By Lela Winston
LaVar Ball has been making waves in the professional sports world lately for more than just adrenaline fueled bravado touting his sons’ on-the-court skills. According to sales inventory tracker Nicekicks.com, Ball sold nearly $300,000 in Big Baller Brand Footwear/apparel In the first week of sales, with purchases tapering off slowly. Launched in 2016, Big Baller Brand has become the embodiment of both Ball’s flagrant personality and his three sons’ basketball talents. The former NFL Europe football player, who once played professionally for the London Monarchs, has been the voice of his own sports apparel line since 2016.
Unlike most NBA draft picks and college athletes, Ball created his own brand for his three sons and sought licensing agreements with top shoe manufacturers eager to cash in on the talent of his oldest son Lonzo, a senior basketball player at the University of California Los Angeles. Talks broke down in April 2017, with Ball opting to move ahead with plans to manufacture his own branded shoe. The move seems unprecedented in a league saturated with endorsement deals and licensing agreements that leave the lion’s share of profit in the hands of retailers, brands and manufacturers. However, Stephon Marbury who played both for the NBA and the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association), also manufactures and markets his own branded shoe.
Ball’s brand came under fire when it was revealed that its signature shoe came with a nearly $500 price tag. The brand also invited further scrutiny, when Ball made incendiary statements that may have hurt his own consumer-base. Still, Ball has done what many professional athletes have yet to endeavor. The advent of easy outsourcing, supply chain and other methods makes Ball’s endeavor readily accessible for the average American, notwithstanding the average professional player. Yet, surprisingly, no one inside or outside of the industry has stepped up to challenge big box brands like Nike, Adidas or Reebok in the name-brand shoe market.
It is unclear whether Ball’s endeavor will be successful, especially at his consumer price point and his inattention to public relations and marketing strategies. The high cost per unit may also discouraged sustained high volume sales among mid to low range buyers and it is unclear whether Ball conducted the necessary market research to determine his ideal market and price-point—a process most athletes leave to big box brands. Regardless of the success or failure of Big Baller Brand, Ball has left a road map of possibility that athletes around the world may emulate.