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The shoe deal market for rookie NBA players is the worst in recent years, with offers to players down as much as 50 percent over last year, agents and other industry experts said.
Although there was buzz that several deals were imminent, no first-round draft picks had announced deals as of early last week. Sources said that Nike, as well as a non-U.S. shoe company, were close to signing top-10 players.
But other sources, including prominent agents, said a number of high-profile players could enter the league without a shoe agreement.
“The shoe market is almost like it was pre-[Michael] Jordan and definitely pre-Kobe Bryant, who was one of the first $1 million-a-year kids,” said Sonny Vaccaro, who has signed players to endorsement deals for Nike, Adidas and Reebok in his career. “This is July and there are no announcements made.”
Tom Shine, Reebok senior vice president of global sports and entertainment marketing, said that some offers were being made but that agents were not biting.
“I think in general, the offers are probably 40 to 50 percent lower than last year,” Shine said. Last year, shoe endorsement deals for first-round draft picks ranged from about $1.5 million annually for the No. 1 pick, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, to about $300,000 a year for middle-round selections to about $100,000 for bottom-of-the-round picks, sources said.
Beyond the economic downturn, the market is being hurt by a lack of superstar talent this year.
Shine said that Reebok was “looking at a couple” of players to sign to deals this year, but whether those deals get done “depends on the agents.” Noting that Reebok, Nike and other shoe companies have laid off employees, Shine said, “It’s hard to go out and spend hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on players.”
“Several agents haven’t realized the dynamics have changed,” Shine said.
Agent Bill Duffy, whose company, BDA Sports Management, represents six first-round picks, said, “I think there will be a lot of guys who go into the season without deals.”
He said if that happens with any of his clients, they will likely wear the product that they like, without deals.
“If the market corrects itself, we can show good faith and do deals with them later on,” Duffy said, adding that BDA agents prepared players for a down market.
One of his clients, Brandon Jennings, who was selected No. 10 by the Milwaukee Bucks, has a deal with Under Armour, but he signed that last year before he played professional ball in Rome. Ricky Rubio, who was taken No. 5 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, had a shoe deal with Nike before the draft.
Vaccaro, who advised Jennings to play in Europe rather than at a U.S. university — which prohibits athletes from signing endorsement deals — said it was “a godsend” that Jennings signed his Under Armour deal last year.
With time running out before NBA training camps begin, Vaccaro said that there may be signings in the next three weeks and that this year’s No. 1 pick, Blake Griffin, would likely be the first high-profile rookie to sign. Any deals coming after that would be based on what Griffin gets.
Vaccaro said it was a bad sign for players when the Summer League came and went without any shoe announcements. Every day that goes by is a missed opportunity for shoe companies to market and leverage an endorser.
But Shine says times have changed. “Nobody is marketing,” Shine said. “Nobody is leveraging. There is no money to market with.”
Liz Mullen can be reached at email@example.com.