NBA Draft Picks Should Temper Marketing Expectations

The Washington Post reports Ty Lawson is preparing to embark on a marketing program to generate awareness and eventually lead to sponsorship deals. It actually sounds as though Lawson and his team have put together a thorough, well thought out personal marketing plan for the former UNC point guard that involves a logo, social network strategy, a blog, and what amounts to a brand message – speed.

It all sounds great, until you realize Lawson is projected to go in the second half of the first-round, likely pick 15 or higher. He was not the most noteworthy player on his college team, and he is unlikely to start next year for the team that lands him. His chances for any significant endorsements, outside of the standard shoe deal, are highly unlikely.

College players with big aspirations for off the court dollars need a reality check when they enter the league. Only major superstars are individually marketable. Many All-Stars don’t have significant endorsement deals. Remember any noteworthy commercials starring Chauncey Billups recently or Chris Bosh. Pau Gasol, Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen ? And these are all among the highest paid players in the look, the most talked about players in the league, and for the most part play on high-profile teams. They make their money on the court, not off it.

Most rookies will get shoe deals, though likely at lower prices than in recent years. Otherwise, given the lack of depth in this year’s draft, Blake Griffin may be the only rookie to snag non-endemic deals, already associated with Subway and EA Sports. Ricky Rubio has a uniqueness about him – his look, his heritage, and the hype – that differentiates him from the field and it could help land a deal. Stephen Curry has a similar aura surrounding him, but few other players have the immediate playing potential or infectious personality to move the needle for a brand.

Add in the additional scrutiny any sponsorship deal faces during this recession and era of TARP funds, and the player needs to be that much more of a sure fire bet to even get a look. Should a company who risks scrutiny for any endorsement deal, choose an individual – always riskier than a team or league – without untested playing ability, low public awareness, and unproven public image. Sounds risky.

Lawson’s game does have flash and he should continue to create his brand, leverage social networks, generate awareness, get involved with the community, and display his personality. If done right, it can only help. His advisors should focus on local products in the market that drafts him, his hometown, and in North Carolina, where he starred in basketball. They know him well there, and its an easier sell given his relative fame in the local areas. Use that as a building block for bigger and better in the future.

Meantime, if Lawson wants to earn marketing dollars his primary focus should be on his game. Nothing can raise awareness more than performing well on the big stage.

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