Five years. That's roughly the average length of a professional athlete's career in their respective major sports league. In some cases, that's an overestimation -- the NFL Player's Association pegs the average NFL career at just 3 1/2 years.
We know and care about the players who have successful, long careers, where their faces are planted on fans' walls for years and years to come. Many that play alongside them, though, deal with the less-heralded ending to the story. They've dedicated their lives to sports and after a few short years, find themselves completely removed from its world, trying to figure out what comes next.
There's been a lot written about the plights and financial struggles of athletes after they're out of sports. Many of these guys are young -- late 20's, not even at the peak of their career before they're cut or retired. That competitive edge doesn't just fade away. It can be hard to move on, and even harder to find something to move on with.
With the launch of the U.S. Pro Athlete Enterprises, CEO Carl George thinks he has a viable solution.
The USPA, a sports and marketing business built around ex-athletes from the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB, is an opportunity for now-retired athletes to continue their involvement in the sports world in different, unique ways. Its goal, as George said, is "to extend the careers of professional athletes."
One particular method of doing this is the USPA Extension Basketball League, which is set to launch in the summer of 2014. The league will be home to former NBA players who are one to four years removed from the sport, and will give those players a chance to not only keep doing what they love, but stay connected with fans, the community, and increase their own profile in the process.
The USPA has a relationship with the NBA Players Association as well as the Retired Players Association, George said. There's no direct connection with the NBA. But they have worked with NBA Television on a deal to have their games broadcast in July and August. Players involved in the Extension League will be compensated per appearance, which includes the opportunities for additional marketing and basketball events as well as the games themselves.
An integral part of the USPA is the way that the opportunities are split into all different age levels. In this summer basketball league, for example, the players will be the younger guys just out of the league, but there will also be coaching opportunities for those who have been retired for a bit longer. One notable coach is former Knicks star John Starks, who will be leading the league's New York team next summer.
"I know how hard it is to transition from player to everyday life, " said Starks, who played in the NBA for 14 year. "You've been playing basketball your whole life, you're not thinking about business after the game is done. This was an opportunity for players to be in front of people and gain some valuable knowledge from a business standpoint."
Not only should Starks' presence draw the fans in the New York area, it'll also allow him to get closer to the game and the players again. Starks currently works as alumni relations and fan development advisor with the Knicks front office, so he has been able to successfully navigate the business world after sports, and can pass along some of those lessons.
The league -- which George stresses is a "compatible" league that takes place during the summer as to avoid any conflict whatsoever with the NBA's schedule -- will be broken up into two divisions with eight teams in each division.
They will play 14 games in July and August, seven home and seven away, with a championship tournament in September. The markets are New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco. George says he expects 5,000-6,000 fans at a home game in a city like New York, which will play its games at locations such as St. John's and Rutgers.
The key to that attendance? Besides guys like Starks on the sidelines, George says it's the affordability ($25 per ticket), and the possibilities for a really interactive fan experience. "We'll do a shoot-around with the kids who are under the age of 15 before the game," he says. "We'll host a Players Dinner afterwards with both teams where fans can come and join. There are a lot of opportunities to get more involved."
That involvement doesn't end when the summer league does -- nor does it end with the 16 major cities chosen for teams. The teams will also travel to play exhibition games in cities that don't get the luxury of having an NBA team to root for. Little Rock, Arkansas, will get a chance to interact with former players through various exhibition games as well as charity appearances.
"Of the top 200 markets, 30 cities have NBA teams," George says. "That means there are 170 that don't. In those 170 cities, there are 140 million people. Places like Cincinnati or Louisville, they're all candidates [for these events.]"
Starks' old teammate, Anthony Mason, will be involved as well, although his focus will come on issues off the court. He'll be Vice President of Community, where it will be his job to help find those places where players can make a difference, whether it's hosting clinics or playing basketball in the park with fans.Full Story >>