Last week, my blog post regarding equity for endorsements focused on the benefits and disadvantages of the athlete/celebrity endorser. This post will focus on the companies, and why they should or shouldn't offer equity for endorsements.
Startups have long sought celebrity endorsements under the misguided notion that the endorsement will equate to the company's success by harnessing the celebrity's star power. In fact, there are many articles on how to attract celebrity endorsers (See here and here) Not surprisingly, offering equity for endorsements is a common suggestion on these "How To" articles. But, companies should be mindful of how they distribute their equity, as a celebrity endorsement does not always work out well for the company (see here).
In sum, all of the benefits of getting endorsements for equity necessitate sales increases and discount the loss of equity.
Celebrity endorsements of products and companies have long been commonplace. However, where these celebrities were once paid with money, many are instead accepting equity. This is particularly true when it comes to celebrities endorsing start-ups and their products.
Last week, The New York Times ran an article which stated that equity for endorsement agreements are gaining in favor with celebrities due to the recent explosion of the start-up scene, especially in California, and the deal's ability to create substantial income should the company become successful. This is especially true for professional athletes.
Professional athletes have particularly taken to equity for endorsement agreements. This is likely due to the potential of receiving a windfall and the players' understanding that athletic careers can be lost at any time. In recent years, several athletes have made headlines by entering into equity agreements. One of the most notable equity for endorsement agreements was David Wright's acquisition of .5% of Glaceau, the creator of Vitamin Water. When Glaceau was bought in 2007 by Coca Cola for $4.1 Billion, Wright's .5% was worth an estimated $20 Million. In 2010, Tom Brady entered into an equity deal with Under Armour, a now ubiquitous athletic apparel company. Most recently, in June, 2014, Richard Sherman entered into an equity for endorsement agreement with BODYARMOR SuperDrink.
However, accepting equity for endorsements has significant benefits and disadvantages for the endorsing athlete.
Although athletes and celebrities may be agreeable to equity for endorsements due to the low risk/high reward potential, companies do not freely offer such opportunity. Many companies are protective of their equity, and within good reason. My next post will discuss the benefits and disadvantages of equity agreements to companies, who bear a much bigger risk when offering equity for endorsements.
There has been an interesting trend in recent years of technology being developed for athletes. From simple pedometers, shoes that track your speed and distance, to equipment that monitors how you strike a ball, tech for athletes is becoming increasingly popular and mainstream.
Perhaps you've seen the new Apple commercial below which has been airing frequently during the World Cup:
What would a tech trend be without Apple's involvement? This video shows off several examples of how tech is integrating with athletes to help them hone their abilities. More importantly, the ad doesn't use any professional athletes, which highlights the wide reach of this tech trend.
I admit, I love my Nike Fuelband. It loosely keeps track of my movement throughout the day to lets me know if I've been sitting at my desk for too long and need to hit the heavybag. And although I like to box, I'm not training to be heavyweight champion of the world. That's why this story caught my eye.
A tennis racket has now been developed by Babolat which transfers to an app the strength of the racket's impact on the ball, the spin, and also counts the number of forehands, backhands, serves and overhands. More importantly, this racket was recently used by Julia Gorges during the French Open.
The tennis player, currently ranked 107th in the world, stated in the article that she is using the new racket because "sometimes you are in the emotions...and you sometimes lose the vision [to see] things." She is hopeful that her new tech will allow her to analyze and improve her game, and ultimately, her ranking.
This kind of tech is exciting, as its entire purpose is to develop its users' abilities. It is easy to see that widespread accessibility to this 'athletic development' tech can potentially increase the level of competition in a sport. Athletes are continuously looking for an edge over their competition, and similar tech can help them achieve that. On the developer side, tech for athletes can be utilized by a large market, and opens up the possibility of high-profile endorsement with multiple methods of activation. Athlete tech is here to stay, and some of the companies involved in its development could find the area particularly lucrative.
Companies developing tech for athletes could engage professional athletes for endorsement opportunities, as Babolat has with Gorges. Such endorsement frequently occurs with products manufactured for athletes' use. For example, Major League Baseball players generally have endorsement agreements with their bat manufacturers. These professional athlete endorsements can have a marketing trickle-down effect to the athletes' fans.
Athlete tech can allow professional athletes to engage with consumers in new ways. For instance, Babolat's app that works in conjunction with the smart-racket could have a leaderboard for hardest swing or most revolutions on a ball. Or, even a way for people to send challenges or encouragement to one another, utilizing the racket's measurables.
However, the more professional athlete involvement with the tech desired, the tighter the contract must be. Some things to consider include:
Of course, any time a company utilizes athlete endorsements, the contract should also have a broad morals clause for all the reasons outlined here.
There have been many exciting developments in tech for athletes, and I expect the trend to continue. Businesses in this niche industry could find professional athlete endorsements lucrative, but they must be specific in drafting such agreements.
Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times and an Olympic bronze medal during his career. This success brought him fame and substantial sponsorships. However, as evidence mounted that Armstrong used illicit substances to better his performance, sponsors quickly disassociated themselves by likely utilizing a morals clause in the sponsorship contract.
As in the case of Lance Armstrong, morals clauses allow a brand or business the ability to cancel a sponsorship with the athlete/celebrity should they act in a way that damages their own brand substantially enough to hurt the sponsoring business or brand's reputation.
Importantly, morals clauses are not reserved for the elite sponsors. Morals clauses can also be found in TV show contracts, teachers' contracts, and appearance contracts.
Oftentimes, sports businesses schedule athlete appearances to boost their brands and bring in consumers. Regardless of the size of the sports business, a morals clause should not be overlooked in the appearance contract. In today's hyper-connected society, all it takes to start a controversy is a singe Tweet, which probably takes less than a minute to create and send. No business, especially a small business, wants to be stuck with an appearance by a controversial athlete amidst a scandal for fear that the business would be associated with the athlete.
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