Gary Neville joins Dragons’ Den: 5 more sports stars turned successful investors

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BBC One’s Dragons’ Den is about to receive a shake-up in 2024, with ex-footballer Gary Neville officially entering the den as a guest dragon.

Famous for being a star player for both Manchester United and England, and now as a regular pundit for Sky Sports, Gary Neville is also a keen businessman. In recent years, he has invested in property development, operates his own hotel, and also owns shares in the football club Salford City, which plays in League Two.

However, Gary Neville is not the first ex-sports star to have taken up entrepreneurism after hanging up their playing boots, as research from Business Name Generator reveals five more sports stars turned successful investors. Read on to find out more…

1. Mathieu Flamini

Whilst having a decent time in his footballing days playing for the likes of Arsenal and A.C. Milan, plus making three international appearances for France, Mathieu Flamini’s career really took off when he ventured into the world of investing.

Flamini is a co-founder and partner of GF Biochemicals, a producer of levulinic acid, which is used in various industries as a sustainable alternative in plastics, solvents, fuels and pharmaceutical products. What’s more, Flamini helped to establish this business in 2010, when he was just 26 years old and still quite early into his football career.

Having only retired from football in 2019, Flamini was technically one of the world’s richest footballers during his playing days, due to his success in the business world. In 2020, Forbes estimated that Flamini’s net worth was approximately £10bn, making him richer than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo combined.

2. Maria Sharapova

One of the most famous women to ever wield the tennis racket, Maria Sharapova has won Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open and more, and she has swung for success in the business world, too.

In 2012, Maria Sharapova launched her own confectionary brand, Sugarpova, with the company now valued at a very sweet £150m. The retired tennis player has also invested in brands such as Tonal and Moonpay, as well as the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). In 2022, she joined the board of directors at luxury fashion brand, Moncler.

In true Gary Neville style, Maria Sharapova has also appeared as a guest investor on Shark Tank, which is the US equivalent of Dragons’ Den. During her guest appearance on the show, she teamed up with Mark Cuban to invest $900k in Bala Bangles, the wrist and ankle weights company.

3. Shaquille O’Neal

NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal is one of the world’s most recognisable basketball players, and has continued his winning mentality even after retiring from the court in 2011.

Standing at a whole 7 ft 1 in tall, Shaq’s business career has also reached dizzying heights. He has invested stock in some giant companies over the years including Apple, Pepsi and Google, where he was one of the company’s earliest investors.

In more recent years, Shaq has invested heavily in huge food and drink brands. Most prominently with the burger restaurant chain, Five Guys, where he owned and later sold 10 per cent of the company. He has also invested in Krispy Kreme (doughnuts), Auntie Anne’s (pretzels) and in 2019 joined the board of directors at Papa John’s (pizza).

4. Ryan Bertrand

Potentially following in Flamini’s footsteps, Ryan Bertrand has started to make waves in business ventures off the pitch.

The 33-year-old defender who has made 19 international appearances for England and is currently on the books at Leicester City. As well as this, he founded the fintech brokerage firm Silicon Markets back in 2015, while he was still playing for Southampton in the Premier League.

Silicon Markets aimed to “bridge the gap between trading floors and the retail brokerage sector” by utilising AI and machine learning. The company was eventually sold to a Malaysian firm, meaning Ryan Bertrand saw the entire entrepreneur journey through from start to finish, all before he had even hung up his football boots.

5. David Beckham

David Beckham is one of the most recognisable footballers not just in England, but the world over, having boasted a hugely successful career on the pitch representing the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid, and L.A. Galaxy.

Such was Beckham’s fame on the pitch that he was able to build a hugely successful brand off it, one that he used to make a number of very smart business decisions and investments.

The former England captain has made over $30m through his company, DB Ventures Limited, and has pocketed even more through huge brand deals with companies such as Adidas, Pepsi, Sainsbury’s, Emporio Armani and much more. He has also been a patron for charities like Unicef, the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Help for Heroes.

Meanwhile, Beckham has kept plenty of his investments in the world of football. In 2014, he spent $25m to establish the MLS’ newest club, Inter Miami, who are due to sign superstar Lionel Messi this summer. In 2019, Beckham linked up with Gary Neville and the rest of his ‘Class of 92’ teammates to invest in Salford City, taking a 10 per cent stake in the club.

By Matthew Neville, Senior Correspondent, Bdaily

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