There’s at least one reason LaVar Ball should be thanking Donald Trump this week.
The nonsensical feud between the President of the United States and the nation’s most outspoken basketball dad has provided Ball’s fledgling shoe-apparel company with unfathomable media exposure.
Apex Marketing Group president Eric Smallwood estimated that the Big Baller Brand has received about $13.2 million in free digital and TV advertising since Trump and Ball began trading barbs last Friday evening. Smallwood’s sponsorship-evaluation firm came up with the estimate by tracking the number of references to the Big Baller Brand in the media over the past five days and measuring that against typical ad rates.
“This back and forth with Donald Trump has extended the brand awareness outside of just sports,” Smallwood told Yahoo Sports. “People who don’t follow sports are starting to get more awareness of the brand. To have that reaction from someone as high up as Trump, it has definitely helped [Ball] reach a larger audience.”
The quarrel between Trump and Ball began Friday night when the Big Baller Brand CEO downplayed the President’s role in helping free his son LiAngelo and two other UCLA players who had been detained in China on shoplifting charges. Trump intervened on the players’ behalf during a two-day diplomatic visit to Beijing, personally asking Chinese President Xi Jinping to help resolve the matter as quickly as possible.
Maybe Ball genuinely believed Trump exaggerated his role in helping the players avoid jail time and get home safely. Maybe Ball merely recognized a golden opportunity to goad the President into a fight and gain attention for himself and his company. Whatever Ball’s rationale was, there’s no denying picking a fight with Trump has worked in his favor.
Trump caught wind of Ball’s comments and responded Sunday morning by calling him “ungrateful” and suggesting he should have left the three UCLA players in jail. The next night, Ball appeared for 23 minutes on CNN, refusing once again to thank the President and taking every opportunity to promote his clothing brand.
“Tell Donald Trump to have a great Thanksgiving because Big Baller is,” he concluded with a smile and two thumbs up.
Of course, Trump wouldn’t let Ball have the last word. Trump called Ball an “ungrateful fool” and a “poor man’s version of Don King,” even resorting to using all caps to emphasize it was him who helped LiAngelo and his teammates avoid a long prison sentence.
The absurdity of the feud has made it a magnet for media coverage. Late Show host Stephen Colbert devoted most of his opening monologue to it Monday night. Everyone from Fox News, to NBC, to CNN has also given it ample airtime. Heck, even the likes of Snoop Dogg and Mark Cuban have offered their perspective this week.
“It’s getting Ball’s face out there to an audience that had either never heard of him or had heard of him but didn’t know a lot about him,” said Bob Dorfman, executive director of San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising. “If exposure is half the problem, then I think it’s got to help.”
Whether all the free media exposure will lead to increased sales for Big Baller Brand merchandise is certainly still in question. The company has drawn criticism for its sky-high prices, $495 for a pair of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball’s signature sneakers, $395 for a pair of younger brother LaMelo Ball’s shoes and $50 apiece for simple caps and T-shirts.
In addition to lowering the price of merchandise, Dorfman believes Big Baller should try to position itself as an anti-Trump brand. He recommended Ball create a line of T-shirts with a slogan referencing the Trump brouhaha.
“The perfect Christmas gift,” Dorfman joked. “I don’t know how quickly they can turn those around, but I would think you’ll see those very quickly.”
Ball has a history of provoking prominent figures by saying outrageous things about them, whether it’s suggesting that the Warriors would be better off with Lonzo than Steph Curry or insisting that he could have beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one in their heyday. Each time someone that famous responds to Ball’s trolling, it raises the Big Baller Brand’s stature and increases his cultural relevance.
Provoking Trump into engaging is easily Ball’s biggest coup yet, but he did miss one major branding opportunity. Instead of donning a Big Baller Brand cap or T-shirt for his CNN interview on Monday night, Ball wore a plain blue button-down shirt.
That blunder makes Smallwood question if Ball has a marketing strategy to generate exposure or if he has just been lucky.
“He doesn’t seem to be following any sort of marketing playbook,” Smallwood said. “He couldn’t have known Trump would respond to him, but he’s fortunate Trump did.”
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