Running a Play for Life After Football:

Two weeks ago, 35 players from the National Football League (NFL) left their helmets at the door as they entered the classrooms of Hawes Hall to tackle business fundamentals. In the first of two sessions, which took place from February 27 – March 1, player participants within the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program, embarked on a three-day version of the HBS learning model, with the case method at its center.

The NFL and the league’s Players Association (NFLPA) established the program in 2005 as part of an ongoing initiative to assist players with off-the-field activities. The key objectives are to provide players with the basic knowledge to evaluate business opportunities during their careers, as well as to assist a successful transition to post-playing careers. The program imparts essential skills for an investor in a small business, as the owner/operator of a small business or as an entrepreneur creating a new enterprise.

In its inaugural season, 66 NFL players participated at both HBS and the Wharton School. This year, The Kellogg School of Management and Stanford Graduate School of Business joined the effort, kicking off their three-day sessions March 6. All players were required to submit applications by January 15 and were then evaluated based on several factors, including business experience and future interests.

While all four schools perpetuate the overall program mission, each offers executive curriculum and education activities within their respective areas of expertise. The HBS program focused on entrepreneurial and management opportunities with content including analysis, marketing strategies and legal, contractual and tax considerations. Leveraging the case-study method, player participants worked collectively to resolve relevant business problems.

In a February 28 press conference held on campus, player participants and members of both the NFL and HBS faculty offered candid feedback on the program to-date. Representing the players were Adam Timmerman of the St. Louis Rams, Matt Chatham of the New England Patriots, Gerome Sapp of the Indianapolis Colts, and Tank Williams of the Tennessee Titans. Also in attendance were Tim Pratt of the NFL front office, Leslie Satchell representing the NFLPA, and HBS Faculty Chair Carl Kester. The major topics of the press event included assessment of need for the program, the classroom experience and the program’s overall success.

In light of the numerous publicized accounts of sports figures falling victim to bad investments and earnings mismanagement, Satchell commented that the NFLPA saw an opportunity to expand their efforts. Satchell said the NFLPA thought it could have an even greater affect on player development through business guidance.

Kester, who was instrumental in designing the program at HBS, weighed in, “We’re not trying to cover the whole waterfront. We want to give players the skills to enable them to take action on ideas and also the knowledge to know when not to take action.”
Players who share the league’s sentiment that more attention to business management issues would be of great benefit have also welcomed the program. Sapp, a defensive back for the Colts, described his situation – having several ideas and not knowing which one to pursue – which he said was common among players. Williams of the Titans commented that he enrolled with an open mind, seeking to explore different opportunities, including real estate, and gradually move in a particular direction. Chatham, a linebacker for the Patriots, responded that the program provides focus.

Timmerman, a St. Louis Rams guard, went further to say that players are in a dangerous position of having large sums of money and not knowing what to do with it. “I just want to get the biggest bang for my buck,” remarked Timmerman.
This point is especially important given that players are constantly approached with investment ideas. Each of the players in attendance admitted to being propositioned by friends and acquaintances to invest in numerous crackpot ventures. When asked the worst idea ever proposed, Sapp described an investment request from an acquaintance to start a clothing line called “Hood Rich,” with a logo of dollar bills cascading out of a pocket.

To help players fend off these investment traps, the NFL Business Management/Entrepreneurial Program employs two exciting, yet rigorous 3-day sessions taught by full-time HBS faculty members who are experts in their respective fields. Topics in the first session, which ended March 1, included “Managing Yourself,'” “Introduction to Entrepreneurship,” “Assessing Financial Health,” “Cash Flow vs. Profitability” and “Analyzing a Business Model.”

The sessions began at 8:00 a.m. with group discussions, both morning and afternoon classes were taught by the case method, and ended with case reading the next day by 8:00 p.m. Most cases were from the RC curriculum, including “R&R” from the Entrepreneurial Management course, but also included a few cases from the EC curriculum.

When asked about the learning experience, Chatham, who had been out of school since 1998, answered that returning to the classroom brought back a lot of memories and gave him the chance to reconnect with the educational experience. “I am just getting back in the habit of general note taking,” remarked Chatham. Sapp followed up that he was pleasantly surprised he and his fellow player participants were sitting down to a problem set or case and coming up with the same solutions as the MBA students.

When asked about player interaction in the classroom setting, all four players said the program provided a great opportunity to listen to others’ ideas and use fellow player participants as sounding boards for business plans and issues. They also commented that the program was a great networking tool moving forward. Last year, several players used the opportunity to form partnerships and tackle business ideas together.

Sentiments from the press conference provided great evidence of the success potential of the young program. Although Satchell admits the NFLPA is still in the development phase of defining and tracking its measures of success, the program has already realized a doubling of enrollment from last year’s total, as well as encouraging reviews from players. Of equal importance to the growth of the formal program is the fact that participants feel compelled to spread the benefits of this transformational experience in business to others, perpetuating the NFL’s vision of holistic player development.