Thursday, May 18, 2017

May 18, 2017

I don’t do too much non-recruiting or non-football commentary. I venture least frequent into discussion of pro sports, especially the NBA. I am not a huge fan of the NBA, but I still appreciate the athleticism of some the best players. Last year, following Kobe Bryant’s final masterpiece, I shared my thoughts. I had never really been a Bryant fan, but that did not lessen my appreciation for his talent.

Now comes another talent whose ability is virtually unsurpassed in the upcoming draft. I have watched Lonzo Ball play multiple times and can only say that the young man is extremely blessed with the kid of talent with which most of us could only hope to achieve.

With his talent (and that of is younger brother), the bright spotlight has been shone on his outspoken father. I want to be clear on a couple of things, I actually love the manner in which he talks about his sons. I have no problem with him acting as a defector publicist, so to speak. If his nature offends people, that is not really a concern in his mind. The reality is that not too many of us want to be told how to guide our children, or how to love them, or how to raise them. We make our mistakes and we accept the consequences. So I get that he bristles at some of the criticism. I would too.

But sometimes his nature is almost too thin-skinned. He takes things too seriously and refuses to back down. I suppose that is the nature of the environmental landscape in which we currently exist. Everyone ‘doubles down’ on their position, even if it is wrong. Such was the case when Ball went through a very awkward interview on Colin Cowherd recently. Most people have read about it – and Kristine Leahy responded eloquently and remarkably well today.

“LaVar Ball has every right to disagree with anything that I say, anything that any of us say. I really enjoy debate. I just like it to be respectful. You and I debate, we debate all the time. It’s what we do here. But we do it in a respectful way. We don’t threaten each other. We don’t dismiss each other. We look each other in the eye. We don’t make personal attacks about weight.

“I asked him a question. That is my job as a reporter. And he came back at me in a very dismissive and inappropriate way. So, I had two choices: I could either sit back and take it … Or I could stand up for myself and talk to him. Still, with complete respect. And for the record, I’ve actually supported him being such a strong voice for his son, and we talk more about his son than anyone else because of what he’s done for him.

“He goes on lots of shows. He has this kind of shtick about him where he’s outspoken, but with that, comes room for being criticized by the media. That’s our jobs. And what he’s upset at me for is for something that I said a few weeks ago on the show that when he was getting turned down from Under Armour, Nike and Adidas for these partnerships, I said, ‘If he wants to think like a mogul and work with these companies, he has to look at what they do.’ And that’s they market to women. Women are the people buying their sons’ shoes. They make up more than half of sales for these types of brands. So, he has to think like that if he wants to be this big mogul.

“So he was upset at me for what I said there, and that’s completely fine. But you can’t come at me and disrespect me and not look me in the eye and threaten me. That’s just not OK.”
She is a fantastic reporter and certainly does not need me to defend her; nor to support her claims.

But LaVar Ball’s own comments show exactly what she was attempting to discuss. LaVar Ball is attempting to create a new brand; a shoe that can compete with the ‘big boys’ like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. While all three refused to work with Ball based on his demands, they are also all prime examples of how you build a brand from ground up; and it is not by ignoring more than half of the potential market for your products.

Women account for nearly 51% of the population and are, statistically speaking, the primary determinant of spending in households. Women also account for the fastest rising segment of the population who begin playing sports. That means that the market for women’s apparel is growing faster than that of men’s. This is basic business here, and it is what LaVar Ball seems to be missing. You cannot just start demanding $500 for a pair of shoes, and then alienate the prime decision makers at the same time.

If he really wants to make this brand work, he is going to have to find a method to alleviate this alienation. Nike has specifically targeted this emerging market for women’s sports apparel to dominate the industry. Going toe-to-toe with ‘challengers’ has been something Nike has had to deal with sicne their inception. And, generally speaking, those challengers rise briefly and then fade to their niche. Under Armour is the most recent challenger to the Nike throne as ‘king of sports apparel’ and they are nowhere near Nike’s level. The difference, though, is that Under Armour understands the life cycle of a business. They are growing by starting out with a core and improving upon that core.

And they don’t alienate half of the market.

I think that what Ball is doing could work. But it will only work if he decides he wants to be more than just a promoter. Maybe I am wrong about how his words are alienating people and maybe there is a hidden segment of people willing to pay five bills for a pair of shoes from a man who seems to have a certain disdain for a large segment of our population. But I don’t think so in this case. It is 2017. Telling a woman to ‘stay in your lane’ gets heard by a large segment of this society as ‘you belong at home’ and that does not go over well. Do I think that’s what he meant? Who knows. He says a lot of things that I think we interpret one way, but he means in another.

Being tactful may not matter in some areas of life; but it does when you are trying to build a company. If Ball wants his BigBaller Brand to be something more than $25,000 worth of sales that is a lesson he will need to learn in a hurry. Otherwise, he is just another guy with talented sons. That’s never been enough to create a multi-billion dollar company.

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