Locked-out players line up for cash loans
By Chris Corbellini and Jason Schwartz
As the NFL work stoppage continues with no end in sight, some cash-strapped players are taking out high-risk, high-interest loans to get them through the lean times — some as big as $250,000 with interest rates as high as 30 percent.
Players make their entire salary during the regular season, and many rely on offseason workout bonuses to get them through the spring and summer. With opening day — and their next payday — uncertain, some are turning to lenders like AGR Sports Funding, a Virginia-based firm that specializes in lending to professional athletes.
Jason Yorker, owner of AGR, likes to think of himself as a lifeline for NFL players. When cash gets tight, they can turn to him to borrow, as he puts it, “a couple extra hundred thousand dollars here and there.”
To explain the 30 percent interest rate he charges, Yorker said that, unlike other lenders, he doesn’t care much about his clients’s credit scores or whether they have any assets to back up the loan. If he thinks a player’s good for it, he can get them the cash in just a couple of weeks. Since the beginning of the lockout March 12, Yorker said, business has been booming.
“You’d be surprised at some of the names of people that have been reaching out to us,” said Yorker — declining to name names — adding that they even include Pro Bowl players.
Over the past six weeks or so, according to Yorker, he’s issued 25 NFL players loans, ranging from $30,000 to $250,000. Last year at this time, he’d made just three loans. Of the current batch, 10 went to veterans and 15 to incoming rookies. The demand from just-drafted prospects left out in the cold by the lockout has been “off the charts,” he said.
Leon McKenzie, president of Sure Sports Lending, a Florida outfit, said the number of players coming to see him is increasing, as well.
“There does seem to be more people looking,” he said, adding that his interest rates typically run from six to 15 percent.
Considering that NFL players have yet to miss a game check, it’s somewhat curious that some veterans, as well as rookies, are looking for these loans. But Yorker said he’s been hearing from several players who’ve found themselves in need of quick cash after missing out on offseason workout bonuses.
“Believe it or not, some guys are dependent on that,” he said.
Chad Lewis, a three-time Pro Bowl tight end over a nine-year career in the NFL, indicated that many NFL players are notoriously free-spending and bad at managing their money.
“Most players aren’t making what a rock star makes,” Lewis said. “But if their lifestyle is gonna approach that of a rock star, then their money will run out very quickly.”
The minimum NFL salary is roughly $320,000, with the average approaching $2 million per season.
Hall of Famer Deion Sanders told The Daily he tries to educate young players.
“One of the things I do is try to go back and grab these young guys and say, ‘Understand, there’s going to be a famine,’” Sanders said. “They say, ‘What do you mean by a famine?’”
Now, added Sanders, “Some of those guys are crying broke.”
“You tell these guys to manage their money better, but it doesn’t happen,” said agent Rick Smith of Priority Sports and Entertainment. “So they take out bridge loans to get them through it.”
The former union has opened a savings war chest, funded over the past two years by the players themselves, to help ease the monetary burden. The first payments began April 15, and according to NFL.com, up to $60,000 will be available per player. That’s close to what an average player would make during the offseason, but the concern is how to make those dollars stretch.
“That’s basically to cover their insurance,” Smith said. “It’s their own money being kicked back to them, to be able to pay for their health insurance.”
Another reason players are borrowing now — before even missing a major payday — is that they may be afraid credit will dry up if the lockout continues into the NFL season, said Darren Heitner, an agent and the author of sportsagentblog.com. After all, if interest rates are this high now, what will they be like when players start to miss game checks and lenders know they are even less likely to be repaid?
To financial planners, these high-interest loans represent a troubling trend.
“I get so frustrated when I hear stories like that,” said Ted Reid, a senior vice president and wealth adviser for Morgan Stanley, who’s been helping athletes invest their money for 25 years.
“I’ve heard ranges way above the 15 percent level, but even 15 percent, that’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Reid said that if players need cash, they ought to be taking out home equity loans or other, asset-backed lines of credit, with interest rates from 2-4 percent. Or they should start selling things off: “If you’re borrowing at 30 percent, it’s time to start liquidating your assets,” he said.
But Yorker said he’s offering players a square deal. The interest is high because, more often than not, he’s not asking his clients to back their loans up with anything.
“You ask any of my clients if they’ve ever felt that I took advantage of them, they’ll tell you straight up, I’m a lifesaver. When nobody would give them any money, I gave them money,” Yorker said.
“They thank me and we’re friends. We continue to be friends after that. If they ever need money, they know they can come to me.”