When Alana Beard was in high school in Shreveport, Louisiana, she stopped by a Smoothie King fruit-drink shop almost every day on her way home from basketball practice. Even then, years before she became a star in the Women’s National Basketball Association, she was thinking about owning restaurants like that one day.
“I thought, why not make money off of something I enjoy,” Beard said by phone from Salamanca, Spain, where she is playing this WNBA offseason.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Beard, who will soon begin what she said will be her last season in the WNBA, is preparing for life after basketball.
For two months last year, when many of her teammates were playing overseas or taking a break, she visited Roanoke, Virginia, where she tossed pizza dough, worked the registers and tried to learn everything she could from the owner of a Mellow Mushroom pizza franchise there.
Beard said that after she retires for good, she and a former teammate, Marissa Coleman, hope to buy two Mellow Mushroom restaurants of their own in Maryland.
“The average basketball career is six, seven, eight years, so you have to start prepping from the moment you get money in your pocket,” said Beard, 34, who has played 11 years in the league.
She may be more prepared than most players for life after sports, but she is not far from the norm among female athletes, who appear to do a better job preparing for second careers than male athletes do, according to financial advisers, coaches and former players.
In general, female athletes work harder at making their salaries last because they often earn far less. The average salary in the WNBA is $75,000 plus benefits, including housing and a car during the season, and performance bonuses. Rookies in the NBA, by contrast, are paid a minimum of $543,471.
The former tennis star Mary Joe Fernandez and the basketball greats Cheryl Miller and Rebecca Lobo are notable examples of women who continue to work in sports after their playing days.
But because there are fewer women’s leagues, there are fewer jobs in coaching and broadcasting for women, which forces them to think of second careers elsewhere. They may have acquired more job skills to do that because in leagues like the WNBA, teams cannot draft players unless they are four years removed from high school, have graduated from college by their draft year, or are already 22.
“There’s a tendency to be in a more positive place than their male counterparts because women are better planners,” said Kathleen M. Kunkler, a wealth management director at Morgan Stanley Global Sports & Entertainment who has worked with female athletes and coaches for 30 years. “I have not seen the rampant abuse, which might be too strong a word, where you get friends and hangers-on” asking for money.
Kunkler referred to research showing that women are also more conservative with their money.
In one study, Stockspot, an online investment adviser, analyzed data from 2,500 clients indicating that “women tend to take less risk, men are overly confident and women stick to a plan.” The study showed that men tend to chase higher returns, while women invest more conservatively.
Other studies support those assertions. Research by professors at the University of California, Davis, and the University of California, Berkeley, found that men tend to be overconfident in areas “culturally perceived to be in the male domain,” like the stock market, and that overconfidence leads to trading too much and to higher costs.
The financial literacy and savings habits of athletes vary widely. Some show restraint, make a retirement plan and stick to it. Others spend freely and find themselves years later with less than they had hoped for. Many fall somewhere in between.
Yet every year, reports about professional athletes who have lost their money surface like bubbles at the La Brea Tar Pits. Players get suckered into dubious investments, are ripped off by unscrupulous advisers, give money to friends and family, or simply spend far more than they save.
Most of these accounts focus on male professional athletes because they are almost always paid more, and are more likely to attract family, friends and others looking for handouts. Some female athletes struggle to hold on to their money, of course. But many more recognize that they have to build a nest egg and acquire new job skills because they cannot just slide into coaching.
“I really do cross over the boundary and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you, I have some chances to hire people,’ but I lay out the financial aspect of the picture,” said Katie Meier, the coach of the University of Miami women’s basketball team, who played in Belgium for three years after graduating from Duke. “There are very few spots” in coaching.
But “basketball can open a lot of doors, so use the sport to present an opportunity,” Meier said.
Ashley Robinson, who was a role player for 11 years in the WNBA, made that discovery. After failing to land a job in public relations, she used the money she earned playing basketball to help start a company that sells lip balm.
“I made the most money at the end of my career, which is good because I was more mature,” she said, adding that she is “being patient and not rushing” her company.
Like other athletes, Robinson credits her parents and coaches with instilling in her the discipline she now needs as an entrepreneur, which attracted her because of the flexibility and the challenge.
The same is true of Leta Lindley, who joined the LPGA tour at 22, after earning a degree from the University of Arizona. She was also unsure how long her pro golf career would last, and with little money in her pocket, she made ends meet by hiring her fiancé (now her husband) to caddy. They drove to tournaments and, before they had children, stayed in private homes instead of hotels. One time, they ate cups of noodles for an entire week at a tournament.
“I didn’t know whether my career would be one year or, as it turned out, to be 18,” Lindley said. “So we needed to be frugal, not knowing how long it would last.”
A family friend encouraged her to put the maximum allowable amount into her retirement accounts. By working with her husband, she saved at least $1,000 a week and retained the 5 to 10 percent of her winnings she would have paid a caddy. She also played in many pro-am events to make extra money.
“I knew once I retired from the tour, I knew my income would go way down,” said Lindley, who earned just over $3 million in her 18 years on the tour.
Juggling a golf career and a family of four, she started a company, Leta’s Home Team, to help busy families manage their lives. Her husband took over the company so Lindley could run a charity golf event and work as a golf pro at a course near their home in Florida.
“I don’t know that I would change anything,” she said. “We saved from the very beginning, but I would have liked to make more money.”