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Big Baller and Modern Sports Marketing

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Mar 4, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Lavar Ball, father of UCLA Bruins guard Lonzo Ball (2), looks on in the stands before the game between the UCLA Bruins and the Washington State Cougars at Pauley Pavilion. Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

There is a talented young basketball player named Lonzo Ball and his father, LaVar, is attempting to cash in on this gift with a line of shoes called Big Baller. It’s not uncommon for parents to be invested in their children’s athletic ability but this is an unusual situation because the father is taking a unique marketing angle.

Lonzo played a single season of college basketball at UCLA and is now headed to the NBA where he is projected to be drafted as one of the first three picks. If taken in that position his first contract will be for three years and around $13 million. That’s a lot of cash, but LaVar is looking at a much bigger payday. In today’s world, superstars earn far more money in endorsement deals than they do in salary. Basketball players in particular often endorse shoes which bear their name.

Until now, players were largely forced to wait until they were superstars before getting such an apparel endorsement. One of the reasons for this is because the apparel companies must invest millions of dollars to produce a new shoe line. Thus, companies wanted only established stars before taking this risk. That particular scenario played out with Ball because the main sneaker companies refused to partner with father and son.

Former UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball. Photo: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

This being the case, LaVar Ball chose a different route. He is releasing his own line of shoes. The Big Baller with Lonzo’s name on it is the signature model. The ZO2 sneaker comes with an enormous price tag of about $500. Signed versions cost double that and a pair of flip-flops in the line runs for $220.

LaVar comes across as an arrogant jerk and many people in the basketball world, and beyond, are criticizing him roundly for the high price of the shoes. The price is completely out of line with the value as footwear. The price for components, assembly, and shipping is nowhere near this total and the profit margin is likely huge.

One of the interesting tidbits is the shoe won’t ship until November 2017. This almost certainly means Big Baller is not producing millions of the shoes the way a major apparel company might. They are likely taking orders now and will manufacturer as many as needed.

All of that is rather tangential to my main point. LaVar Ball is not a likable fellow. His methods reek of greed. His attitude toward those who don’t like him or his son is dismissive. He just doesn’t care. He’s out to make money in any way he can. Many, many people are lambasting him for this attitude.

I have a different take. Not that he isn’t a jerk, but if he wants to attempt capitalization on his son’s athletic ability, more power to him. He’s the one taking the risk by putting out the shoe and no one is being forced to purchase it. No NBA team is being forced to draft his son. It’s possible if this is successful it will be a huge benefit to other athletes. They’ll be able to directly market their product without the necessity of an apparel company.

And remember, LaVar Bell has two more sons.

By Tom Liberman

Tom Liberman is a regular fellow from St. Louis, Mo., who enjoys spending time with his wonderful family and great friends. He writes Sword and Sorcery fantasy novels in his spare time. 

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