The average professional athlete’s career lasts just a handful of years, leaving an enormous amount of time to fill after their playing days. Even the legends that play into their 40s have decades of life left to live as a non-athlete.
One of the biggest ways an athlete can set themselves up for a successful career after sports is by developing a strong personal brand. The key is to start early and build the brand while they’re still actively playing, when interest in them is at its highest. You don’t have to do it this way (just look at Michael Strahan) but athletes who do this have a leg up when the time comes to hang it up. Here are a few athletes that have nailed it.
Recently, the defensive lineman announced his retirement on Twitter through a video partnership with Kingsford. People thought it was hilarious, and it quickly went viral on social media, earning hundreds of traditional media placements. Early and often throughout his career, Wilfork tweeted about BBQ, made his own grill, shared recipes and did interviews about food. When it was time for him to retire, he already had a new career in mind and a sponsor paying him to do it.
The legendary college football QB was an inspirational quote machine throughout his career, firing up both teammates and fans. Tebow was also never shy about sharing his beliefs privately and publicly. These brand platforms helped him reach new audiences outside of football and attract a wider fanbase. He leveraged that popularity by releasing a book, Shaken, about resiliency and faith in 2016. It became a best-seller.
The Big Unit had a very long baseball career, pitching into his mid-40s. All the while, he was taking photos, putting his photojournalism major to good use. He took it seriously, talked about it in interviews during his career and tried shooting a variety of images away from the baseball diamond. Once he stepped away from the mound, Johnson went even further into photography and now has a photography business.
As these athletes have proven, it’s much easier to start early so you can reap the benefits when it matters. Build credibility and awareness for your personal brand while you have the attention of fans and interest from media. When it’s time to expand beyond the field of play or after an athlete hangs it up, the foundations already built and it’s time to monetize.