Victor Wembanyama, NBA Draft prodigy, set for commercial bonanza | Inquirer Sports

Victor Wembanyama, NBA Draft prodigy, set for commercial bonanza

/ 11:52 AM June 21, 2023

Victor Wembanyama

Victor Wembanyama (Metropolitans92) vs John Brown III (Monaco)

Victor Wembanyama is only 19 and has not played a minute in an NBA jersey but the French teenager is poised to land an array of lucrative deals likely to make him one of the most commercially successful athletes in history.

Wembanyama will take center-stage at the NBA Draft in Brooklyn on Thursday, when the gifted 7ft 4in (2.24m) center widely viewed as a once-in-a-generation basketball talent is set to be chosen with the number one pick by the San Antonio Spurs.

Already, Wembanyama is being tipped to potentially land an improved $100 million contract with US sporting goods behemoth Nike, eclipsing the $90 million offered to LeBron James when he entered the league in 2003.


If the $100 million figure comes to fruition, it would be the biggest contract ever handed to a player who has not yet played in the NBA.

Sonny Vaccaro, the legendary 83-year-old marketing executive who signed Michael Jordan to Nike and Kobe Bryant to Adidas, believes Wembanyama’s unique talent could command “historic” riches.

“This is unique. But a deserved unique,” Vaccaro told AFP. “In my lifetime of evaluating and making financial prices for athletes, I’ve never seen anything like it. This kid will make history.”

Nike, which already has a deal with Wembanyama, has hinted at its strategy to make the Frenchman a global superstar.


“Think (Victor Wembanyama) will change basketball? Think bigger,” Nike wrote in a social media post after this year’s draft order was revealed last month.

Wembanyama’s mammoth Nike deal will likely be the first of many, according to Steve Rosner of 16W Marketing, who predicts multi-million dollar deals in areas such as trading cards and other derivative products.


‘Unique endorser’

“Victor is going to be one of those guys that are going to be able to have a nice endorsement portfolio before he ever plays a second in the NBA,” Rosner said.

“Because of all the promotion and the hype coming up leading up to this, he’ll be a unique endorser as well, as far as being able to have these deals in place before he steps on an NBA court.”

In decades gone by, such a commercial bonanza for a foreign NBA player would have been unthinkable. Overseas stars such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol aroused little interest among sponsors.

“Madison Avenue prefers an American guy,” consultant Marty Blackman remarked in 1995 when commenting on how Olajuwon had failed to earn the sort of endorsement deals enjoyed by American players despite leading Houston to a second straight NBA championship.

Victor Matheson, a professor at Holy Cross University, says that began to change in 2002 when China’s Yao Ming entered the league.

“Yao Ming was important, because not only was he a big name within the US, but he really opened up the Chinese market to the NBA as well,” Matheson said.

Today, the NBA’s overseas fan base is larger than the entire population of the United States.

According to Forbes magazine, Giannis Antetokounmpo, two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and an NBA champion in 2021, earns more in off-court deals — $45 million – than the salary paid to him by the Milwaukee Bucks of $42 million.

“Victor can open up new markets,” Matheson said. Rosner said Wembanyama’s international profile is also likely to make him an attractive pitchman for multinationals such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s or Visa, who all signed deals with Yao.

‘A world game now’

Twenty years ago, playing for a small market NBA team such as San Antonio could have potentially diminished Wembanyama’s commercial appeal.

However, Vaccaro believes the global reach of the NBA and the rise of streaming and social networks have changed the dynamic.

“It’s a world game now, so it doesn’t matter really,” said Vaccaro.

It may take time for Wembanyama to fully maximize his earning potential, though. The French prodigy and his entourage are in no hurry to cash in immediately.

Wembanyama’s agent, Bouna Ndiaye, who has represented numerous French NBA stars such as Rudy Gobert, Nicolas Batum and Evan Fournier, says the priority is basketball.

“What we’re trying to do, first of all, is make Victor rare,” Ndiaye told ESPN.

“We don’t want him all over the place. We don’t want to have 20 partners,” Ndiaye said. “Victor is rejecting some rich, million-dollar deals right now because he wants to focus on basketball.”

Commercial partners, meanwhile, may also be reluctant to “give away the entire company to a player who actually hasn’t played a single minute in the NBA”, Matheson said.

“I suspect they’re going to be looking for a little bit more.”

Rosner, however, believes that if Wembanyama delivers on the court, commercial deals will be a formality.

“Once he does everything on the court, then everything off the court will follow,” Rosner said.

Matheson echoed that position, stating that ultimately Wembanyama’s fortune will be maximized through his achievements on the hardwood.

“The reason that Jordan has become a billionaire is not because he signed one good deal but because his play over almost two decades meant that he could re-sign that deal and re-sign that deal and re-sign that deal,” Matheson said.

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“In order to make LeBron James or Michael Jordan sort of money, it’s not about signing that first deal. It’s about showing what you can do actually on the court.”


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