For years, private investors have quietly backed up-and-coming boxers, tennis players, horses and golfers, but now the public is getting a chance to really own a piece of an athlete.
On Thursday, Fantex Brokerage Services announced its intention to allow fans to invest in stock related to the performance of an athlete's brand.
The company said its initial public offering will be for Houston Texans running back Arian Foster. Fantex is paying Foster $10 million for a 20 percent stake in his future income, including contracts, endorsements and other related business revenue. The company will begin taking reservations in the next two weeks and could be selling shares of Foster in as soon as a month depending on demand and progress with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
It's much like fantasy sports, except fans will be trading on Foster's business value. If he does well on the field and companies become more interested in Foster as an endorser, his stock might go up. Fans can then buy and sell shares, with Fantex taking a commission. The company says it is hoping to acquire a future stake in athletes but does not have any other deals finalized at this time.
"Fantex is bringing sports and business together in a way never previously thought possible," CEO Buck French said in a statement. "By building a marketplace that allows customers to buy shares in a tracking stock linked to the value and performance of an athlete's brand, Fantex is enabling a new level of brand advocacy through ownership."
French told ESPN.com that the company would collect 20 percent of what Foster makes going forward, including money made from the five-year contract with the Texans he signed last season that guaranteed him $20.7 million. Foster also will make money on his endorsement deals with Under Armour and Fuse Science, and he recently acquired a stake in chia bar company Health Warrior.
Fantex's success could depend on how many athletes are willing to give up a piece of their future income and how early in a career Fantex can secure a deal. French, though, disagrees with the latter point, saying there are some athletes who would be good to invest in for their post-career businesses.
Athletes who have had investors buy a stake in their future income include boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and golfer Rich Beem. The most famous investors in horse racing are likely the group of everyday people who owned Funny Cide, who won the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
In Allen Park, Mich., Detroit Lions players Reggie Bush and Nate Burleson had conflicting views of the idea of buying and selling stock in an athlete.
Bush said he needed more information before he could say whether he'd agree to a deal similar to the one Foster has with Fantex, although he called the situation "intriguing."
"It's like buying stock in anything. It's kind of like you're gambling a little bit. I have bonds, municipal bonds and stuff like that, but that's a little different than buying stock in a person. It sounds very weird," he said.
Burleson credited Foster for a smart business decision.
"Yeah, I think so," he said when asked if he would agree to a similar deal. "But there's only so many athletes that, one, are going to have the money-making ability as a megastar as the Calvins [teammate Calvin Johnson] and Fosters, players like that. Then there's other athletes that might achieve success financially through business and different ventures they have going.
"It's appropriate for those two type of athletes, the megastars and those who are really business-minded. Using the NFL to further themselves as a platform for something much bigger for the rest of their lives. So yeah, I think it's good."
ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.