Among the many benefits of being a professional athlete, entrepreneurship is something that comes easily to some celebrities. At times, they merely lend their name to firms that ask for it, and at others invest handsomely realizing the vision behind the project. And then a few just tap into their inner entrepreneur self, recognize the need and establish their own business from scratch hoping to leverage from their existing fame.
Many might recognize Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville as two of the six legendary names associated with Manchester United’s Class of ’92. However, the two had partnered together to launch the Cafe Football, which opened its doors to the public in December ’13 hoping that that their ability to run a business matches their capability to hold the offensive and defensive line-up while at Manchester United.
Cafe football is a 140-seat restaurant at Westfield Stratford City in London, serving football-themed dishes with the hope of bringing about a football culture to the restaurant industry.
The thought of life after football and a passion for the hospitality industry led the two to Cafe Football, according to Giggs.
“As our playing careers were drawing to a close Gary and I began to think what next? We always had a passion for hospitality and thought why not try and create something completely unique within the industry. Throughout our playing careers we have been lucky enough to visit some of the best restaurants in the UK, aswell as abroad, so we thought why not use that experience to develop a place where football fans and people who are passionate about food, could go and enjoy.”
Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise at Salford Business School in Manchester, explains the motivation behind professional athletes making the jump.
“While athletes are actively engaged in their careers, they are more acutely aware of the opportunities open to them. This means they can build sustainable long-term businesses using their experience and knowledgeable. Often, such developments are helped by the support they receive from their advisors and intermediaries such as agents and lawyers. Furthermore, by engaging in business at this stage of their careers, it means that there is a smooth transition into retirement and therefore no gap in their earnings.”
But the interest in the project was clear for both said Giggs.
“We really wanted to create a place where not just sports fans but people who enjoyed food could come together.”
While Neville had retired from the game in 2011, Giggs hung up his boots relatively recently (2014) and the two have since been involved in the game from the sidelines. Chadwick praises their decision to venture into the business front suggesting that the business-savvy athletes can bring in a unique combination of recognition and proficiency.
“Elite professional athletes know how to work in teams, perform under pressure, withstand intense scrutiny, make quick decisions, measure and improve their performances, motivate themselves and others and build a winning mentality. If one takes a look at the work of Olympic gold swimming medalist Adrian Moorhouse, you can see an example of how a former athlete has taken his skills to build a successful business.”
Yet the concern of a halo effect looms as Chadwick warns of certain pitfalls that athletes-turned-entrepreneurs must be aware of.
“Perhaps the biggest danger that ex-athletes face is the ‘halo effect’. That is, because of who they are or what they have done, they sometimes be exposed to unscrupulous individuals who are less interested in the success of the athlete than they are associating with the athletes and the success they have had.”
As in many-a-case athletes are secondarily involved in their respective projects. They may initiate the business, but have other people run it. This is quite normal as they do not have time or are advised to do so by their financial henchmen. However, both Giggs and Neville are not afraid to get their hands dirty when it comes to dedicating themselves to the Cafe.
“Gary and I worked closely on this from the planning and design right down to what was on the menu. We’ve donated our old boots, shirts and other bits of memorabilia, which have been displayed around the hotel and cafe and add a personal touch and identity. We have used local artists and students to design exclusive artwork for the cafes and hotel, which always creates a great reaction and talking point from the people who visit.”
For athletes, lessons learned on the pitch eventually guide an athlete in terms of how they want to grow as an entrepreneur. Both Giggs and Neville are not afraid to learn having surrounded by people who can guide them into the right direction. Both are also hoping to stand out in the restaurant business just as they did with Manchester United and as cliché as it sounds; the future for Cafe Football has been nothing but bright.
“Cafe Football in Statford was a fantastic learning tool and let us develop Cafe Football Old Trafford to exactly how we wanted it. However we are always looking at ways to be innovative and improve and we are lucky to have such an ambitious team who are always looking to do just that.”
Having brainstormed the names of the dishes, when asked if there were any favorite dishes that Giggs himself would prefer,
“We really enjoyed seeing what worked and what didn’t and generally coming up with ideas and names for the dishes such as ‘The 66’, ‘The Nicky Butty’ and ‘The Boss’ although ‘The Giggsy’ is my favourite!”