Hockey player on the ice.

January 27, 2020

How Pro Hockey Players Can Build and Protect Wealth On and Off the Ice

There is no "typical career" for NHL players, according to a study commissioned by RBC Wealth Management, together with The International Institute for Sport Business & Leadership at the University of Guelph, Ont.

The study, based on an examination of more than 11,000 NHL players, predicts only 42 percent of drafted players in the 2019-2020 NHL season will play a single game. And while players have the potential to earn between roughly $1.6 million to $8.6 million in an entry-level contract, 36 percent will earn a lifetime salary of $7.6 million.

The study says players drafted in Round 1 achieve the highest lifetime earnings, but there's little variance among players drafted in Rounds two to five. Players who enter the NHL as free agents can also command sizeable lifetime earnings.

There are several stories about professional athletes who make millions of dollars in their careers, in both salary and sponsorship deals, but lose most or all of it due to poor financial decisions.

In some cases, players are drafted with great potential but wind up benched either due to injuries or the intense competition for ice time, which can significantly curtail their earning power.

For the healthy, top-draft picks that play regularly, patience is required before collecting those multi-million-dollar paychecks.

"It takes a few years before you're getting professional dollars on the salary part of the contract," said Bob McKee, managing director of RBC Sports Professionals.

It's why McKee believes financial planning is critical for athletes once they turn professional, and should continue throughout their careers both on and off the ice, as they prepare for whatever happens.

"Players should start thinking long term, and get on the right path from the beginning," McKee said.

Getting Financially Fit

Sports is one of a few industries where professionals make most of their money early in their career, which means more pressure to manage it in a way that ensures it lasts a long time, maybe even a lifetime.

It's why professional athletes are urged to develop the same discipline with their finances as they do in their sport — and the earlier the better. Financial skills athletes pick up early in their career can help set them up for a successful future, regardless of how far their athletic career goes, McKee said.

For some, a signing bonus or contract payment could be their first real paycheck. While the dollar figure may be high, especially as their performance and experience improve, so too are the expenses, such as taxes and fees for a wide range of professional services, required to help them manage both daily activities and overall wealth.

"What many young players may not realize at first is that, if they earn $1 million for example, it isn't going straight into their pockets," said McKee.

He said players also should plan for the inevitable, which is the short-term nature of the profession. "With hockey, you can't plan your future in the same way you might be able to as a doctor or a teacher or a banker," McKee said.

Building a Team of Professionals

Most hockey players thrive thanks to a team of people, including fellow players, coaches and trainers that help them boost their athletic performance. When it comes to finances, players should consider a team of legal and financial advisors to build and protect their wealth.

"The more confident players are that their finances, tax and legal matters are in order, that's one less distraction they'll have when they're out on the ice playing," says McKee.

It starts with becoming financially literate, which helps players make the right investment decisions early on, said Boris Gluzberg, senior vice president and team leader in the sports and entertainment banking division at City National Bank.

"The biggest mistake is not taking responsibility for your money whether it's a $20,000 bonus or a $100,000 bonus," said Gluzberg, whose team is based in New York. "The onus is on you. It doesn't matter how old you are or where you are in your career ... Identify your support team as early as possible and educate yourself."

He says players should begin focusing on finances as soon as they're drafted and stick with it throughout their career, both during and after hockey. “You don't have to be the highest-paid player to be successful, financially," Gluzberg says.

Building a Personal Brand

Athletes should see themselves as the CEO of their own personal brand and appoint a "virtual board of directors" to help them build and maintain it, Gluzberg said.

"When you create that virtual board of directors, it strengthens you and your brand," he said. It's particularly important once a player starts to gain more ice time and, in turn, more celebrity.

"When you wear that jersey, everyone wants to be your friend," he said. "Use that to your advantage to build your brand and your network and the net worth may/could come."

He also recommends players seek out professional mentors, including more seasoned players, to help them make decisions about managing their money and personal brand.

Gluzberg often brings in more seasoned players, who are his clients, to help mentor younger athletes about finances.

"It's important to have an athlete ambassador who has been there and done it," he said.

Protecting Your Name

Having a financial plan in place is important, but players also need to manage the risk that comes with being a professional athlete, and maybe even a celebrity.

McKee said professional athletes, especially those with multi-million-dollar contracts, are approached regularly to make investments in startups or by people looking to cash-in on their earning power.

"They're a target," McKee said, while recommending players use advisors to help make investing decisions that suit their wealth goals. “Let us be the bad guys if necessary, if the answer is 'no.'"

Players also need to protect their wealth by properly managing their brand, which includes bring careful about what they say and do in public, including social media.

There are many examples of celebrities whose reputations and brands were tarnished by something they posted on sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

"You have to think before you say, or Tweet. It could save you a lot of grief," McKee said. "We tell players, 'You have a brand. It's like a credit rating. you want to protect it with everything you've got.'"

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This article is a republication of content originally published by RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC. © 2019, Royal Bank of Canada, used with permission.

City National does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates or projections given are those of the authors or persons quoted as of the date of the report with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This report may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of RBC Capital Markets, LLC. Please cite source when quoting.

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