Former Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant was using his trademark speed in a new arena.
He spent a recent Sunday afternoon at his two-year-old trampoline park in Deptford, climbing up a ladder to fix the thermostat, rushing to answer parents’ phone calls, singing birthday songs, and congratulating kids by their first name as they successfully landed from swinging ninja cords, the ropes hanging from the ceiling.
In between stooping to give children fist bumps and asking how their weeks have gone, Avant said that he always wanted to enter the family entertainment business, and that this park was a natural way to do that when he retired at age 33 in 2016.
With his Deptford park now attracting more than 5,000 visitors a week, Avant is poised to open his second park in Delran next weekend and a third one in Newark, Del., next month.
“Most of my life I played under the spotlight in the field to entertain people," said Avant, who is 35 and has three children, ages 2, 5 and 7. "I want to keep doing this, entertaining people while keeping them in shape.”
Avant was drafted by the Eagles in 2006 and had his career highs with 41 receptions for 587 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2009. He received the Eagles’ Ed Block Courage Award, voted by team members in 2010. Four years later, the Eagles released Avant before his second contract was over. He went on to brief stints with the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs. In 2016, offers were flying at him from the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons, but he had already signed a franchising agreement a year before for up to $2.8 million in investments for the Deptford site.
“I didn’t want to chase youth anymore,” Avant explained while taking selfies with boys clustering around him. Behind him, kids from 3 to 16 were bouncing on trampolines, throwing dodge balls, and making their own pizzas. The 32,000-square-foot trampoline park features 15,000 square feet of jumping space with virtual-reality laser arcades. The park is open 4 to 10 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends, charging $20 an hour and $10 an hour after 8 pm.
With 5,000 to 7,000 visitors per week, Avant’s Deptford park finished No. 1 in revenue among all 21 Launch Franchise parks in the country, according to the Warwick, R. I.-based company. Launch Park was co-founded by Ty Law, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, and will soon have 28 locations in 15 states, according to its web site.
It’s a trend for retiring athletes to invest in or franchise their own businesses rather than returning to the field to be trainers or coaches, said John Allgood, assistant professor of sport and recreation management at Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management. “They have been over-performers all their life. No matter if it’s snow or storm, they train and play the game. This kind of high-achieving and competitive mindset helps them to succeed in businesses.”
With a median income of $3 million a year, NFL players are more concerned with being good stewards of their wealth compared with their counterparts of a generation ago, experts say. Retiring athletes are more attracted to active investments than passive ones, such as sitting on a couch watching the stock market every morning, said Cliff Holekamp, professor of entrepreneurship at the Olin Business School of Washington University in St. Louis.
“When a football player retires, they go from 100 miles an hour to zero overnight. They are used to an intense workout schedule and incredibly tight pressure, but suddenly, you just stop," Holekamp said. “Getting your hands dirty in operating a business and creating sweat equities to generate recurring income is very attractive.”
And their names also bring sizzle and celebrity to a business model, said Holekamp. Their personal brand and engagement give market value to the organization, whereas an index fund is not going to do any better because a famous football player is affiliated with it, Holekamp added.
Avant got the idea of franchising trampoline parks when he took his daughter to Skyzone Trampoline Park in Charlotte, N.C., when he was playing for the Panthers in 2014. “She was laughing and loved it so much. I thought to myself, ‘I could do something like this and this business model could work’.” Avant talked with the owner, asked questions, and did research on demographics and market analysis. He also went back to the University of Michigan and completed the one-week NFL business boot camp.
“It is a huge challenge any time you have a dramatic shift in industry or occupation," said Holekamp. “But the key to this type of transition is a mentor, and former athletes are very well trained to be recipients of coaching and advice.”
Avant sought advice from an entrepreneur friend who owned 13 Skyzone Trampoline Parks in the country. He then went to Law, a fellow University of Michigan alum and Launch Trampoline Park co-founder, and worked on a Delaware launch park for a year to gain experience.
Sports Illustrated reported in 2009 that the bankruptcy rate for NFL players is as high as 78 percent within five years after retirement. The main cause is that athletes retire in their 20s or 30s with fortunes for a lifetime but do not know how to spend the money wisely, financial advisers say.
“They do not experience the learning curve on retirement planning over 20 or 30 years, as most people do,” said Jeff Ladouceur, director of client advice and solutions at SEI Private Wealth management in Oak, Pa. The firm advises high-net-worth athletes in the region. “A lot of them are attracted to franchising and operating businesses, but there are risks,” Ladouceur said.
“Just because they can feel and touch it and people are attending, they think it is safe and more manageable, but it isn’t, ” he added. “Their fame could add a blow to the business if there is mismanagement.”
With plans to open his second park, in Delran over the weekend and the third one in Newark, Delaware next month, Avant is not daunted by the high rate of bankruptcy among his peers. Having purchased some tax-free municipal bonds as safe investments, Avant sees franchising the parks as his career despite challenging competition in the area.
“Jason Avant is the nicest guy. I have seen him sweeping the floor,” said Kara Menard, a pharmacist from Deptford, while watching her two daughters wriggling up the ropes on the Ninja court. “The girls love it here. That’s the only trampoline parks we come to now.” Menard first took her daughters here when the park opened in 2017 and stopped going to Skyzone, a competitor in the area.
Not all parents are fully satisfied with the park, and some worry about safety measures. Azieza Kazlak, a real-estate agent who lives a 15-minute drive away from the park, had her eyes glued on her 8-year-old son as he bounced and shot hoops with three other boys. She pointed at a rule board with white letters next to the court.
“You see that sign over there?” Kazlak asked. “It says only one jumper is supposed to be there at a time. In Skyzone they actually have a person standing there to make sure there is only one child jumping in one section.” A staff member was standing near the basketball court but did not stop the three to four kids jumping around and trying to catch the same ball.
Avant says there are always staff members on site to make sure children are not bumping into each other and following the rules. “The most likely injuries could be a sprained ankle, and it happens more often with adults who have not been active for a long time,” Avant said. The company has good umbrella insurance policies, he said, and his staff actively monitor injury reports if they come in.
Avant said transitioning into business was never smooth for him. He considered starting his own brand when retiring but did not want his inexperience to affect the business. He appreciated having a playbook with guidelines and successful market-validated examples to follow when starting out.
With up to 70 employees between ages 16-40 at each park, Avant said the hardest part is shifting roles to be more like a coach himself.
“The years of not having to think about things and follow the coach, and everyone else just having it done for you are over,” he said.