First, there was old-fashioned gambling on football. Then came the fantasy leagues. And now, thanks to Wall Street, fans can buy a stake in their favorite player.
On Thursday, a San Francisco startup announced a new trading exchange for investors to buy and sell interests in professional athletes. Backed by executives from Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the sports world, the company plans to create stocks tied to an athlete’s financial performance.
After considering a number of possibilities for its inaugural initial public offering (IPO), the company found a charismatic candidate in Arian Foster, the Pro Bowl running back from the Houston Texans.
Investors in the deal will receive stock linked to Foster’s future earnings, which include the value of his playing contracts, corporate endorsements, appearance fees and broadcasting jobs that he gets after his playing career is over. It doesn’t include money Foster would make if he were to pursue a career unrelated to football.
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The company, Fantex Holdings, has ambitions beyond a Foster IPO; it hopes to sign more football players and other athletes, as well as celebrities such as pop singers and Hollywood actors.
If such an investment sounds speculative, that is because it is. In a filing for the Foster deal with securities regulators, Fantex laid out 37 pages of risk factors, including a possible career-ending injury or a performance slump.
“You are potentially one hit away from losing your money,” said Bradley Shear, a sports-management professor at George Washington University. “On any given Sunday, anything can happen to any player.”
Risks aside, the offering is intended to capitalize on the mammoth popularity of the National Football League and fantasy football, where fans draft players and score points for touchdowns, yardage and other notable plays during the season.
If thousands of fans are willing to pay as much as $250 for an Arian Foster jersey, the thinking goes, why wouldn’t they pay up for a few shares of Arian Foster stock?
Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL, declined to comment on the deal.
A market of star athletes calls to mind other unusual investments tied to entertainers. In the late 1990s, a financier created Bowie Bonds, a small bond issue that paid interest from the current and future revenue of 25 albums by the rock musician David Bowie.
Fantex will market the IPO in the coming weeks, offering 1.06 million shares at $10 a share, or $10.6 million worth of stock. If demand is insufficient, the company may cancel the deal.
As for Foster, he will receive a $10 million payment from Fantex upon consummation of the offering. (The balance of the IPO covers the deal’s costs.) In exchange for the payment, Foster has promised to pay Fantex 20 percent of his future earnings.
Shares will trade exclusively on an exchange operated by Fantex. The tracking stock will increase in value if Foster raises his earnings potential with standout play or increased sponsorships. Then, the investor can try to sell his shares at a higher price. Fantex will make a 1 percent commission on the trades.
Buck French is the company’s co-founder and chief executive. The graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and Harvard Business School made a fortune when, in 2000, he sold OnLink, a software company he founded, to Siebel Systems for about $600 million. One of his Fantex co-founders, David Beirne, was a general partner at Benchmark Capital, the venture-capital firm that was one of eBay’s earliest investors.
French said Beirne conceived of the Fantex concept more than a decade ago when working on a sports-related venture with John Elway, the former Denver Broncos quarterback, who is on the Fantex board.
Fantex’s president is John Rodin, co-president of the hedge fund Glenview Capital Management and a Goldman Sachs alumnus. Its chief technology officer is Joshua Levine, a former senior executive at E-Trade and Deutsche Bank.
Foster, 27, a five-year veteran from the University of Tennessee, has led all running backs in rushing touchdowns two of the last three seasons, while racking up more than 1,000 yards each year. In March 2012, Houston signed Foster to a contract worth up to $43.5 million over five years. He has a handful of endorsement contracts, including with Under Armour and Kroger Texas.
This season, Foster’s production has flagged. He has just one rushing touchdown. Heading into the year, there was concern over various injuries. He also has been plagued by an irregular heartbeat since he was 12, according to the IPO filing.
Those issues underscore the risk of betting on Foster’s brand, or that of any professional athletes.
Despite the risks, some football fans appear poised to buy in. As one tweeted on Thursday after reading the news: “Wow. This is awesome.”
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.