John Karaffa doesn’t say much publicly about exactly who his clients are.
They like it that way.
That’s because his New Kent County-based accounting firm, ProSport CPA, serves a list made up almost exclusively of pro athletes, along with some professional entertainers, musicians and actors.
“We don’t ever talk about who the clients are. But they’re definitely some of the most well-known men and women in the world in all sports,” said Karaffa, who played professional basketball overseas for 12 years before becoming a full-time CPA.
While that built-in level of privacy means ProSport also keeps a low profile, Karaffa said it hasn’t hindered the nearly 13-year-old firm’s growth.
It has quietly grown into a 20-person firm representing more than 1,000 athletes and entertainers, mostly handling their tax work.
And now ProSport is beginning to start to fly a bit above the radar, at least in its home town.
The company is building a new headquarters from scratch off an increasingly busy stretch in the Quinton area of the county.
ProSport will move into the two-story, 12,000-square-foot building in January. It will occupy the top floor and part of the first, with the rest of the ground level leased out to Cooper’s Tavern and Taproom.
The new restaurant is from Grub LLC, the group behind New Kent’s the Trojan Grill and Martha’s Kitchen, and the Blue Heron restaurant at River’s Rest Resort in Charles City County.
ProSports’ building at 7524 Cumberland Station Road is the first phase of what Karaffa has planned as a multi-phase development of the 3.2-acre plot, which he bought in 2019 for $275,000. He said there’s enough room there for potentially two additional phases of commercial space that could bring the total development to nearly 40,000 square feet.
He’s dubbed the development Patriot’s Park, part of the larger surrounding Patriot’s Landing development off Route 60. It’s tucked behind a strip center with a Dunkin donut shop and a Bojangles next door.
Nathan Shor, Andrew Thacker and Thomas Langston of S.L. Nusbaum are representing Karaffa in its development and lease out of the property and its future phases.
Evans Construction is the general contractor on the new building, which was designed by architect Roy Delph. The restaurant space was designed by Fultz & Singh Architects. Karaffa financed the project through Atlantic Union Bank.
After years of working out of a home-turned-office nearby, Karaffa said the new building will serve in part to put ProSport more on the map in the eyes of locals.
“We’re kind of a well-kept secret locally,” he said. “We’ve stayed under the radar and are waiting for this building as our local coming out, so-to-speak.”
The idea for ProSport was born out of Karaffa’s international basketball career, which began after playing college ball at Butler University in Indiana. He was considered at the time a small forward.
“I was kind of like Charles Barkley. I was just a wrecking ball,” he said.
After graduating with an accounting degree in 1991, Karaffa started his time in pro basketball with a year in New Zealand, before playing 11 years in Germany. All the while he kept one foot in accounting, working for PriceWaterhouseCoopers in between his time on the court.
Through his own experience and that of other players he knew, he realized the complexity in tax filings that American athletes had to deal with while playing abroad.
That experience stuck with him while he moved back stateside, ending up in Richmond to work for GE Financial, a predecessor of what is now Henrico-based Genworth Financial. Then he made the move to strike out on his own, looking to capitalize on what he saw as a sweet spot between sports and accounting.
“I always had it in mind that I wanted to put it all together,” he said.
He launched ProSport and found fertile ground helping not only American athletes abroad but also those playing in the U.S.
One reason athletes use a firm like Karaffa’s is the so-called “jock tax,” by which players in certain sports have to file taxes in the various cities and states in which they play. That includes not only the home state of their given teams but also each place they play on the road.
“The biggest thing for them is they have to file taxes in so many jurisdictions. They end up having to file taxes in most of the states and even the cities where they compete. Each of the different places wants a cut.
“They also earn money in different ways: wages from the team, endorsements, sponsorship and appearance money. And they need to make sure that’s all accounted for properly.”
He said the same need is there for musicians and actors.
“They all touch the international tax in some way,” he said.
Just as Karaffa doesn’t say much about his clients, he also doesn’t like to discuss publicly how much revenue his firm brings in.
But he has a way of illustrating the firm’s success in its chosen niche.
“Because this is all we do, we’re basically really good at it,” he said. “We’re the largest provider in probably most of the sport leagues. This next year we’ll work with close to 300 NFL players. We’re working with 15 percent of the NBA.”
The firm also has clients from Major League Soccer and nearly 100 pro baseball players. Karaffa said baseball is its next big area for potential growth.
Nearly 13 years in, Karaffa said the steady growth and high profile clients has brought offers from bigger firms. But Karaffa says he likes his low profile nestled quietly in New Kent.
“We’ve had people interested,” he said. “I don’t want to be known as the big guy yet. We’re doing just fine as the little guy.”