NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For all the glitz and glory associated with being a sports star, the sad fact is that many professional athletes have short shelf lives. And once the last ball is thrown or layup made, endorsements are quick to fizzle. Sports stars have notoriously been known to blow their earnings, either from aggressive agents who advocate investments that promise high returns or from their own extravagant lifestyle spending on cars, cribs (as in homes) and bling. A 2009 Sports Illustrated story highlighted that just two years after retirement, 78% of NFL players "have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce." Further, within five years of retirement, "an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke." Sports associations are looking to guide their players into more stable careers once they retire. And professional athletes are increasingly betting on the franchise industry as a safe place to invest their money. As bank credit remains elusive, the franchise industry is encouraging more players, with large checkbooks at their disposal, to sign on. While they may not take food orders or man the grill, there are a host of former players behind the scene. "It's an untapped market," says Miriam Brewer, the senior director of education and diversity at the International Franchise Association. "Granted, there are growing numbers of athletes already in franchising. If we can reach
players while they're still playing, they come with the financial backing. They're not going to have necessarily go through a bank or try to get an SBA loan. They have the resources to do it." Still, the business of franchising was little known to many stars. Not anymore. Besides working with the NFL Career Transition Program and the NBA to promote franchising, the IFA last year launched an effort with the Professional Athlete Franchise Initiative, or PAFI. The two-year-old organization, founded by former NFL cornerback Michael Stone, considers itself a liaison between franchisor and athlete and an education resource for athletes. "Our goal is to educate athletes about franchising as a potential second career," Stone says. "We like franchising as opposed to pure entrepreneurism because it gives the athletes a little bit of coaching along the way and a support structure," which is similar to that of the sports world. Last October, the IFA and the PAFI created a formal franchise education platform designed to attract prospective franchisors. The athletes who completed the PAFI Franchisee Education Program and became franchise owners would also receive credit toward a Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) designation, which is administered by the IFA Educational Foundation. Still, when it comes to choosing a brand, Stone says it's a personal decision. The PAFI stops short of pairing franchisors with athletes. Athletes tend to choose brands that fit their lifestyle and budget. The PAFI and IFA are now working to promote franchises other than restaurants as well as to other sports professions and women athletes. "Our whole goal is to help athletes manage their expectations to understand what it means to be a franchisee," Stone says. "If you ask any American to name five franchises, four of them will be food. As we get more involved, what we've seen is that athletes have started to realize there is more than food. A lot of times food franchises are the harder franchises to manage." TheStreet, on the following pages, highlights five sports celebrities who have adopted franchising as their next play.