The response to the release of the ZO2 signature shoe of U.C.L.A. star Lonzo Ball, staged by Drake was swift and nearly unanimous.
“I’m sure the brands all said ‘Yeah, we’re interested, we’d like to pay him a couple million dollars’… The revenue opportunity they’ve had is now over.”
That was the comment of Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at NPD Group. Powell predicted sales of 10,000 pairs, which he called the equivalent of a “rounding error” for the 400 million in sales last year by Nike.
Haitham Khan, one of many consignment entrepreneurs checking out the brand, was more succinct, “No one’s going to buy them”, he told the New York Times. Another in the market, Karl Leung said, “I’d rather buy a lottery ticket.”
Why all the angst, negativity and vitriol?
The obvious answer is one or more of the following:
- Ball just finished one year at U.C.L.A., not even drafted yet, and has the nerve to market his own shoe
- Market a shoe of the unproven for $495 shows his ego is bigger than not just a basketball but the arena where he will someday play
- Here is sports worst example of a father capitalizing on his son, with the brashness of Mohammed Ali, without the wit and charm.
I get that. If I was the father, agent, friend, or person of influence I would have chosen a different launch time and marketing approach. But what appears to be lost in the transition of this immensely talented 19-year-old from college to a profession, is the laudable big picture importance of his entrepreneurship. We lose it because for some of us unconscious biases are at work.
If Lonzo Ball was as talented and celebrated a bowler as he is a basketball player, and he came out with a signature bowling ball at an upper-end list price, would all the same negativity attach? Would we be saying he should wait until he is established on the pro bowling circuit?
Probably not. We would probably praise him for having the business savvy to take advantage of his notoriety while we can. We would probably compliment his desire to learn to be a business person as an early adult, even with the inevitable mistakes that befall all those who have a first venture in business.
Next is an issue of transferred aggression. Father Ball would not be cast in the 50’s series “Father Knows Best”. But I had to stop and think of times when I had compassion for a teenager. When that occurs, there is a greater ability to separate the sins of the father from the son. Demonizing both is overbroad, or at best insensitive. At worst, it is hypocritical to denigrate the business education that we would love to do for our own son. The way LaVar does it is a lesser evil than the intended benefit of having a son learn the business world early. As the son said, he’d rather be the entrepreneur than the endorser. Who among us disagrees with that fatherly advice?
Another popular TV show from the 50’s is “The Price is Right”. America is the planet’s best example of capitalism where the price is determined by the market, the buyers not the regulators. Not even the wanna-be regulators who editorialize in print or spoken word for a living. The buyers, not the pontificators are the ultimate judges of worth. If the shoe does not carry the value, the public will not buy it, and the venture fails for its lack of quality for the price.
For those of us who say the price is too high, how do we already know the market? How do we know how much of the proceeds will be donated back to less fortunate people?
Of course, we don’t know.
If we think that Ball is not going to put some of his money to help others, then do we disdain trickle-down economics? That is potentially what he can do with part of the proceeds from the high-priced item. Or rather, do we just disbelieve in trickle-down economics as applied to him. If we have more faith in other forms of it, like tax cuts will create more jobs for others instead of more pocket wealth for shareholders, then some other assumptions are probably playing off the court.
The ZO2 venture certainly brings several questions. We don’t have all the answers. But we do have assumptions, whether we admit them or not.
He is one of many street cred buyers of new releases intending to market to companies like Flight Club seeking a percentage of the proceeds on resale. See Marc Tracy, At $495, a Signature Shoe is Met with Headshakes, The New York Times, May 6, 2017, B9.