Sunday, October 20, 2013

This Is Not A Keeper League

You probably are aware of the Green Bay Packers' community-driven approach to ownership, with fans owning shares of stock in the team which don't pay out dividends but none of the stockholders care because they own a part of the Packers. You might even be aware of the occasional other club offering shares of stock that work more like a normal stock; most of the ones currently doing so are major European soccer clubs such as Manchester United or Juventus.

But now, we, at least potentially, have the first stock in an individual player, namely running back Arian Foster of the Houston Texans. How do you buy stock in an individual, you ask? The way the company attempting this, Fantex, has it worked out is as follows: Foster will be paid $10 million. In exchange, he will give 20% of his future earnings to Fantex, and they will use that money to pay dividends to stockholders. Which in essence means that a stockholder, who would pay $10 a share (and is allowed to buy no more than 1% of the available shares) is betting that Foster will make at least $50 million (20% of which is $10 million) over the remainder of his career from salary, endorsements, etc. Or they can trade the stock to someone else on the same basic principle. Should Foster retire prior to October 17, 2015- two years from the date of the contract he signed with Fantex- he'll have to pay them back $10.5 million, minus any money handed back to Fantex over the next two years.

Of course, anyone who has ranted about the risks of offering a player a long-term deal, or who knows the shelf life of an NFL running back, or who even watches sports regularly, knows already how dicey a proposition that stock offer is. And even if Foster has a long, fruitful career, this isn't exactly something you can just buy and forget about. A corporation can easily live on without any one person. You could buy a share of Coca-Cola today and potentially pass it down to your grandkids. Arian Foster stock is, and this might come as a shock, entirely reliant on Arian Foster. He snaps his knee, stock goes poof. His performance drops and he tumbles down the depth chart, stock goes poof. Nobody comes to him for endorsements or an on-camera desk job after he's done playing, stock goes poof. The hits pile up and he becomes another cautionary tale, stock goes poof. A drunk driver plows into him in the offseason, stock goes poof. He pulls an Aaron Hernandez, stock goes poof.

And then there's the matter of whether you will even get to actually buy the stock at all. Foster's stock, and others that Fantex will be selling, won't be on a nationally-recognized stock exchange. That means they must file with each individual state in which they wish to operate, and they've only filed with "6 or 7" so far, with not all states expected to approve.

Fantex is at least honest about the prospects here, noting right on their main page that "This offering is highly speculative and the securities involve a high degree of risk. Investing in a Fantex, Inc. tracking stock should only be considered by persons who can afford the loss of their entire investment." And someone, eventually, inevitably, will in fact be left holding the bag on it. Pro Football Talk calls it a 'legal Ponzi scheme', but that's a little unfair, as stockholders aren't going to be trying to continually recruit people below them; they would merely be trying to sell the stock and get out of the investment. And nobody is claiming that this'll be a huge moneymaker forever and ever. It's more like, by buying the stock, you are entering into a game of Fantasy Football Hot Potato, with the more shares sold, the more potatoes in play.

So. How's your trigger finger?

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