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Volume 26 No. 5
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Zion Williamson's Year At Duke Has Benefited Growth Of Personal Brand

Williamson's highest off-court earnings opportunity may be his future shoe contract

Zion Williamson is expected to return to Duke for the ACC Tournament tonight, and he has "benefited mightily ... on and off the court" from his year in Durham, but his time at the school has also offered a "chance for Williamson to become Zion," according to Dan Greene of SI. A year of "nationally televised dominance in prime time has upped his visibility," elevating Williamson from a "highlight-producing curiosity to a household name sure to be flooded with off-court earnings opportunities the minute he turns pro." Foremost among those deals will be Williamson's shoe contract, the "centerpiece of any NBA star's endorsement portfolio." But he will "enter an unpredictable market" as of recent years. Sources are "projecting a deal with a total value" anywhere from $30-80M. Many "expected Nike to be the favorite to sign him given its extensive resources and deep ties to both Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski." But after Williamson's left foot infamously shredded his Paul George-model Nike shoe, the brand signing Williamson "would be a chance to mend a major p.r. wound." A shoe deal "may only be the start of Williamson's advertising allure," as it is not hard to see how he "would be valuable to electronics companies, sports drinks and chain eateries, among others." Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing President Doug Shabelman: "You're gonna see everybody wanting to get involved. I don't think it's out of the realm whatsoever to say that he's gonna be in that eight-figure range right off the bat" (SI, 3/11 issue).

BIG DECISION: Former footwear exec Sonny Vaccaro said Williamson's worth to a shoe company right now would be "off the wall." Vaccaro: "Zion, at this point in time, is as popular an athlete as there is on earth" (, 3/13). SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL's Michael Smith writes the "nearly endless replays of Williamson’s left foot ripping through a Nike shoe last month will certainly create market pressure on the brand to sign Williamson" when he turns pro. Marketing experts said that if Williamson signs with a brand other than Nike, the "perception will be that he didn’t trust the shoe." That factor, along with "what could be a hypercompetitive bidding war between the big three of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, as well as possibly New Balance and Puma, could produce millions in income for Williamson before he even plays a game in the NBA" (SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/11 issue).

CHANGING PERCEPTION: THE UNDEFEATED's Jesse Washington wrote there was once a time in college basketball that black fans "had a special sort of hate for Duke." However, an ESPN Sports Poll shows that black fans “now root for Duke at higher rates than the general population.” Two years ago, 12% of “black college basketball enthusiasts identified as Duke fans,” compared with 8% of all college basketball fans. So far this season, 24% of the "audience for Duke games on ESPN is black," compared with 21% for all games (, 3/11).