Will Zion Williamson Have a Shoe Deal in Time for the NBA Draft?

Updated, June 20: A lawsuit alleging contract breach was filed on Wednesday against Zion Williamson by Prime Sports Marketing LLC, a firm he signed with in April for representation in marketing deals, according to AP. He left the company one month later to be represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Prime Sports Marketing LLC is seeking $100 million in punitive damages against Zion, CAA and two of the company’s employees. This comes one week after Williamson filed a lawsuit to exit the five-year contract deal with Prime Sports Marketing LLC.

With the NBA Draft just two days away, many basketball fans have one big question: Why hasn’t Zion Williamson announced a shoe deal?

The 18-year-old Duke phenom — who is widely expected to be picked by the New Orleans Pelicans — will make his most-buzzed-about appearance to date when he walks across the NBA Draft stage on Thursday.

But whether Williamson will reveal a new sponsor remains to be seen. Marketing experts said there are several reasons why a deal, which could be the largest in NBA history, might not be finalized yet.

While most sneaker tie-ups are typically done well in advance of the draft, Williamson’s situation is more complex, according to Marc Beckman, CEO of DMA United.

“It’s unique to have someone at his level. Sneaker brands realize that he can represent the future of the league. Arguably, he’s the [next] LeBron James,” Beckman said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see something happen in the short-term, but the reality is no matter where he ends up, there’s going to be plenty of time to package him.”

There could be another new wrinkle behind the scenes. After Williamson signed with powerhouse CAA Sports Agency, he filed a lawsuit last week to enforce the termination of a separate agreement with Prime Sports, a Florida marketing agency he teamed up with earlier this year. (Prime Sports said if Williamson severed ties with them, they would sue for damages of $100 million or more, according to reports.)

While that situation will need to be resolved, Beckman believes it won’t deter any sneaker brand from sealing a deal.

Sonny Vaccaro, the famed sports marketing exec, said he’s betting on Adidas. “They lost out to Nike on LeBron because they didn’t pay the money,” he said. “But if I’m Adidas, I’m going to [go all in this time].”

Some insiders speculated that the Swoosh has already emerged victorious.

Williamson was recently spotted wearing Nike Kyrie 4s during a workout in Los Angeles on May 31. (Williamson wore Nikes in college because of Duke’s alliance with the brand.)

With fans watching his every move, there’s no question Williamson already has major appeal, and his Q Score proves it.

“Interestingly enough, when we measured him in May for the first time, he was already getting pretty good national coverage,” said Henry Schafer, EVP of Q Scores. “He had 47% awareness among sports fans, and a positive Q Score of 30% (this means 30% of fans who know him say they like him) — that’s a huge number, especially for a college player. This bodes well for his marketing objectives.” The average numbers for basketball are 45% awareness among sports fans and an 18% likability Q Score, according to Schaefer.

No matter which athletic brand scores Williamson, Beckman said he has no doubt CAA is going to land a “very good” deal. “Zion’s going to be marketed the right way,” Beckman said. “His job is to put his nose to the ground, acclimate to the NBA style of play and do work on the court.”

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