Even in a city as populous as New York, it’s an unusual scene. More than a dozen pro-football players clad in neon yellow construction vests and hard hats traipsing around one of the biggest construction sites in the world, taking notes as contractors talk about steel and drywall.
The players: 16 Miami Dolphins, or nearly a third of the NFL team. The site: Midtown Manhattan’s Hudson Yards, the $25 billion development team owner and real estate maven Stephen Ross’ Related Companies is building. The goal: teach players more about business and investing so they are better positioned to win off the field, when they retire from football.
“I’m really interested in real estate building,” said Ryan Tannehill, quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, from the 24th floor of an under-construction high-rise that will eventually house tenants like Neiman Marcus. “We’ve been talking about investing in companies, growth, and the process of vetting people before the investment process. No other owners are giving their guys the opportunity to do something like this.”
The tour is one part of a week-long business combine that Dolphins owner Ross arranged for players this week, on the heels of a 10-6 winning season that saw the Dolphins in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Planning began in September after a much smaller version involved six players last year. Attendance is optional, dress code business attire.
To participate, players paid thousands of dollars out of pocket to partake in a jam-packed itinerary of more than a dozen events spearheaded by entrepreneurs in real estate, tech, hospitality and leisure, and retail. Among the names: Warby Parker Co-CEO Dave Gilboa, Equinox CEO Harvey Spevak, Related President Bruce Beal, LRMR Management’s Maverick Carter, and 76ers and Devils owner Michael Rubin. Players have been sitting in on meetings, touring facilities, and being encouraged to ask questions.
“It’s been beyond worth it having the opportunity to sit down with so many business minds and be a sponge and take that wisdom and implement it into your own life,” said Cameron Wake, Defensive End for the Dolphins.
“As an owner, I have the responsibility to develop them as great football players, to prolong their careers, but also it’s a responsibility to makes sure they are developed when their careers are over,” Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross told CNBC’s Power Lunch. “It’s great for the team, it’s great for the organization.
The National Football League says the combine is a first. The NFL’s player engagement department runs business boot camps with Stanford, Northwestern, Penn State and Harvard – but this format in which a team hosts a stand-alone summit is, at least for now, unique to the Dolphins.
“I know from my business career, the better you treat people, the better the organization you have and you attract the best. That’s all part of it and everyone wins in a situation like that,” said Ross.
High bankruptcy rates
The average NFL career lasts a mere 6 years, according to the league. And as is the case with other pro athletes, despite hefty multi-million dollar contracts, many find themselves broke within years of retirement. One study, conducted by the Department of Labor Services, estimates a bankruptcy rate among NFL players of between 15 and 40 percent after retirement.
Ross leveraged his own success in drafting the program. The self-made billionaire’s empire consists of a massive real estate portfolio developed by Related Companies, ownership through Related of Equinox Fitness, and venture capital firm RSE Ventures, which has invested in everything from drone racing to restaurant brand Momofuku. Leaders from all of those businesses have been on tap.
“To be able to shadow these business millionaires and billionaires is an amazing opportunity,” said Jelani Jenkins, Dolphins linebacker. “When I saw the All-Star guest speakers we had, I was eager to learn from them, take notes … absorb as much as I can.”
For the executives, it’s also a win. “I do think it’s a great way of giving back, but I also think as a brand with fitness at its core, we speak a common language and I think a lot of these athletes would be great employers for Equinox,” said Harvey Spevak, CEO of Equinox, from the fitness company’s Manhattan headquarters. “People who are naturally experienced playing on a team are going to make for pro employees.”
Dolphins long snapper John Denney said he could potentially be interested in Equinox and what they are doing with their Blink franchise. “It’s all about who you know in this world. This is a great opportunity to meet a lot of people who can help in the future,” he said, standing in front of machinery inside an Equinox club.
For others, it’s about mentorship, and helping educate the players about their industry. “They’ve been asking amazing questions. One of the players was asking me the difference between building with steel and concrete,” said Bruce Beal, president of Related Companies, from Hudson Yards. Beal has first right of purchase of the Dolphins when Ross is ready to step away.
While the Dolphins are currently the only team involved, half-way through the week the players were already voicing hopes that others in the league will one day get similar opportunities. “I hope to see this grow through the league and give more guys the opportunity to experience things like this. Football can only take you so far – you really have to have a plan after that,” he said.