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5 Sports Stars Buying Franchises as Their Next Play

Stocks in this article: PNRA JMBA

1. Steve Nash
Liquid Nutrition

NBA All-Star Steve Nash, who has played for the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and was recently traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, has a thing for healthy living. He brought that mindset to his business ventures as well. Nash is an equity partner in Liquid Nutrition Group, a smoothie and supplements chain based in Montreal, and now has committed to opening 20 franchises in British Columbia.

Liquid Nutrition President Glenn Young, a former executive at IMG Media, one of the largest distributors of sports programming, says Nash was an equity partner for several years before the company started franchising in May 2011.

Nash was involved in the company's strategy sessions about franchising. "When we launched the franchise program, he was one of the first of our athletes to take advantage of the early opportunity to acquire territories," Young says.

The first of Nash's stores will open in the next few months, the company says.

The company has nine locations open in Canada but has commitments to open up to 70 more, most in the U.S., and plans for its first store in Abu Dhabi. Liquid Nutrition will have a total of 20 units open by early next year.

Besides Nash, Liquid Nutrition has brought on other sports stars as equity partners and "brand ambassadors," including Tampa Bay Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier, Atlanta Falcon's quarterback Matt Ryan, New York Yankee Russell Martin, LPGA's No. 2 ranked women's golfer, Suzann Pettersen, and Olympic gold-medal snowboarder Torah Bright.

These players are "very active within their sports. They don't have a whole lot of spare time to do build outs. We help them identify local partners to run the day-to-day on their behalf," Young says. "The business itself gets the benefit of having a guy like Matt Ryan in Atlanta put his face on the brand."

"Juice bars and smoothies are growing by leaps and bounds. It's clearly the next emerging category. Our stores have become almost wellness centers for customers. They're not coming in for a dessert. They're coming in because it has a functional benefit, it's a meal replacement, it's a detox, it's high protein," Young says.

Young says for the relatively inexpensive capital investment -- $150,000 for one unit, exclusivity in a market would total 10 units at $1.5 million -- there is a "sizeable net return" on the investment.

For the players, it works because "they're buying into an established system. There is equity in the system already. They don't have to start from scratch. If you can match a pro athlete to a business they have great passion for, then it's a win-win for everybody," Young says.

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