These 8 Sports Celebrities Also Played The Franchise Game

lebron james

NBA great LeBron James is one of many sports celebrities who have made money outside of athletics through investment in franchising.

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Folks who buy into franchises and open locations—be they restaurants, car washes, or some other type of service—are immediately confronted with the challenge of getting potential customers to sit up and take notice.

That’s where celebrities have a distinct advantage when they buy into the franchise game: Their name and face recognition, their reputation and brand, can act as a siren that can draw in customers in ways the average franchisee cannot. They can even use their draw as a bargaining chip when negotiating the sale price of franchises they’re thinking of buying.

Sports celebrities carry a unique type of panache to their fame, one developed by success in real time on the playing field, overcoming odds and winning under pressure before vast crowds. That element creates an attractant that can benefit them as franchisees looking to market their franchise investments.

Below are six sports celebrities that have invested in franchises as part of their off-the-field business strategy. 

LeBron James

Everyone who knows anything about basketball knows who LeBron James is and what he is capable of in the sport. Since arriving on the pro scene in 2003 he has had the spotlight focused on him whenever he steps on the court, and he has delivered, winning three NBA championships with two different teams and racking up all-star and numerous stats-based accolades along the way.

He has also been active in the world of franchising. James backed Blaze Pizza brand in as an investor in 2012, and also as a franchisee and paid endorser of the company. He also used his considerable social media clout to promote the brand to his tens of millions of followers. James’s initial investment of $1 million grew quickly to $35 million in value, according to ESPN.

Prior to Blaze, James had endorsed McDonald’s since 2010, earning millions of dollars annually from the deal.

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal will, of course, always be best known for his work on the basketball court as a pro baller for no less than six NBA teams, winning four NBA championships along the way. But off the court O’Neal has incorporated franchising into his portfolio. O’Neal invested heavily in the Five Guys burger franchise, and over the years has owned as many as 155 locations of the chain. He has also owned 17 Auntie Anne’s pretzel shops and one Krispy Kreme location.

O’Neal’s latest foray into franchising is with Papa John’s. The pizza franchise, reeling from low sales and controversy following the ouster of its founder and leader, John Schnatter, may have sought a boost of positivity from O’Neal. The company offered the former sports megastar $8.5 million in cash and stock, and sold him nine locations near Atlanta. O’Neal has agreed to promote the brand through advertising and co-branded products.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Floyd Mayweather would undoubtedly be part of any conversation about the best boxers in the history of the sport, and certainly one about the most financially successful. Recently the former champion has used his fame and brand to launch his own fitness franchise earlier this year: Mayweather Boxing + Fitness.

In mid-July, the company announced it was operating a flagship shop in Los Angeles, with more on the way. The company claims it has signed deals with franchisees to open more than 100 locations in the future.

Drew Brees

In the city of New Orleans, the man who calls the shots in the huddle for the Saints NFL franchise is a legend and hero. And for good reason: Drew Brees holds the record for most passing yards, has joined the elite short list of QBs that have thrown more than 500 touchdowns and led the Saints to victory in the Super Bowl back in February 2010.

But Brees is also going for Ws in the food franchise game.  He has invested in locations of the following chains: Jimmy John’s, Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar, Happy’s Irish Pub and Dunkin’ (Donuts). He has also invested in fitness brand Title Boxing Club. Brees told Fox Business news that the world of franchising “gives people the opportunity to own their own business without having to go through the process of taking some crazy idea that they had and then go through the process of creating a business.”

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson is a giant of golf, having won every major event within the sport except the U.S. Open since he turned pro in 1992. He has ranked in the top 50 every year for the past 25 years.

Mickelson, it turns out, also likes a good burger, and he has backed up that affinity by putting his money down as part of a group of investors in the development of Five Guys hamburger locations in California.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson

When one lists the greatest point guards and clutch players in the history of the NBA, Earvin “Magic” Johnson is one of the first names scribbled down. His “Showtime” era Lakers dazzled in the 1980s, and his duels with the likes of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan are the stuff of legend.

But Johnson has long spent some of his focus on business off the court, and franchising and chain restaurant development has been a big part of that. The franchise most associated with him—aside from the Lakers—is Burger King, and Johnson has owned many Burger King shops over the years. He also convinced Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to allow him to develop and hold an ownership stake in more than 100 of the ubiquitous coffee shops, which he would eventually sell back to the company for an estimated $100 million.

Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez

After 22 seasons in Major league baseball, playing for three teams including the New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez leaves behind an impressive and sometimes controversial legacy, with nearly 700 home runs and more than 2,000 RBI.  

But as all athletes learn, life goes on after a career in professional athletics. For A-Rod, as he is known to many, post-baseball activities include delving into fitness and sports in a different way—with a franchise brand. In 2017, the former slugger invested to become a part-owner and a board member of fitness gym TruFusion, a brand he discovered through his partner, the singer and actress Jennifer Lopez. A-Rod also got a license to open gym locations in south Florida.  

Jamal Mashburn

NBA basketball fans know the name Jamal Mashburn. Over the course of his 12-year career, he played for several teams, averaging nearly 20 points per game and pulling down nearly 3,300 rebounds. But he also has a head for business and has invested in eateries to make money outside of the game. According to a roundup by FranchiseOpportunities.com, Mashburn has owned around 70 restaurants, including 32 Papa John’s Pizza shops and 38 Outback Steakhouse franchises.

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Folks who buy into franchises and open locations—be they restaurants, car washes, or some other type of service—are immediately confronted with the challenge of getting potential customers to sit up and take notice.

That’s where celebrities have a distinct advantage when they buy into the franchise game: Their name and face recognition, their reputation and brand, can act as a siren that can draw in customers in ways the average franchisee cannot. They can even use their draw as a bargaining chip when negotiating the sale price of franchises they’re thinking of buying.

Sports celebrities carry a unique type of panache to their fame, one developed by success in real time on the playing field, overcoming odds and winning under pressure before vast crowds. That element creates an attractant that can benefit them as franchisees looking to market their franchise investments.

Below are six sports celebrities that have invested in franchises as part of their off-the-field business strategy. 

LeBron James

Everyone who knows anything about basketball knows who LeBron James is and what he is capable of in the sport. Since arriving on the pro scene in 2003 he has had the spotlight focused on him whenever he steps on the court, and he has delivered, winning three NBA championships with two different teams and racking up all-star and numerous stats-based accolades along the way.

He has also been active in the world of franchising. James backed Blaze Pizza brand in as an investor in 2012, and also as a franchisee and paid endorser of the company. He also used his considerable social media clout to promote the brand to his tens of millions of followers. James’s initial investment of $1 million grew quickly to $35 million in value, according to ESPN.

Prior to Blaze, James had endorsed McDonald’s since 2010, earning millions of dollars annually from the deal.

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal will, of course, always be best known for his work on the basketball court as a pro baller for no less than six NBA teams, winning four NBA championships along the way. But off the court O’Neal has incorporated franchising into his portfolio. O’Neal invested heavily in the Five Guys burger franchise, and over the years has owned as many as 155 locations of the chain. He has also owned 17 Auntie Anne’s pretzel shops and one Krispy Kreme location.

O’Neal’s latest foray into franchising is with Papa John’s. The pizza franchise, reeling from low sales and controversy following the ouster of its founder and leader, John Schnatter, may have sought a boost of positivity from O’Neal. The company offered the former sports megastar $8.5 million in cash and stock, and sold him nine locations near Atlanta. O’Neal has agreed to promote the brand through advertising and co-branded products.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Floyd Mayweather would undoubtedly be part of any conversation about the best boxers in the history of the sport, and certainly one about the most financially successful. Recently the former champion has used his fame and brand to launch his own fitness franchise earlier this year: Mayweather Boxing + Fitness.

In mid-July, the company announced it was operating a flagship shop in Los Angeles, with more on the way. The company claims it has signed deals with franchisees to open more than 100 locations in the future.

Drew Brees

In the city of New Orleans, the man who calls the shots in the huddle for the Saints NFL franchise is a legend and hero. And for good reason: Drew Brees holds the record for most passing yards, has joined the elite short list of QBs that have thrown more than 500 touchdowns and led the Saints to victory in the Super Bowl back in February 2010.

But Brees is also going for Ws in the food franchise game.  He has invested in locations of the following chains: Jimmy John’s, Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar, Happy’s Irish Pub and Dunkin’ (Donuts). He has also invested in fitness brand Title Boxing Club. Brees told Fox Business news that the world of franchising “gives people the opportunity to own their own business without having to go through the process of taking some crazy idea that they had and then go through the process of creating a business.”

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson is a giant of golf, having won every major event within the sport except the U.S. Open since he turned pro in 1992. He has ranked in the top 50 every year for the past 25 years.

Mickelson, it turns out, also likes a good burger, and he has backed up that affinity by putting his money down as part of a group of investors in the development of Five Guys hamburger locations in California.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson

When one lists the greatest point guards and clutch players in the history of the NBA, Earvin “Magic” Johnson is one of the first names scribbled down. His “Showtime” era Lakers dazzled in the 1980s, and his duels with the likes of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan are the stuff of legend.

But Johnson has long spent some of his focus on business off the court, and franchising and chain restaurant development has been a big part of that. The franchise most associated with him—aside from the Lakers—is Burger King, and Johnson has owned many Burger King shops over the years. He also convinced Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to allow him to develop and hold an ownership stake in more than 100 of the ubiquitous coffee shops, which he would eventually sell back to the company for an estimated $100 million.

Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez

After 22 seasons in Major league baseball, playing for three teams including the New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez leaves behind an impressive and sometimes controversial legacy, with nearly 700 home runs and more than 2,000 RBI.  

But as all athletes learn, life goes on after a career in professional athletics. For A-Rod, as he is known to many, post-baseball activities include delving into fitness and sports in a different way—with a franchise brand. In 2017, the former slugger invested to become a part-owner and a board member of fitness gym TruFusion, a brand he discovered through his partner, the singer and actress Jennifer Lopez. A-Rod also got a license to open gym locations in south Florida.  

Jamal Mashburn

NBA basketball fans know the name Jamal Mashburn. Over the course of his 12-year career, he played for several teams, averaging nearly 20 points per game and pulling down nearly 3,300 rebounds. But he also has a head for business and has invested in eateries to make money outside of the game. According to a roundup by FranchiseOpportunities.com, Mashburn has owned around 70 restaurants, including 32 Papa John’s Pizza shops and 38 Outback Steakhouse franchises.

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I am a New York City-based journalist and staff writer for Forbes Magazine and Forbes.com covering entrepreneurship and franchising. I'm interested in how individuals in...