Professional athletes have unique financial requirements for which they are ill-equipped to handle. Complicating the situation is the lack of guidance on the contents and framework appropriate for the specific demands of professional athletes. Until that framework is defined, an assessment of the financial acumen of professional athletes will remain difficult to measure.  This research addresses that gap.

Financial Literacy Content Areas for Professional
Athletes: Evidence From a Qualitative Study

  • Jaco Moolman
  • Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning
  • A version of this paper can be found here
  • Want to read our summaries of academic finance papers? Check out our Academic Research Insight category.

What are the research questions?

  1. What are the financial content areas most useful for professional athletes?

What are the Academic Insights?

  1. The author conducted qualitative interviews with 27 participants with relevant exposure and knowledge of the unique characteristics of professional athletes. Four groups of professional advisors, employers/franchises, player’s associations, academics and financial training advisors, professional athletes, friends and family were interviewed. The interviews focused on themes of financial knowledge and efficacy, financial attitudes, financial behavior and motivation. See the details describing each group in Table 1 below. Data from the interviews were collected and twenty content areas were defined and assigned to one of six major categories as follows:
  • Contracts/documents where the content included: accepting an offer to play professionally, sponsorship agreements, contracts and financial records, legal;
  • Planning and money management where the content included: financial goals, time value of money, currency, budgeting, financial controls, savings, investments, math skills;
  • Financial obligations including: credit and banking, taxation;
  • Risk management including: insurance, estate planning; ethics;
  • Preparing for life after sports including: education, transition to a new career;
  • Gaining professional advice including: building a network of professional advisors.

Why does it matter?

As stated by interviewee 3: “I would start by shocking them about the reality of their financial futures, which is more uncertain than they realize.” While most of us manage to match lifestyle to income, the careers of professional athletes’ however lucrative they may be, are short-lived. For athletes, the need for financial controls and literacy exceeds that of the general population. Raising awareness about the need for financial skills could stimulate changes in the financial behavior of professional athletes. At the very least, this research provides a framework and describes significant elements that will help professional athletes achieve sustainable financial well-being.

 The most important chart from the paper

The results are hypothetical results and are NOT an indicator of future results and do NOT represent returns that any investor actually attained.  Indexes are unmanaged and do not reflect management or trading fees, and one cannot invest directly in an index.


Many people spend their working lives accumulating financial resources to sustain them once they retire,
which is usually in their early to mid-60s. However, the working lives of professional athletes are unique,
with finite sports careers and a range of possible challenges during the transitional phase after their
sports careers have ended. This study shows an illustrative framework for financial literacy content areas
required by professional athletes to achieve long-term financial well-being. Actor–network theory guided the completion of 27 semistructured face-to-face interviews as well as 10 structured follow-up interviews conducted in South Africa among networks of rugby and cricket players to develop and validate the framework. The research findings suggest professional athletes should take responsibility for their financial planning and have the financial literacy skills to seek, interpret, and apply financial advice. The findings also provide some considerations for education initiatives to improve the financial literacy of professional athletes. The results of this study have implications for professional athletes as well as financial planners, educators, and others positioned to potentially influence the professional athletes’ financial decisions.

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About the Author: Tommi Johnsen, PhD

Tommi Johnsen, PhD
Tommi Johnsen is the former Director of the Reiman School of Finance and an Emeritus Professor at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. She has worked extensively as a research consultant and investment advisor for institutional investors and wealth managers in quantitative methods and portfolio construction. She taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels and published research in several areas including: capital markets, portfolio management and performance analysis, financial applications of econometrics and the analysis of equity securities. In 2019, Dr. Johnsen published “Smarter Investing” with Palgrave/Macmillan, a top 10 in business book sales for the publisher.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder, with a major field of study in Investments and a minor in Econometrics.  Currently, Dr. Johnsen is a consultant to wealthy families/individuals, asset managers, and wealth managers.

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