Shoe sales is not my business, but I know a problem when I see it. This is not how you construct a long-term ad campaign.
When Adidas gave Bulls guard Derrick Rose $185 million in 2012, it was the richest endorsement deal ever in sports, and it appeared to make perfect sense. He had just won the NBA MVP award at a record-young age of 22, and had made the All-Star team for the third straight season. The company signed him for 13 years, planning to use him as a cornerstone for their marketing, alongside ascendant center Dwight Howard.
Not good calls by Adidas.
Rose tore his ACL in the playoffs that year, missed all of the next year and became embroiled in a mysterious conflict over when he would get back to action. After Adidas threw itself into staging a series of cinematic television spots touting “The Return,” it then never materialized. Not only that, but his image suffered locally amid a shifting line of excuses he made for not playing, and the game-night optics of him on the bench in a suit while his teammates continued to grind out wins right in front of him. Bulls management fumed quietly over his lack of desire to follow the orders of doctors and trainers, as communication with his camp deteriorated.
At that point, he would have been a better ad vehicle for menswear.
He eventually came back, only to tear up his other knee 10 games into the next season, and he missed the rest of it. Ankle problems bothered him to start 2014-15, and that’s when he chose to tell the world that he was pacing himself physically so he could be more comfortable after retirement in business meetings and while attending his kid’s graduation ceremony. Then he tore cartilage again in his right knee and missed 20 more games.
The data are brutal for Adidas. Embarrassing, even. According to a Forbes story in March, LeBron James alone brought in $340 million for Nike in 2014, Kevin Durant made $195 million for them, and Kobe Bryant added $105 million — that’s $640 million from their top three alone.
Rose garnered a mere $32 million (down 20% from the previous year), and Howard a laughable $1.5 million. So you can understand why Adidas is now trying in vain to play catch-up with James Harden, Damian Lillard and John Wall.
Beyond his multiple absences from the court and inconsistent play, Rose has developed other problems that pose significant headwinds to his continued value as any kind of brand spokesperson.
First, he has continues to display a unique ability to say dumb things at bad times, beginning with his “meetings and graduations” admission. When recovering from last year’s knee injury, he was asked about the team’s timeline for his return and responded with a flippant and tone-deaf “Who cares?” Just Tuesday he created a completely unnecessary circus at an otherwise routine media day by offering — entirely unsolicited — the thought that he’s motivated by his free agency two years from now, because he still needs more money to ensure financial security for his son. That included a veiled shot at the contract recently signed by teammate Jimmy Butler, with whom he has been feuding behind the scenes.
What’s more, the question he was answering when that came up was in regard to a current civil suit in Los Angeles that alleges that Rose and friends drugged and gang-raped a woman. The filing is full of distasteful details of sordid sex escapades, and Rose’s official legal response is not actually denial of the group sex, just a claim of consent and an explanation that involves a dispute over which party paid for what sex toys.
Adidas has to love this.
Oh, and Rose is having surgery Wednesday on the broken orbital bone he sustained from a teammate’s elbow at the Bulls’ very first practice. He is expected to miss more time.
It doesn’t take an experienced sports sales executive to recognize a loser of a deal, and this is one. There is no good reason for Adidas to want to continue a relationship that only makes them look worse by the day, and the company should have lawyers poring over the fine print right now to find the easiest possible way out of it.