Athletes are heralded in society for the physical gifts they bring to their respective sports. That’s why they are able to command huge paydays, because what they do is in short supply and people will pay to see them do it.
Their unique status doesn’t stop on the field, it continues with the perks and gifts they receive, and their financial situation. Their unique situations make it hard for them to go to a bank like others do for their financial needs. A new industry has emerged to service the athlete and it’s called Athlete Financing.
Leon McKenzie, Founder of Sure Sports Lending, started the company in 2009, to service this special community and help them meet their financial needs and goals.
TheSource.com: What is athlete financing?
McKenzie: Athlete financing is a loose term for lending to an athlete based off of their existing contract.
Is athlete financing different from being a financial adviser?
Absolutely! As an adviser, you should be making continuous recommendations to your client, managing their money, working their budgets; basically meeting all of their personal needs for today as well as planning for their long term future. For athlete financing, we’re essentially their private banker. Generally, a financial adviser, or even sometimes an agent, business manager, sports attorney, or anybody that has some sort of fiduciary stake in their player’s life will approach somebody like me, a private banker, in an effort to put together financing to meet the needs of their player. A financial adviser has these needs and they’ll utilize a bank or banker like myself who specializes in athletes to meet those needs for the player.
Does Sure Sports Lending offer their services to athletes of all sports?
All of the team sports and all of the franchise sports, but certainly the four majors. We don’t get into performance sports like golf, tennis, and boxing, where you don’t have a set performance schedule and you’re paid based on your performance.
The show Ballers starring The Rock has been a huge hit on television. In your experience dealing with athletes and their entourages, how realistic is dealing with athletes and their entourages when you are offering a service like yours?
It’s TV, so I think there’s a lot of exaggeration. I think they take that one percent and make it seem like it’s 99 percent. You’ll hear about some players getting into trouble, but from my experience that makes up a small percentage. I think the breakdown of who’s a knucklehead and who’s got a good head on their shoulders by percentage is the same as the general population.
Athletes are a fickle crowd and have a hard time trusting people. How do you gain their trust to offer them what you have?
I always like to say we speak bank to our banks and speak athlete to our athletes, somewhere in the middle is where we spend a lot of our time building relationships with the people who athletes trust. So we build our relationships with the agents, financial advisers, business managers, sports attorneys, insurance providers, trainers, so the athletes trust us because we’re presented to them by a trusted source. More importantly it’s about operating a reputable company and maintaining good client relationships. We have a great presence in the sports lending industry and try to meet with industry professionals by hosting parties surrounding sporting events such as Senior Bowl, NHL All Star Game, NBA All Star Weekend, NFL Combine, and MLB Spring Training.
Do you listen to Hip Hop? If so, who do you like?
Yes, Jigga is the man. When Reasonable Doubt released in ’96, I called my brother and said, ‘you gotta hear this guy’ but my brother called him a scrub. Fast forward to 2002, my brother and I had the pleasure of meeting Jay-Z at a Sixers game. We told Jay-Z the story and he laughed, pointing out that Reasonable Doubt just went platinum.
Aside from Hip Hop, what’s on your playlist?
Prince is all over my playlist. I have a lot of music would be surprised about, such as Everclear, Stone Temple Pilots, Natalie Merchant, The Doobie Brothers and Stevie Wonder. Of course I have Lil Wayne, Kanye, and some of the more popular artists of today.
ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary Broke shined a spotlight on athletes and their finances. What was your viewpoint on the documentary?
I think it was very sensationalized. It appeared to be a spin-off from the Sports Illustrated piece which said, “by the time they have been retired for two years, 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.” It should be considered that anyone who is unemployed or is going through a divorce is subject to financial stress. Overall, I thought it was informative, but I’m not sure people would be as invested if the story were relating to another profession.
A lot of kids and students want to get into the sports business and the usual paths are being an athlete, being an agent, or being a journalist. Can you talk about the path you took that put you in the sports business?
My undergrad was in finance and then I went to Villanova for my MBA. After college I worked as an analyst for a real estate developer and transitioned to the bank side. In my free time I attended Sixers games, Phillies games, Flyers games, and Giants games. An opportunity presented itself when an NFL athlete contacted me for a $2 million loan. He had a $16.5 million contract so I applied what I had already learned about underwriting loans and lo and behold a business came out of it. I was able to combine two things I love, sports and finance. Find something you love and incorporate your knowledge and skills.