Talk about living the dream.
For most guys, hanging out in the locker rooms at the Super Bowl or World Series, or spending your time with Michael Jordan during his heyday as a player, would be considered the fulfillment of every sports fan’s desire. For ESPN’s Mike Greenberg, it’s just another day at the office.
Greenberg, in addition to being a frequent anchor for ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” is co-host of ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning,” which can also be seen on ESPN2. Greenberg has written a best-selling book, ” Why My Wife Thinks I’m An Idiot: The Life and Times of a Sportscaster Dad,” a little slice of life featuring his light-hearted and humorous take on marriage, fatherhood, sports and lots of the daily foibles of his life.
Bankrate spoke with Greenberg about his love of sports, his financial dealings and how athletes are getting smarter in the way they handle money.
Bankrate: In your book, you portray your love of sports as really intense, and you say that it’s because of sports’ lack of importance in the world. Explain that.
Mike Greenberg: There’s nothing in the world better than investing everything into something that means absolutely nothing. Sports, for me, is the best escapism we have. There are so many things going on in your life that are so difficult, there’s nothing healthier than investing an enormous amount of energy into worrying about whether or not the Jets are going to draft Matt Leinart. Some may think that’s a shallow perspective. I think it’s the healthiest thing you can do.
Bankrate: The sports pages so often resemble the business and crime pages these days. Has that ruined your enjoyment of sports at all?
Mike Greenberg: It hurts it a lot, but the parts of sports that are really special, in my opinion, are unaffected by that. Those things, the business and the crime, are of far greater interest to me as a talk show host than as a sports fan. As a sports fan, I couldn’t care less. What really matters about sports cannot be affected by some guy getting arrested for drugs or anything like that.
Bankrate: Do you find that it’s cut into how much fans love sports?
Mike Greenberg: No. America’s fascination with sports is at an all-time high. Look at the Internet, how the Web sites do, things like fantasy baseball and football, which are colossally popular, and TV ratings. If you look at the number of people watching these games, I think the overall level of interest in sports in this country has never been higher. And, the biggest increase has been in women. I would say, unscientifically, that the number of women into sports has quintupled over the last 15 years.
Bankrate: Do you ever talk to athletes about the financial end of their lives?
Mike Greenberg: Sure.
Bankrate: How do you find most athletes handle their money?
Mike Greenberg: I find that the smart ones don’t even begin to try. The business of sports agents, which used to be about negotiating contracts, has totally changed, because these days all the contracts are preordained — there are salary caps, slots, a rookie minimum. Anyone with any acumen can negotiate a contract. So sports agents make their money in two ways. One, by providing additional revenue for the players, which means marketing them and getting them commercials and other ancillary streams of revenue, which in many cases are more lucrative then what they make at the sport. Tiger Woods makes, I think, $10 million a year golfing, but he made $80 million from American Express alone. Then, as important, the agents handle their money. Ballplayers don’t have the time or expertise to invest the amount of money a schoolteacher makes, much less what a professional athlete makes. So the smart ones hand their money over to someone they trust. Where they really get screwed is that a lot of times, ballplayers surround themselves with guys they grew up with, and these guys don’t have the first clue how to handle money. That’s why athletes wind up losing a lot of their money.
Bankrate: Do you think most athletes are the former or the latter?
Mike Greenberg: Increasingly, I think most of them are the former, because there are so many cautionary tales these days that any ballplayer making serious money — high six or seven figures — has got to be a complete idiot if he doesn’t find someone who can handle his money for him.
Bankrate: Who’s the smartest athlete you know, as far as financial matters are concerned?
Mike Greenberg: I traveled with Michael Jordan for three and a half years at the height of his popularity, and he protected his image the way you might protect a newborn baby. He recognized that his image was worth an almost incalculable amount of money. He didn’t handle his money, he had David Falk and all his business advisers getting him his endorsement deals, but the guy was making tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and he was smart enough to recognize that his earning potential was based not just on his talent as a basketball player, but just as importantly, his image.
Bankrate: Are you, yourself, a conservative investor?
Mike Greenberg: I am a noninvestor myself. All my money is invested through a discretionary account with the stockbroker who’s handled my dad’s money since the 1960s. He has never given me any reason to want to do it on my own. In fact, he has suggested that I take some money, 20 or 30 grand or something like that, and invest it myself, online, just to have the experience. But I don’t have the time. I could not imagine doing that and not really studying and not really following it on a day-to-day basis. So I just sit back and get the statements once a month and see how it’s going.
Bankrate: Do you express any preference to him as to where your investments should go?
Mike Greenberg: Yes, I do. My wife Stacy and I met with him when she was pregnant with our first child. That was during the dot-com craze. We said that the volatility was exciting and that we trusted his judgment completely, but that we wanted to siphon some money into safer areas that would be used for things like the kids’ education, and making sure that, God forbid something really terrible happened in the stock market, or the Internet thing would collapse, as it subsequently did, that we would never find ourselves in a position where I had to sell my house. So to that extent we took control of the situation. But nothing more specific than that. I never said: I want you to invest in this, or in that. We have since put some money into 529 accounts with an eye on my kids someday going to college. That we’ve done on our own, but that was a different situation.
Bankrate: Can you pinpoint some investments that did exceptionally well for you?
Mike Greenberg: Yes. Research in Motion. They make the BlackBerry device. That has been great, without question. Also, I’m fond of saying I bought my house thanks to my good friends at Yahoo. What else? My Starwood stock, Starwood Hotels, has done very well in the last year or two, maybe even more than that. I also had a very big position in a company called Ryanair, which is international investment. It’s an airline in Europe that over the years has done very well. Maybe not as well recently, but in the scheme of things it has.
Have you ever received a good financial tip from an athlete?
Mike Greenberg: No. I did receive a good life tip from an athlete that involved money, though, and it was from Deion Sanders. At the height of his fame and popularity, he was playing for the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, and I was covering it. At that time, all the buzz was about this incredibly expensive car he had bought, I don’t remember what it was. Reporters were asking about it, and he said, “You know what? I worked really hard this year, and I wanted to treat myself to something.” And then he said, “And you guys should all do the same thing.” It was very noncondescending. He said, “You guys don’t make the amount of money I do, but you work hard. Every once in a while you should go out and treat yourself to something, buy yourself something that’s a little more expensive for yourself than you should. You’ll appreciate it.” When I got back to Chicago, I bought myself this leather jacket that I really liked that cost a lot more money than I probably should have spent on a jacket. The reality is, that jacket was my favorite article of clothing for about five years, long after I had forgotten about the cost.
Bankrate: Anything else you can share as far as how you are planning for your retirement and long-term financial future?
Mike Greenberg: It’s funny, because recently, I did the first completely unselfish thing in my entire life — I bought a whole bunch of life insurance. That was a financial decision I had never really thought about before. All of a sudden you wake up one day and realize, I’ve got two kids, and if I should get hit by a truck tomorrow, this is potentially a major problem. All of a sudden, in one day, I went from just being concerned with, “I want to have money to take nice vacations and go to Europe this year,” to much longer-term thinking. The way I try and handle my own finances is, I have a bunch of money invested in the discretionary account I told you about, and my goal is to let that go and never touch it. I don’t ever use that money. Now, I feel if I break even on what I bring in, my investments are growing without my having to interfere with that. So that’s what I consider my long-term financial plan. If I never touch that money, and I have this money in these 529’s which hopefully will pay for, if not all, then most of my kids’ education, then the money I have that is growing, which will hopefully go untouched for the next 20 years or so while I’m still working and maybe even longer than that, should be more than enough for my wife and I to retire on. So that’s the financial strategy I have now. I’m fortunate enough to have been able to put away and invest enough money; I have a fairly sizable chunk there. So if I just live at a zero balance, I’m doing OK.