Retired NFL cornerback Morgan Trent nowadays is a luxury real estate agent who sells homes worth millions of dollars in Orange County and Los Angeles.
While the Rancho Mission Viejo resident will be watching his former team play at next weekend’s Super Bowl, he doesn’t dwell on his past glory as a Cincinnati Bengals defensive back.
“I want to be known as a great businessman that happened to also play in the NFL, not the other way around,” Trent told the Business Journal.
“It’s the biggest compliment I can receive.”
The NFL, which is hosting the Super Bowl on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, has numerous well-known connections to Orange County, including holding the current headquarters of the Los Angeles Chargers in Costa Mesa. The area is also home to star NFL agents who hang their shingles here like Ryan and Bruce Tollner’s REP 1 Sports in Irvine, and Leigh Steinberg and Chris Cabott’s Steinberg Sports & Entertainment in Newport Beach.
What may be less known is how many retired and active NFL players live here and are involved in OC business ventures.
“There are more than 500 retired NFL players living in Orange County,” said Irvine resident Donte Whitner, a former pro-bowler who is president of the Orange County Chapter of the NFL Players Association.
“They’re not as famous as basketball or baseball players because they wore their helmets during their careers and have slimmed down since their playing days,” Whitner said.
“They are all over Orange County. You might see them at the grocery store or riding a bicycle.”
Whitner, who wrote this week’s Leader Board (see page 63) on what the Super Bowl is like for players, is a partner in wealth manager Kirtland Hills Capital and sits on the advisory boards of organizations helping athletes understand the importance of financial literacy.
The OC-based players often know each other and discuss possible investments.
“We’re pretty connected,” Jordan Palmer, a former NFL quarterback for five teams, told the Business Journal.
“I’ve always felt professional football is like being an entrepreneur. A couple of years, I made millions. Other years, I made nothing, and I lived with my parents.”
The Rodgers Connection
Palmer says his best friend is Nate Raabe, who co-founded Newport Beach’s private equity firm Rx3 Growth Partners with two other notable “R’s,” Byron Roth, owner of the biggest investment bank headquartered in Orange County, Roth Capital; and Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.
“Anytime you have somebody as credible as Aaron, it’s easier to raise money,” said Raabe, who became friends with Rodgers when the two were at college in the Bay Area.
Rx3 closed its first $50 million fund in 2019, and has since made numerous notable lifestyle brand-focused investments such as Hydro, a rowing-machine company that’s been valued at more than $1 billion.
It had four exits thus far, with an internal rate of return of 62%, according to Raabe.
At press time, Rx3 was close to finishing its second round where it expects to raise more than $120 million.
Among its investors are current and former NFL quarterbacks (including several who played locally in high school and college) such as Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, and brothers Josh and Kyle Allen. The Heisman Trophy-winning receiver Desmond Howard is a “big supporter and partner” as well.
“There are a lot of NFL guys in Orange County,” Raabe said. “All are very interested in business. They have all kinds of different businesses and individual one-off investments.”
Rx3 works on financial literacy with the players, explaining their investments in consumer growth brands that emphasize sports and an active lifestyle.
“They’re making a transition from playing to the business world,” Raabe said. “We put them in touch with exciting brands.”
Instead of a company paying an athlete to promote a product, the player instead seeks to pay the company for an equity stake, Raabe said.
“You’re flipping a traditional model on its head. If we believe in a brand, we invest.”
It’s a model that’s been used by fast-growing exercise recovery device maker Hyperice of Irvine, which has built a large portfolio of prominent athlete investors/endorsers from a variety of sports.
The three Rx3 founders will “definitely” attend the Super Bowl and its festivities in the area, according to Raabe.
“We’re excited to have the Super Bowl in our backyard,” Raabe said.
Jordan Palmer, the younger brother of fellow former NFL quarterback Carson Palmer, was a star college quarterback at the University of Texas, El Paso.
When Jordan Palmer was a backup quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, he started Rock Software Inc. to help teammates make iPhone apps. That company was eventually successfully sold, he said.
He also founded Santa Ana’s Qalo, which makes Silicon wedding rings that are geared to those who are active in sports or other outdoor activities.
“We created the category,” Palmer said, adding it had about $150 million in sales before Qalo was also successfully sold.
He also co-founded Common Thread Collective, a growing online Costa Mesa-based sales agency focused on e-commerce work with 80 employees.
He also runs QB Summit where he holds 10 weekend training camps for aspiring and established quarterbacks, charging up to $1,500 a person.
He’s also a consultant for college and NFL teams and is building a channel on YouTube.
“I train quarterbacks for the NFL draft and work with NFL veteran quarterbacks,” he said.
Palmer has received rave reviews from participants, including current NFL quarterbacks.
“From where I was in high school [in San Clemente], JP and Summit was able to transcend my game,” Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold said on Palmer’s website.
Palmer considers many of them friends, noting he recently played golf with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Palmer has been training Joe Burrow, Cincinnati’s starting quarterback in Sunday’s Super Bowl, since he was in college.
Will Palmer be going to the Super Bowl?
“Yep. I’m working on getting tickets right now.”
Newport Beach’s Revitate is an investment platform founded late last year by the siblings Alex Bhathal (an adviser to Rx3) and Lisa Bhathal Merage, as well as Chief Operating Officer Kunal Merchant, who heads the firm’s sports development unit.
They have attracted many NFL players as advisers and/or investors to their firm, which is targeting investments in real estate, sports and consumer products.
For example, former Tennessee Titan player Derrick Morgan advises Revitate on urban real estate investments that are increasingly gaining attraction as “opportunity zones.”
Merchant and the Bhathals, whose family are co-owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, were instrumental in developing Sacramento’s downtown and new arena.
Now, they see opportunities to do the same in other cities. Revitate is leading a bid to redevelop the 50-acre Midway sports arena district in San Diego into a dynamic mixed-use district anchored by a new arena and entertainment district.
“The business is to try to do a San Diego version of Sacramento where you create a real new destination,” Merchant said.
He pointed out that teams like the Buffalo Bills and the Washington Football Team (now the Washington Commanders) are eyeing new homes.
“Several cities and teams are exploring new stadiums. It’s an emerging frontier of opportunity.
“In this attention economy, live sports like football are really valuable,” he said.
“We’re in the early stages of evaluating a whole range of opportunities.”
Whitner has become more involved in OC businesses of late, and appreared on a Revitate panel last fall.
He’s head of sports for Kirtland Hills Capital, which was begun in 2015 by James Luthardt to manage his family’s wealth as well as those of other wealthy families; it’s also a registered investment advisory that lists $98 million in assets under management, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
When Whitner speaks with former and current players, he discusses not just financial information, but also lifestyles.
“I know what a lot of guys go through,” he said. “They are transitioning from the NFL where they got so much attention.”
When Whitner was in San Francisco, he was invited to plenty of Bay Area venture capital events.
“Donte opens the doors for a lot of investments that we wouldn’t hear about otherwise,” Luthardt told the Business Journal. “The NFL players who retire in Orange County are the most successful of the players.”
After a three-year career playing in the NFL, Trent sought advice from billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross, who like Trent, is an alumnus of Michigan. In 2012, Trent arrived in Orange County to work on development projects for the Related Companies, which is owned by Ross.
Since beginning as a realtor in 2018, he’s sold more than $175 million in luxury homes in Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Last year, he began Trent Luxury, a real estate firm affiliated with the Aaron Kirman Group and Compass. Kirman and Trent are co-stars on the CNBC show, “Listing Impossible,” which featured the sale of a Dana Point home for almost $10 million.
Trent said he now has 14 employees that sell a variety of real estate, some as high as $50 million. His website features homes sold such as $10.5 million in Laguna Niguel and $10.2 million in Laguna Beach.
Who are his clients?
“Rich ones,” Trent quipped. “Business owners and finance guys. A lot of athletes cannot afford the homes that we are selling.”
Trent has always liked looking at big homes.
“I was always intrigued by the finer things. What’s better than looking at beautiful homes?”
Besides real estate, Trent is also involved in companies that provide tax advice on real estate.
NFL players at a young age learn firsthand the importance of tax planning, he said.
“When you see your first paycheck it’s definitely an eye-opener,” Trent said.
He has no regrets about retiring from the NFL.
“People ask me if I miss football. I miss the paychecks on Tuesdays. I had the chance to live out a childhood dream. You miss the locker room and the comradery, but I’m blessed I do what I do.
“I never want to be known as the guy who was successful for catching a football. I’m not going to stop until I get where I’m going.”