Shoe me the money! Could Simmons become the $100 million dollar man?
If the grandfather of basketball sneaker endorsements is to be believed, Ben Simmons could be in line to sign a $100 million dollar shoe deal, the moment he lands in the NBA.
Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv spoke to Sonny Vaccaro --one of the most influential voices in the basketball shoe industry who masterminded the initial shoe deals for Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant-- who says he wouldn’t be shocked if Simmons received a giant shoe deal.
"The number doesn't astonish me, the number's been stagnant since LeBron," Vaccaro said. The number he referred to here, is the $90 million shoe deal LeBron James received the moment he jumped from high school to the NBA, before even donning a Cavs jersey.
"It would be the new precedent because LeBron was the last and [Simmons] has the makings in the mind of the NBA that he could be a great, great player. So that's basically what they're saying, he's going to get a $100 million deal. I would understand that."
Simmons' college team LSU is only an outside chance to make the prestigious NCAA tournament, but Vaccaro clearly doesn't believe it will affect his earning potential in the pros.
"LeBron James never played in the NCAA tournament and he got the biggest contract for a one-and-done out of high school. Ben's going to get it because he's a great talent."
Nike would have to be the frontrunner to sign Simmons, for a variety of reasons: history with the brand, the fact that Simmons' high school Montverde and college team LSU are both Nike-affiliated and his former high school teammate and good friend D’Angelo Russell signed with Nike before his rookie season.
Simmons has also shown his fondness of the brand on social media, thanks in part to some Nike grooming that has seen him sporting receive LSU-themed LeBron sneakers: https://twitter.com/BenSimmons25/status/687001122452578304?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
Taking a peek into Simmons' shoe collection, it's apparent where his current preference lies.
Despite all these factors Simmons wouldn't be the first athlete to change his shoe allegiances after receiving the gentle nudge of a truckload of money.
Is Nike the sure winner in the upcoming Simmons sneaker war?
If we were to look at recent precedence of no.1 picks and their shoe deals, there is the case of Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins' significantly lower-than-expected endorsement deal was the result of sneaker companies operating differently in the current business climate. Gone are the days when rookie phenoms like LeBron James receive giant shoe deals. Being significantly younger and unestablished in the pros, their reach does not extend beyond the hardcore basketball fan at that phase, to provide a justifiable return on a huge investment.
These days, the trend is for shoe companies to sign young, untested players to smaller deals, then throw the big contract signature deals at those who prove their ability and star appeal.
Matt Powell from Princeton Retail Analysis told thestar.com, “The brands have said (they) just can’t justify these giant contracts for rookies. It took LeBron James years before he was really able to justify his contract (through sales).”
While Simmons' popularity in college might have surpassed that of Wiggins, it's still highly unlikely Simmons would get the big bucks before proving himself in the league as both a star player and a bankable marketing tool.
Shoe me the money!
What would be the most likely path for Simmons landing a big money shoe deal?
Helping his cause would be playing in a big market like Los Angeles or Miami just like D'Angelo Russell and Justice Winslow did respectively in the recent draft. An industry source told The Vertical that once Russell and Winslow landed in their respective markets, their shoe deal value "went up at that exact second".
Vaccaro also suggested that the potential for a bidding war for Simmons' services might be ignited among the NBA shoe brands, driving his asking price upwards.
Competition for market share is heating up for the non-Nike brands, after Under Armour overtook Adidas as the 2nd highest selling sportswear company in America. This was thanks in large part to the meteoric rise of Steph Curry on and off the court.
"Under Armour is on a roll with Steph Curry and they've gotta get another young one now and this kid is in a great position," Vaccaro reaffirmed. "This kid is in a great position."
This competition for star athletes worked in the favour of James Harden who was poached from Nike by adidas with a 13 year, $200 million contract. Adidas was desperate to add another star player to their basketball shoe stable and with Nike having matching rights, they had to give him a contract to blow the opposition away.
While Simmons is unlikely to receive his shoe deal payday as a rookie, the good news is he has shown the value he brings to the table: talent, and public appeal. If he can prove himself once he hits the NBA there is a good chance he is in line for an outlandishly big shoe deal down the road.