. As of 2018, there were 4,846 Tim Horton stores in over a dozen countries — and counting.
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Bouton’s “Ball Four” is celebrated as one of the greatest and most groundbreaking sports books ever written, as it pulled back the curtain and showed fans what professional sports was really like. The book functionally ended Bouton’s professional career, as he was shunned from the game and became a pariah among players and coaches throughout the sport. It might have been the best thing to happen to him, at least financially. The book was a smashing success, and he wrote a sequel, titled “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally,” as well as an updated version of “Ball Four” titled “Ball Five.” After his first stint in the majors, Bouton did some broadcasting work as a sports anchor in New York City. Bouton attempted a brief comeback in 1978, but after that fizzled he stayed busy, helping to invent “Big League Chew,” a shredded bubble gum that was a staple of dugouts at all levels almost immediately.
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Johnson’s NBA career ended after he announced he was HIV-positive in 1991, but as great as his NBA career was, his successes away from the court are nearly a match. Johnson’s business ventures include forays into broadcasting, music, film and finance. His Magic Johnson Enterprises conglomerate has a net worth well in excess of half a billion dollars, and Johnson also is part of the Dodgers’ ownership group. Johnson’s holdings also include real estate and an insurance company, as well as other professional sports teams. He also purchased over 100 Starbucks stores after appealing directly to CEO Howard Schultz. Johnson was a Hall of Famer on the court, but what he’s done off it might just be more impressive.
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We could probably start and stop the discussion of how Shaq grew his wealth with the fact that he made investments in companies like General Electric, Apple and PepsiCo, as well as Google. That’s not a bad start to a wealth-building strategy, and it is one that O’Neal enacted early in his playing days. While he’s still very visible thanks to his role on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” O’Neal’s diverse business ventures keep him busy away from the court. He is involved in real estate, eSports and the fast food industry, with ties to Krispy Kreme, Papa John’s and for a long time, Five Guys restaurants. Despite his reputation as a laid-back wisecracker on TNT, O’Neal’s extensive forays into business prove that he’s serious when it comes to building wealth.
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Elway is arguably the most famous athlete in Denver history, and while he’s currently Denver’s general manager, his business exploits away from football have been lucrative and numerous. Elway has four eponymous steakhouses in the Denver area, but his biggest moneymaker away from football was in the automotive industry. Elway owned five car dealerships in the Denver area and sold them in 1997 for $82.5 million. He still owns multiple dealerships across multiple states and was also co-owner of the Colorado Crush of the Arena Football League from 2002-2008.
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Staubach was realistic about his finances while he was quarterbacking the Dallas Cowboys. Realizing that he would need a source of income after his playing days were through, he got into commercial real estate and proved to be a natural businessman. His real estate firm, The Staubach Company, worked with several major companies and also dabbled in residential development. The Staubach Company was purchased by Jones Lang LaSalle in 2008 for a price of $613 million. Staubach is currently the executive chairman of Jones Lang LaSalle and is unquestionably one of the most successful athletes in the business world, particularly in light of the fact that his achievements have no real connection to sports.
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The Georgia, USFL and NFL star had a chance discussion about chicken recipes with a SYSCO executive, and the experience spurred him to found his own company, Renaissance Man Foods, in 2002. Walker’s company works in both the retail and food service industries, selling a variety of chicken products as well as breakfast sausages, waffles and other baked goods. Renaissance Man Foods has received numerous awards from its partner companies for performance as well as diversity and inclusion and is a certified minority-owned-and-operated business. Given the success of his business, it’s impressive that Walker has had time to dip his toe into the waters of MMA, all while in his mid-50s.
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Johnson has one of the best nicknames in sports history — The Microwave — and after his career was over, he heated up the business world just like he did countless arenas. In 1995, Johnson founded Piston Group, an automotive supplier, and after a bumpy start, soon found his stride and became a leading supplier for major automobile companies. Piston Group counts Detroit’s Big Three, as well as Nissan, Honda and Toyota. Piston Group does nearly $3 billion in annual revenue, and Johnson’s net worth is estimated at $400 million. Compare that to the $5 million he made over the course of his NBA career, and it’s clear that as accomplished as his career was on the court, it doesn’t measure up to what he’s done away from it.
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Brown retired at the height of his powers, seemingly with several more good seasons ahead of him. He did so to pursue an acting career, and that proved to be a wise choice. Brown was a fixture in dozens of films spanning multiple decades, and he also dabbled in broadcasting. Like so many other former athletes, Brown also made a significant amount of money in the real estate business, avoiding some of the pitfalls that cost other athletes millions. While it might seem crazy now to imagine an athlete stepping away from sports while at their peak to pursue other interests, Brown doubtless made more money as an actor than he would have had he continued to play football for several more seasons.
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The King’s 62 PGA Tour wins are fifth all time, but he was second to none when it came to creating a business empire away from the course. Palmer’s business interests were so diverse, it’s probably best to just list them all because a detailed accounting would fill a short book. Palmer earned $875 million ($1.3 billion, adjusted for inflation) on the following: endorsements for Cadillac, Hertz, Pennzoil, Rolex. A naming rights agreement with AriZona Beverage Co. for his signature half-lemonade, half-iced tea drink, Arnold Palmer-branded footwear stores in Asia, golf course design, ownership of Bay Hill Golf Course and a founding stake in the Golf Channel. In terms of sheer marketability relative to his era, and staying power as a brand unto himself, Palmer might be without equal despite having passed away in 2016. Walk into just about any bar or restaurant right now and order an “Arnold Palmer,” and you won’t get a single odd look.
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What hasn’t Manning gotten into, businesswise? He was a Papa John’s franchisee starting in 2012, his Nationwide commercials with Brad Paisley are ubiquitous these days, and he’s had several endorsement partnerships with brands like Nike, Buick and DirecTV. Manning would have his pick of jobs were he to enter the broadcasting realm full tilt, but it’s likely that said work would not pay him as well as his current investments and endeavors have. Manning’s charisma, comedic timing and ability to poke fun at himself have made him one of the most marketable athletes in recent memory, and the fact that he has remained a high-profile pitchman years after his playing career ended suggests that he’ll be a force in the business world for years to come.
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Strahan was a Hall of Famer on the field, setting the single-season sack record in 2001. After his career ended in 2007, Strahan put his personality to work and entered broadcasting, but it wasn’t the usual path to the analyst’s chair. Instead, he tried out daytime talk and found his niche, co-hosting “Live! with Kelly and Michael” from 2012-2016 alongside Kelly Ripa, and then moving over to “Good Morning America” in 2016. Strahan is still very sports-focused, however, as he’s currently an analyst for “Fox NFL Sunday.” Strahan is reported to make in excess of $15 million per year from his television work. Not bad for a guy whose only comparable NFL payday came in 2002-2003.
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The Golden Bear founded Nicklaus Companies, and the golf course design wing of the business yielded more than 400 courses around the world. But that isn’t all that the company does. It also has plenty of products branded with Nicklaus’ name, including golf balls, restaurants, ice cream, wine, shoes and golf apparel. The company also bought Golf Magazine. Nicklaus might not have the kind of diversified business portfolio that Palmer did, but what he did do was plenty lucrative in his own right, and he can fall back on the fact that he has Palmer beat in both tournaments won (73-62) and major championships (18-7).
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Bridgeman’s NBA career lasted just over a decade in the 1970s and ’80s, and he was an effective sixth man, averaging 13.6 points per game for his career. But it was in the business world where he really shined. He invested in the Wendy’s fast food franchise and owned several hundred Wendy’s and Chili’s franchise locations. Bridgeman sold all of his franchise locations in 2016, with the intent of becoming a bottler for Coca-Cola. That venture worked out to the degree that last year, Bridgeman announced that he would be expanding his bottling operations to Canada. Forbes estimated his yearly income at just over $30 million, which is a massive step up for a man whose best salary in the NBA was $350,000 for a season.
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Beckham’s biggest-earning years have come after he stepped away from the pitch. His company, Beckham Brand Holdings, was founded in 2014 and has interests in a variety of fields, including fashion, e-commerce, television production and real estate. Along with his wife, Victoria, Beckham has become a name brand not only in the world soccer community but also in the business world, and like many former athletes whose post-playing career has been lucrative, he also jumped into the world of team ownership, with his MLS franchise, Inter Miami CF, having begun play this year. David and Victoria Beckham’s combined net worth was estimated earlier this year to have hit $1 billion.
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Olajuwon’s net worth was recently estimated at $200 million, much of it stemming from his takeover of Houston real estate. Olajuwon has been involved in the field for decades, and his strategy has been to buy fully developed property and let it appreciate further. That isn’t necessarily the path to quick riches, but it has worked for The Dream. His game on the court was praised for its fluidity and grace, and if there is one quality that seems to have been most crucial to his success in business, it is his keen sense of timing. Back in 2006, Olajuwon had already made as much in 10 years of real estate investing as he did in 17 years as a player.
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Madden made his name as a coach, but he deserves recognition here simply because EA Sports’ Madden series has become a cultural touchstone. Its release is eagerly anticipated every year, and current players grousing about their ratings being too low has become an annual rite of summer. Madden’s decision to attach his name to the game brings him a few million dollars annually, and coupled with the income he made from a wildly successful broadcasting career, it has inflated his net worth in excess of $200 million. There is no question that, to this day, his name is one of the most recognizable across the NFL landscape.
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One of baseball’s most legendary pitchers, and the author of the longest career — 27 seasons — in modern baseball history, Ryan retired with a seemingly unbreakable career strikeout record and a reputation as one of the best power pitchers in history. He didn’t rest on his laurels after his career was over, however, as he appeared in commercials for Advil, was principal owner of a bank and owned a restaurant. Ryan is also the co-author of six books and served as both the CEO of the Texas Rangers and as an executive adviser for the Astros starting in 2014.
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No list of athletes who have made it big away from their chosen sport would be complete without His Airness, whose endorsement deals alone were enough to build a massive fortune. His Jordan Brand earns billions for Nike annually, he is co-owner of an automotive group that bears his name, has restaurant interests, and his fortune is valued at $1.9 billion. Jordan has co-written several books, and besides his relationship with Nike, he also made millions from endorsement deals with McDonald’s, Gatorade and Hanes, among others and is currently the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan is the highest-paid athlete of all time.
Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan, Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.