Money Smart Athlete Blog

A good legal advisor can help athletes maximize their value

Jun 21, 2018 | Guest Blogs

A professional athlete’s career is unlike any other profession we know of.  While most of us just see the highlights of our favorite superstars on television, we tend to turn a blind-eye to what goes on behind the scenes.  Most athletes have spent the majority of their formative years training towards reaching the uncertain pinnacle of a professional career—often times and by necessity, at the exclusion of developing other skill-sets more adaptive to the mainstream employment market.  Yet, an overwhelming majority of these athletes—only if they are lucky– enjoy very short professional careers.  The average career of an NFL player is about 3.3 years, 4.8 years for an NBA player, and 8 years for a professional soccer player.  What other career choice offers such brevity and transience in terms of wage earning potential?  This fact, of course, presents unique challenges to those attorneys who attempt to represent the best interest of their professional athlete clients.  It is imperative that legal professionals immediately put their clients in situations to maximize the athlete’s career earnings potential with a view towards planning and preparing the athlete for life after sports.

Very few athletes have the time or expertise to focus on maximizing the value of their brand or protecting the money they have earned.  For that matter, a good number of them fail to realize that their celebrity, name and likeness can be worth money, but can also attract the attention of unscrupulous bad actors. Therefore, a good legal advisor must wear multiple hats.  In other words, treat your athlete client as a business entity—where on one hand, you manage, minimize and respond to risks that can have an adverse impact on the value of the client’s professional brand, while on the other hand, aggressively identify and pursue opportunities or relationships that can lead to additional sources of revenue for the client.

Be a “rainmaker” for the client.

  • Don’t be that monolithic lawyer that sits behind a desk all day reviewing contracts. Venture beyond that—stand out and be different.  Start by understanding and constantly evaluating trends in the client’s specific sport and, furthermore, fairly assess the client’s standing and value within that specific market.


  • Ask yourself, does the client possess any qualities or characteristics that make him/her uniquely valuable to a sponsor? How is the client perceived by the general public?  Is he/she popular, charismatic, eloquent, attractive?  What companies or causes can benefit from the client?  Then go ahead—reach out.  Seek out the proper contact for the client.  Make the introduction.


  • Encourage the client to establish and become very active on social media platforms. Arguably the quickest way to maximize exposure is through social media platforms, including Twitter, Flickr, Instagram and Snapchat (to name a few).  Set up a personalized website—but above all, make sure all social media exposure is positive and in-line with the wholesome image and brand the client should be looking to portray.


Become the client’s security blanket.

As attorneys, our innate instinct is to be risk-averse.  Accordingly, much of what we do involves managing risk exposure, wealth protection, minimizing tax liability, brand/image protection, crisis management and, in its most granular form, protecting our clients from criminal liability.  Some of what we can do to protect our clients include:

  • Identify and protect your client’s intellectual property. Trademark or Copyright the client’s name, likeness and other personal attributes (e.g., Michael Jordan’s “jumpman” pose, Cristiano Ronaldo’s “CR7”, or Michael Buffer’s sound mark “Let’s get ready to rumble”) —then leverage and monetize the client’s registered intellectual property right to grant income-generating licenses to various sponsors.  Guard those rights with obsession.  Any time someone infringes on the client’s intellectual property rights, they are taking money out of their pockets.


  • Protect the client’s wealth and assets. First of all, start by educating the client and impressing on them how fleeting wealth can be.  What’s here one day, can be gone the next day. In other words, live below your means.  As Shaquille O’Neal said, “those who want to become billionaires will save 75% of what they make for retirement.  The remaining 25% can then be used to have fun”.  Consider setting up entities or structures that can shelter the client’s assets.  Asset protection trusts, income protection plans, limited liability companies, deferred income plans, retirement and pension plans and disability insurance are a few to consider.


  • Minimize taxes. Consider where the client calls home.  Choosing the proper domicile can result in significant tax savings.  Living in States like Florida, Texas or Tennessee can make a big difference on the taxes the client pays.  Likewise, deciding whether to allocate professional athlete tax deductions to earned wages vs. earned income from endorsements, appearance fees and residuals can also make a big difference as to taxes imposed.


The final nugget I should mention, always be aware of who the client associates with and offer to be the buffer between the client and friend or family.  In other words, you’ll be Mr./Ms. “No”.  Likewise, make sure you know the remaining members of the athlete’s advisory team.  Stay in constant contact with the accountant, the financial advisor, the business manager and the agent.  Understand the overall plan, act as a go-between, and make sure the athlete steers clear of bad investments.


Spyros Arsenis, Special Counsel at Meister Seelig & Fein LLP, concentrates a portion of his legal practice on the unique specialty area of Sports Law in the U.S. He has represented a number of athletes in various transactional matters, including athlete endorsement agreements, player contracts, license agreements, appearance agreements, among others.

You can contact Mr. Spyros Arsenis at [email protected]

Mitchell Schuster, Partner and Chair of Litigation Department and Sports Law Group at Meister Seelig & Fein LLP, counsels members of the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB in a wide variety of practice areas including crisis management, estate and insurance planning, formation and administering of charitable entities, endorsement and appearance agreements and investment opportunities.

You can contact Mr. Mitchell Schuster at [email protected]