Pro athletes flock to Aspen to learn about wealth management in inaugural summit

Cecilia Nysing

Craig Brown, the co-head of the sports business division at NKSFB, the largest business management firm in the country, speaks on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, during the inaugural NKSFB Sports Wealth Summit sponsored by B.E.T. at the Aspen Art Museum.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

There is no end to the number of resources professional athletes have to help them make money, from coaches to dieticians to strength and conditioning trainers to psychologists. But these same athletes, who can see their bank accounts grow overnight by the thousands, if not millions, have little coaching in terms of how to manage that money.

That’s why Craig Brown, a partner at NKSFB, LLC, which labels itself as the country’s largest business management firm, sought to create an opportunity for many of his own clients to learn how to manage their often newfound wealth.

“This is a vision of mine … to really get a true experience about financial management, wealth management, being good stewards of their own money and doing that in a way that was a little unique from the traditional model of asset management and financial planning,” Brown said. “This is unique in the fact that it’s introducing to a lot of these players things they’ve not ever been spoken to about.”

The result was the inaugural NKSFB Sports Wealth Summit sponsored by B.E.T., a multi-day affair held this past week in Aspen. A handful of big names, primarily from the NFL and NBA, came to town for the conference, including Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears and Jameis Winston of the New Orleans Saints, among others. Former NFL standout and current TV personality Michael Strahan was scheduled to have been among the presenters.

“This is the first event of this kind that, quite honestly, in the 20-plus years that I’ve been working with athletes, that I’ve ever seen,” said Brown, who oversees his firm’s sports division. “The response has been overwhelming. Not only from the players, but also from individuals who are titans of industry in their respective fields because they’ve longed to have the opportunity to speak to this group of people that have been so publicly cast as poor stewards of their own finances.”

The event kicked off Tuesday evening at the Aspen Art Museum with Aspen’s own Jay Fletcher, a world-renowned master sommelier, giving the athletes an introductory lesson on identifying various wines. The highlight of the first night was an in-person appearance by musician Pharrell Williams, also a keen entrepreneur and philanthropist.

“I’m just a student and I’m just sharing the notes,” Williams told the athletes on Tuesday night. “Because we are all the same. We all bleed the same. You guys being here today has changed the trajectory of your life. You have no idea what you are going to see. You have not veered off the road. What you’ve done is gotten on the highway to success.”

Master sommelier Jay Fletcher gives a presentation on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, during the inaugural NKSFB Sports Wealth Summit sponsored by B.E.T. at the Aspen Art Museum.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The topics from the summit were far from the usual business affair. Brown said they avoided subjects like stocks, bonds and mutual funds, and focused on areas such as the cannabis industry, real estate, franchising, social activism and cultural awareness, and art. Williams happens to be an avid art collector and spent much of his short talk going over what is seemingly a popular passion among athletes.

“Statistically it’s shown that between 70% and 80% of professional athletes go broke within five years of receiving their last paycheck,” Brown said. “You can never feel like you’re done. It’s not a check the box, ‘OK, I’ve had that conversation, I’m done with it.’ It’s something where this is no different than if you are a doctor and you are going back to continuing education.”

Brown hopes to make the summit an annual occurrence, if not more often. He wants to host a second event this upcoming winter to cater to other athletes, such as professional baseball players who could not attend this past week because of their ongoing seasons.

Musician Pharrell Williams speaks on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, during the inaugural NKSFB Sports Wealth Summit sponsored by B.E.T. at the Aspen Art Museum.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

As for why he chose to host this first summit in Aspen, Brown wanted to bring the athletes to an environment they may not be used to, one that promotes thinking outside the box.

“There is something very aspirational about Aspen,” Brown said. “It’s not a traditional locale for professional athletes to come and visit by the masses. We could have done this in Miami, L.A. or Vegas, something like that. But I wanted these guys to see something that was a little foreign to them and a place that truly epitomizes wealth and professionalism.”

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