LaVar Ball’s Sponsorship Deal Fail; The Missing B: Business Acumen

via FS1

LaVar Ball’s son Lonzo failed to ink an endorsement deal with three top shoe and apparel giants – Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.  The lessons learned can inform others who are interested in making deals with corporations, and also those whose family is deeply involved in managing their careers.  The father, confident in the brand equity of his three sons, asked Lonzo not to agree on any arrangement that did not include a licensing deal.  USA Today reports that in early April, LaVar Ball, serving as his son’s representative asked for an agreement of $1 billion dollars.  He wanted a co-branding arrangement of his concept known as BBB the “Big Baller Brand.”

via USA Today

Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike wasn’t put off by the ask stating, “If he can get it, get it,” but Nike wasn’t going to pay it.  “It’s a little steep,’’ he said, and added, “He’s (Lonzo’s) an awfully great player. Yeah, we have an interest.”

Let me admit, I was one of those who felt a little shock upon learning that Lonzo had been turned down by all three companies.  It’s not clear if the negotiating table is still open at the moment.  As someone who was amused at LaVar Ball’s bravado and over-the-top personality, I also was one who found some of the posts in the “twitter-verse” to be humorous and “laugh out loud” funny.

While humorous, at the same time, I felt bad for Lonzo and his father.

The sadness really hit me Saturday morning, while I was listening to The Trifecta on ESPN Radio. The hosts were talking about LaVar and his lack of business acumen. They discussed his lack of knowledge about deals, branding, etc. As they continued to talk, I began to feel even more sadness for LaVar. It became obvious that although they are respectful of him, it was a bit embarrassing for Sarah Spain and Kate Fagan to talk about what they felt was his lack of understanding of branding, business practices, deals, etc.  When Kate Fagan carefully said, “He is missing some connective tissue.” the discussion started to make me cringe.

On that note, how can those of us who want to have a seat at the table with the “big guns” arrive prepared to win? What is required to be successful in a business scenario that may be unfamiliar territory?  If your dad is in charge of your career, how can you ensure that he doesn’t derail your opportunities?  How can lack of business acumen cease to ever be a factor?  If you didn’t attend business school or if you have little experience interfacing with Corporate America, here are at least four ways to prepare yourself:

1. Prepare your mind:  Shine but stay humble. A great way to remain humble is by surrounding yourself with people who can help you to remain grounded. Have a few dreamers to help you stretch and dream big. Avoid the dream killers, but also have a few people in your circle who are not “Yes Men.” These people will be honest enough tell you the truth, in case your plan doesn’t make sense. Or they will tell you if it doesn’t make sense at this point in time. Allow yourself a level of humility to accept that, and have the patience to continue to “get your house in order” and wait. A wise person told me years ago, “Feedback is a gift.” Embrace it.  Absorb what rings true for you, and put the rest to the side. That may mean slowing down and regrouping.

2.  Learn the aspects of deals:  Bone-up on how deals are structured.  Understand what contracts were executed with players who have proven themselves and juxtapose that with contracts given to new players.  Understand where the line of demarcation exists.  Surround yourself with experienced deal makers, MBA’s and other business people.  Hope for the best, but don’t set your expectations higher than previous deals.

3. Prepare your pitch:  Understand the Brand Value Proposition. How is the brand perceived?  What is the level of quality and reliability associated with the brand?  How loyal are the brand followers?  Can you quantify your answers? Are your answers based on speculation or do you have demonstrated results to point to? The numbers don’t lie. If it is based on projections, ensure that they are realistic.  Did you test out your brand concept?  Your logo?  What was the feedback?  Can you quantify it?  A thoughtful business plan will go a long way in helping you to understand the Brand Equity.  Also, ensure the company can understand what is in it for them in terms of visibility, and tie that back to the financials.  Partners have to visualize the revenue stream for deals to make sense.

4. Create a winning advisory team:  If you can afford it, pay for wise counsel, or align yourself with good mentors. A good sports agent, modeling agent or talent manager, a sports lawyer or contract attorney, and a business person with experience in your industry should all be on speed dial. These individuals have the business savvy, they are well-versed in the current state of deals in the industry, and they have their “ear to the ground” regarding what deals are being offered to your competition.  They can guide and manage your expectations of a realistic offer, and how it can be structured.  It might even be better to have the sports lawyer or contract attorney negotiate on your behalf. By retaining counsel to manage the boardroom discussions and give you sound advice, you can leave the bravado and emotions at home with your family and ensure that your negotiations don’t get stalled.

In negotiations the person who speaks first loses.  Move in silence, and remember, greed can kill deals.   Share your thoughts below… how can talent play to win?  How can family-run businesses succeed?




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