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Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu: What it’s like to be a stock

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati BengalsBaltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals
Mohamed Sanu of the Cincinnati Bengals waves to fans as he walks off of the field after defeating the Baltimore Ravens 27-24 at Paul Brown Stadium on October 26, 2014Photograph by Andy Lyons — Getty Images

Even if you’re an NFL fan, you may not be familiar with Mohamed Sanu. But enough people believed in the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver’s “brand value” to buy 164,300 shares of a Sanu “tracking stock” from Fantex.

The Sanu stock began trading on the secondary market last October, and on June 30 it will pay its first cash dividend of 20 cents per share, Fortune has learned exclusively.

This is the first dividend from a Fantex stock other than Vernon Davis, which has paid three. Of the five Fantex stocks that are actively trading, Sanu’s, at $13, has the highest price. (Only Sanu’s and Alshon Jeffery’s are above the $10 IPO price; Vernon Davis, the biggest name Fantex has taken public thus far, is down to $8 at the time of writing.)

A reminder, for the uninformed: Fantex stocks are not truly stocks in the athlete, but stocks in Fantex, the company, which owns a 10% equity stake in all future brand income of that athlete. Fantex pays each new signee a one-time fee (Sanu got $1.56 million), which it raises in the IPO. The stocks are meant to fluctuate based on the perceived value of the athlete, on and off the field.

 

 

It all may seem pretty strange, but the stocks are paying dividends and the company continues to sign new pro athletes, so, by those metrics, the concept is working. (Fantex CEO Buck French has higher hopes that athlete stocks will become a new asset class for mainstream investors, which is a bit more unlikely.) Sanu, 25 and preparing for his fourth season in the NFL, spoke to Fortune by phone about his deal with Fantex. He spoke from his car while driving to the hospital for an appointment—he’s expecting his first child soon.

What follows is an edited transcript.

Fortune: When Fantex first approached you, did the concept seem strange to you?

Mohamed Sanu: I wouldn’t say the concept was strange—it was unique and different. And I liked that. I was intrigued by what they were trying to do with making everybody into more of a business… Which is the essence of what we already are. That was really intriguing to me and I wanted to jump on board.

What does it feel like to have people investing in a Mohamed Sanu stock?

Oh, I think it’s pretty awesome. I never thought anything like this would happen, but you never know, you just play the cards you dealt. I never thought I would be living in Kentucky, either. But I am.

Have you sought advice from the other players who’ve signed with Fantex?

I’ve spoken to Vernon [Davis] about it, not so much for advice but we talk about it because we all have unique experiences. He’s on the west side of the country, I’m on the east side, so we all have our different agendas. For example, he’s into broadcasting, and I’m more into learning about a lot of different things right now.

When you say you’re trying to learn about things, do you mean outside of football? Are you trying to set up for what’s next?

Yeah, you never know how long your football career is, man. You have to be prepared for life after football. There are a lot of guys who… football is all they have. And I love football to death, it got me here, it’s what I’ve been doing since I was nine years old, but football ends at a point in time and you’ve got to be prepared for life after football. You’ve got to be prepared to venture off and start a new path… to help your family be stabilized for the future.

Was the Fantex deal part of your planning for the future?

Definitely, Fantex is part of that, because I’m using football as my platform to catapult myself into business and learn more about business. I want to be a successful businessman outside of football. I’ve done being a successful football player, but I’m just learning about how business works. Even doing interviews like this, and talking to other business owners and picking their brain, learning how they established themselves, how they got started… You have to be real gritty with things like that, you need the determination to learn these things.

 

 

So what kind of business would you want to get into?

I have some ideas, but nothing final. I’m just bumping ideas off people and learning from them. I got a little idea brewing that I’m thinking about… but it changes often. It’s just a starting point. I know I want to do something with kids and help them become better mentally, physically and emotionally. They’re the future after we’re gone. So we have to prepare kids to be adults.

Once your tracking stock debuted, did you feel there was more pressure on you on the field?

There’s no such thing as pressure. I feel like you create your own pressure. I play football, that’s what I do, and people can bet on me if they want to, and if they don’t, then their loss. Then they don’t get a share of the wealth.

Have you talked about Fantex with your teammates, do they ask you about it, tease you about it?

Ah yeah, of course, there are guys that ask you questions, ask why you did it, and you just tell them, ‘I feel like it was best for me.’ Some guys were saying I was worth more, or I should have waited a year, but it’s like, Well, it is what it is.

Right now your stock is the highest-priced Fantex stock.

That’s because people are smart.

Do you have any endorsement deals currently, or brand partnerships?

Not many yet. I have a relationship with Nike. I’m in between marketing guys right now, I don’t have that much going on, but we’ll see, in the future.

One of the selling points Buck makes about Fantex is that Fantex doesn’t just debut the stock, it also works with athletes to help them get new deals. Is that happening?

Yeah, I am definitely working on some stuff with them, we’ve got some deals coming. It’s like a family.

[At this point Fantex CEO Buck French, who sat in on the call, added: “People are at different stages of creating market awareness, so it’s just different plans for different folks. For example, Mo had a great season last year. When Marvin Jones and A.J. Green got hurt, Mo stepped up… so we wanted to let people know how well he did, so we went on radio row during the Super Bowl and did, really, a P.R. tour about Mo… normally, no one is doing that for him. So it’s less about signing a new deal at that time than creating awareness that generates downstream opportunities later.”]

Mo, do teammates talk to each other about endorsement deals? Is that a topic of conversation in the locker room?

Not really. We talk more about the game or about NBA Finals, the Belmont Stakes, whatever is going on in sports.

Are there guys playing today, or retired, who you think have handled their brand the right way?

Yeah, a guy like Larry Fitzgerald is a phenomenal player and even better person. He’s one of those guys that knows how to conduct himself, knows how to play the game, is very intelligent with his brand building.

Okay. Congrats on expecting your first kid.

Thank you. I’m excited. He’s going to be a savage.