Business Advice

AFL players kicking goals in the business world

Eloise Keating /

James Podsiadly

James Podsiadly

From fashion ventures to building furniture and running pubs, it’s not uncommon to see footballers enter the world of business once they hang up their boots – or even while they are still representing their clubs.

Like all professional athletes, these footy players no doubt draw on the discipline, teamwork and marketing savvy they learn from the national sport to grow their business ventures.

So as AFL fans prepare to watch the Sydney Swans and the Western Bulldogs battle out for the 2016 AFLP premiership on Saturday, here’s SmartCompany’s list of just some of the many football-to-business ventures in recent years.

Pubs and clubs

Running pubs, nightclubs, cafes and restaurants has been a common theme for ex-players over the years, and still is in the regional centre of Geelong.

Former player and now media commentator Billy Brownless had long been involved with the Valley Inn in South Geelong but will soon take over the Cremorne Hotel in Newtown, according to the Geelong Advertiser. Brownless also owns the Cumberland Hotel in Castlemaine in regional Victoria.

Geelong premiership captain Cameron Ling’s first job may have been stacking supermarket shelves, but he’s now one of the key players in his hometown’s growing hospitality industry.

Together with his business partners, Ling is involved in a number of bars and restaurants in Geelong, including The Edge on the Geelong waterfront, the Diggers Arms Hotel in Newtown, and the dining and function facilities at Cunningham Pier.

The Precinct Hotel in Richmond will no doubt be full of excited footy fans on Saturday, and not just because of its close proximity to the MCG. The Precinct is one of the venues owned by the Darcy Group – the family business of former Western Bulldogs captain Luke Darcy. The group also owns Melbourne Public in the CBD and Citizen café & bar next door.

Over in South Australia, a number of current and past Adelaide Crows have stakes in The Alma Hotel in Norwood, including Taylor Walker, Rory Sloane, Patrick Dangerfield (now playing for Geelong), and Mark Ricciuto.

Ricciuto is also part-owner of the Port Lincoln Hotel and the Hackney Hotel, while Sloane also co-owns digital lifestyle publication Cornes and Sloane, along with Kane Cornes, which promotes tourism in the Adelaide region. 

Fashion fever 

For some AFL players, their business interests are more sartorial in nature.

Sports clothing company Jagged is headed up by former Hawthorn player Steve Greene and counts former West Coast Eagles and Carlton star Chris Judd among its owners.

Melbourne’s Jack Watts describes himself on Twitter as a “Skwosh enthusiast”, which is a reference to his fashion label that sells brightly coloured swimming trunks for men.

Fremantle Docker Tom Sheridan launched his sunglasses brand Rixx Eyewear this month, while Swans star Buddy Franklin is behind unisex fashion label Nena & Pasadena and fashion boutique, the Neverland Store, on Melbourne’s trendy Chapel Street.

Hawthorn’s Michael Osborne is the co-founder of Melbourne-based pyjama company Sleep’n Round, which launched in 2009, and which also has a store on Chapel Street. Fellow Hawk Cyril Rioli is involved with underwear subscription service Three65 Underwear.

Former Richmond Tiger Nathan Brown has also tried his hand at fashion with the Black Byrd fashion label.

Sporty startups

Former Melbourne Football Club player Joel Macdonald previously launched an alcohol delivery startup called Liquorun with teammates James Strauss and Rowan Bail.

However, these days Macdonald lives in New York and devotes his time to logistics software startup Swift. Developed through testing with Liquorun, Swift looks after the logistics for much larger companies, including in the food delivery space, according to Fairfax.

Fergus Watts represented both the Adelaide and St Kilda football clubs before injuries cut his professional sporting career short. Post football, Watts was working for a marketing agency when he was inspired to go out on his own and establish his own marketing agency, the Bastion Collective, at the age of 23.

While the Bastion Collective now employs more than 100 employees and turns over $20 million annually, Watts still holds true to the mentality of a startup.

“Failure is okay and it does happen time and time again,” Watts previously told SmartCompany.

“But it’s about being able to adapt from that and keep moving forward.”

Gym days

It is perhaps not surprising that many AFL players choose to explore business opportunities in the health and fitness space.

Collingwood skipper Scott Pendlebury and his wife Alex have recently opened a high performance gym in Cremorne in Melbourne, called Progression Fitness, while Katie Brennan, who will represent the Western Bulldogs in the AFL Women’s League, operates the kb.performance gym in Coburg in Melbourne’s north. 

Corporate life

Some professional footballers choose to swap the footy oval for the boardroom.

In the 1990s, Chris Langford was a star on the field for the Hawthorn Football Club. In 2011, he co-founded Newmark Property Group, a Melbourne-based business which is involved in property funds management and development.

Former Hawthorn and Essendon player Paul Salmon has operated multiple businesses through out his career and is currently working in strategic business development and marketing for a number of brands, including his own company, Sit Less, which has produced a height adjustable desk for children.

When James Podsiadly is not busy in his capacity as assistant coach at the Adelaide Football Club, he is tackling wellbeing in the workplace with online corporate wellness platform, The Wellbeing Challenge.

The former Geelong and Adelaide footballer launched the platform with co-founder Paul Baulch in May and he told SmartCompany at the time he hopes it will make a difference in small and medium businesses.

“There’s a massive gap between what people know about wellbeing and health and what they actually do,” he said.

“We have to bridge that gap.” 

Pools, bikes and coconut vodka drinks

There’s no shortage of current and former AFL players with business interests and these interests are varied.

Aaron Hamill played for both Carlton and St Kilda during his football career and has remained involved with St Kilda as an assistant coach. He is also a director of family pool construction business, Hamill Pools.

Melbourne Football Club player James Magner uncovered a business opportunity while looking to upgrade his own bike; in 2012 he launched his business, Glow Fixie, which imports and sells glow-in-the-dark fixed single-gear bikes, know as ‘fixies’.

Former Essendon player Jason Winderlich is the founder of recycled timber business Just Eco, which has seen its products showcased on Channel Nine’s The Block, and Melbourne Demons Matt Jones, Max Gawn and Max King run a small furniture business called Max Jones Co.

Meanwhile, Hawk Josh Gibson is the owner of Coco Vodka, a business the sells pre-mixed vodka and coconut water drinks.

Know of any players we have missed? Let us know in comments below.

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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