When Mark Patricof is partnering with athletes to invest in companies like SpaceX and TopGolf, he's not looking for hall-of-famers with money in the bank. He wants 22-year-old first-round draft picks.
"That's sort of the sweet spot for us," Patricof told Insider.
The former investment banker knows today's superstars have the potential to make hundreds of millions of dollars more than their predecessors. Everything in sports has a bigger price tag — the salary agreements, media-rights deals, and brand partnerships — and some of that is going straight into the pockets of young athletes.
"It's just a different scale of business," than it used to be, Patricof said. "I'd rather invest my time and energy to work with and advise and invest [in] someone who's 20 years old and has $300 or $400 million of earning ahead of them than someone who's 38 years old and has made $100 million and has very little money left to earn in their career."
He founded in 2018 the company, Patricof Co. The firm has invested roughly $140 million so far. About half of each $10 million to $20 million deal has been backed by athlete clients. The rest comes from top-tier funds, company partners, a group of family offices and high net-worth individuals, and Patricof himself.
Patricof works with more than 230 athlete clients, including legends like Dwyane Wade, Aaron Rodgers, and Venus Williams. But he said that about two-thirds of his clients are under the age of 30. He's signed superstars like 24-year-old point guard Trae Young and 26-year-old quarterback Joe Burrow.
"Burrow's incredible," Patricof said. "24/7 football, but he can compartmentalize enough to know that there are things he should be doing with the right advisor. He's got a great wealth advisor, really good family unit, that enables him to really think through."
Other young athletes in his client base include 21-year-old Cade Cunningham; 22-year-olds Corbin Carroll, Walker Kessler, and Kyle Hamilton; and 24-year-olds Justin Jefferson, Cee Dee Lamb, and Jaelan Phillips. These include a first-round draft pick, an MLB all-star, NFL Pro Bowl players, the league's offensive player of the year, and an NBA rookie of the year finalist — all placing portions of their handsome incomes into Patricof's hands.
The firm has exited three of its 23 investments, including one in Cholula that brought in about a 3x return, according to the company. Patricof Co has invested in the food and beverage, travel, and even farmland sectors, focusing on opportunities in late-stage growth companies and buyouts.
Patricof said working with younger athletes also makes sense for brands, which want long-term deals with relevant and successful players. He said his firm gets more room to invest in those companies because of his younger client base.
Patricof works with a handful of college athletes through a NIL-investment program, where he tries to encourage his clients to become more involved with the companies than just promoting them. He said he hopes this segment of the business grows in the next five years to become half the client base, signing athletes who could stay with the firm long after he retires. Nearing the height of their fortune and fame, now is the time for young athletes to start investing and thinking ahead, he said.
"It's hard to learn that at 22, your relevance is going to be probably at a lifetime-high in the next three or four years of your life," he said. "And you've got to figure out how to capitalize on that in all kinds of ways, including educating yourself as to what you might want to do after you play."
Patricof occasionally speaks to entire NFL teams, encouraging them to start thinking about life after football. He said when the firm surveys athletes about who they admire most, Warren Buffett is one of the most frequent answers. He reminds athletes that Buffett didn't come into massive wealth or fame until his 50s, and they already have a leg up.
"You can build on the fact that you've been incredibly focused and disciplined and worked very, very hard and made sacrifices in your 20s," Patricof tells athletes. "If you can do that in your 20s, then you can definitely do it in your 30s, 40s, and 50s."
Making more money than their predecessors, professional athletes today have no shortage of options to maintain success and wealth after they retire, Patricof said. He said he's already mentoring a current NFL quarterback on his business school applications.
"It's going to be great to look back and see what this generation of athletes has accomplished," Patricof said. "These guys have a real head start, and if they understand that, and they're serious about it, think of what they could do."