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Helicopter Parents and their Effect on their Children’s Sponsorship Interest

Helicopter Parents and their Effect on their Children’s Sponsorship Interest

6 minute read

  • A Helicopter Parent of an athlete can create hype and media attention surrounding their child, but also give sponsors hesitation
  • NBA prospect Lonzo Ball’s father has been making headlines recently for his outspoken nature and has already reportedly cost his son a deal with major sponsors
  • For the right brand, with a tongue-in-cheek brand personality, leaning into a comedic or unusual family dynamic may actually create opportunities

Parents are their children’s biggest fans. However, there are instances where parents will take an overly controlling interest in their child’s activity, and are referred to as “Helicopter Parents”. This has happened multiple times in the professional sports world, where parents will be vocal about their children and sometimes even overshadow them.

With the upcoming NBA draft, which includes highly publicized prospect Lonzo Ball, Helicopter Parents have become a popular subject in the world of sponsorship marketing. Ball has been the most talked-about prospect ahead of the upcoming Draft, but the attention is only partially due to his on-court success. In an effort to increase his son’s draft position, Lavar Ball, Lonzo’s father, has been very outspoken about his son’s talents, claiming Lonzo is already a better player than current NBA superstars like Steph Curry.

For some sponsors, Lavar has had a cooling effect on Lonzo’s marketability. Major apparel sponsors like Nike, Under Armour, and adidas (MKTG client) have reportedly all passed on Lonzo due to Lavar’s mandate that brands license the family-owned Big Baller Brand from him.

However, the risk associated with Helicopter Parents varies depending on the potential sponsor, and their brand narrative. MKTG explores both the risks and benefits of Helicopter Parents through the lens of the Lonzo & Lavar Ball saga.

Risk for Sponsors

Athlete Surrounded by Controversy – As Lonzo Ball enters the NBA draft, he brings with him an already polarizing brand, potentially leading to unnecessary media attention and controversy. Controversy surrounding Ball may continue or even escalate once he is drafted. Sponsors will need to carefully consider the risk/reward of associating their brand with Ball.

Complex Negotiation Process – Helicopter Parents like Lavar Ball, who have a vested interest in their child’s career, may take on the role of an agent or business manager during their child’s professional career. However, Helicopter Parents are not without bias, and may also have an inflated view of their child’s value when it comes to sponsorship negotiations. Having a parent involved in the negotiation process could complicate the negotiation process, and result in challenges or lengthy debates during negotiations or strategy formulation.

It’s Not All Risky for Sponsors

Increased Brand Awareness – Very few rookies have strong name recognition heading into a draft. Media attention surrounding the Ball family has increased awareness of Lonzo heading into this year’s NBA Draft. While many brands would have to work to build a rookie’s reputation, Lonzo Ball (while polarizing), does have instant awareness amongst basketball fans.

On-Court Play - One of the major factors sponsors must consider is the play of an athlete. While Lonzo has yet to actually play an NBA game, his on-court performance to date has been strong. Despite controversy, brands will need to keep a close eye on Ball if his success translates to the NBA level.

Provides a Unique Opportunity for Local Brands – Being born in Anaheim, and attending UCLA before turning pro, Lonzo Ball is known as a Los Angeles athlete. Lavar Ball has also been pushing for the Lakers to draft his son, proclaiming in interviews that “he is going to be a Laker”. The Lakers, who have secured the second pick in the NBA Draft, are likely candidates to draft Ball. Being a home-grown product playing for the Lakers, local California brands will have the opportunity to tell a local story and create pride around Lonzo Ball, much in the same way as Ohio-based brands have done with LeBron James.

Opportunity for Comedic Brands - With Lavar Ball’s activity in the media, including boastful interviews about his son, Lavar has generated a lot of negative reaction from the public. While in some instances this could be seen as damaging to potential sponsors, there is a trend of recruiting endorsers and playing up their public perception. For example, Foot Locker has done this in a recent spot with Dennis Rodman and Bret Favre, poking fun at them in commercial spots, ultimately making them more relatable. There could be an opportunity for a brand, that is known for their comedic marketing, to have the Ball family do a similar style of endorsement, playing up Lavar’s brash personality. With polarizing personalities like Lavar Ball, sponsors must be considerate of how they use Lonzo, and potentially Lavar, and the tone associated with any advertisements to ensure the sponsorship goes over successfully with the public. 

Other Notable Helicopter Parents – After Notable Careers, Peyton & Eli Manning’s Helicopter Parent Has Become Forgotten

Another notable example of a Helicopter Parent is Archie Manning. Youngest son, Eli Manning was the top prospect headed into the 2004 NFL Draft. Prior to the draft, both Eli and his father Archie, openly declared that Eli would not play for San Diego, who had the first pick in the Draft. San Diego went ahead and drafted Eli, but was quickly traded to the New York Giants. At the time, fans were upset with Archie, saying that he had too much influence on his son. However, after Eli’s successful career in New York, including two Super Bowl wins, Eli is no longer associated with his Helicopter Parent. This demonstrates that an athlete, with time, is able to transition away from their Helicopter Parent.

An athlete or celebrity endorser will never have all the right attributes, and a brand must weigh all the advantages and disadvantages to determine if an endorser is right for them. Lonzo Ball’s father may cause brands to take a second look his involvement and close-ties to Lonzo could be damaging to their brand. However, being early in Lonzo’s career, Lonzo Ball does have the potential for upside and is not too late to transition away from being seen as the Helicopter Parent’s son.

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