Think you're struggling with your retirement and financial plans? Imagine if the average length of your chosen profession was about three years before retirement is thrust upon you whether you're ready or not. Welcome to the world of the professional athlete.
Sure, to we the great unwashed, playing pro sports for a living would be a dream come true and no doubt it is. But unless you're among the elite in your sport, chances are the riches that can come with the territory aren't a lock. Moreover, what the heck does an athlete do after his playing days are over or are suddenly cut short due to an injury or being booted off of the roster?
It's this very situation that led Sun Life Financial to team up with the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the Canadian Football League Players' Association (CFLPA) to offer financial planning and career seminars to all players across the league's eight teams. The financial planning partnership is a first for the CFLPA.
"We wanted to bring the business strategy of what we do best at Sun Life around financial advice and planning and insurance solutions (into the CFL) and we thought the CFLPA was a natural enhancement to that relationship," explains Bill Ramsammy, assistant vice-president of corporate brand and marketing at Sun Life Financial in Toronto.
A career after football
In addition to financial planning seminars, Sun Life's career seminars, delivered by former CFLers who now work as advisors for Sun Life, are designed to give players the opportunity to learn about becoming a Sun Life advisor once they step off the field.
"We have a number of professional players who are successful advisors or financial managers with Sun Life from the CFL, the NHL (National Hockey League), and other professional organizations," he says. "We have four former CFL players conducting these particular seminars (Dennis Mavrin, Don Banhuik, Andrew Carter and Dave Cechini) so the (current) players are relating to them."
Mike Morreale, president of the CFLPA in Toronto, says inking the agreement with Sun Life was a "no-brainer" given the CFLPA's goal of providing its members with money management and financial planning assistance.
"There's also a career opportunity piece (to the Sun Life agreement), which to me, was what really resonated the most because the average career in pro football is about 3.1 years. It's certainly not anything to get too excited about," he tells Yahoo! Canada Finance. "When you're a player, you think you're invincible and that you can play forever."
Looking ahead, Morreale says the CFLPA's long-term goal is to follow the paths forged by NFL Players Association and the NHL Players Association.
"A lot of what we're doing is similar (to what the NFLPA is doing). But they've gone down the road further. For instance, they have dedicated individuals that go to each team and talk to the players not just about career transitioning but also life in the NFL. That's the point we want to get to," he says. "The NFLPA and the NHLPA, those are the two major organizations we'd lean on in terms of how they operate. And we all operate in a similar manner … how do we get these guys thinking about life after football, hockey, whatever it may be, while they're still playing? That's the process we're in now."
Financial fumbles prevalent among pro athletes
Morreale is a former CFL player himself. The Hamilton, Ont., native spent 12 years playing for both the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Toronto Argonauts after joining the league in 1995. At that time, he says any form of financial planning guidance was virtually non-existent.
"I don't recall much. I relied on players that I played with that were in that area of business," he says. "When you look at professional sports — they're all the same, it doesn't matter what you get paid — you're paid for the duration of the season. In the CFL's case, you get 18 game cheques plus whatever playoff games and then for six months you don't get paid unless you have an off-season bonus."
It's not just CFL players that have to tackle financial planning-related issues. As noted in a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, athletes from the National Basketball Association, National Football League, and Major League Baseball are "suffering from a financial pandemic".
More recently, NFL player agent Jack Bechta wrote about the mistakes NFL players make with their money, a follow-up to an earlier piece he scripted on the 10 reasons why NFLers go broke which includes weak financial counsel, bad investments, and divorce.
Given that financial mismanagement is quite common among pro athletes, it's critical that young, up-and-coming amateur athletes think ahead and establish a solid financial plan that will help preserve their wealth over the long haul and prepare them for retirement.