Rubio’s buyout may be offset by endorsementsMINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Matt Delzell takes a look at Ricky Rubio through his sports marketer’s glasses, all he sees are dollar signs. “He’s young. He’s Spanish. He’s a good-looking kid,” said Delzell, a director for Los Angeles-based Davie Brown Talent, one of the largest talent buyers in the United States. “There is a lot of hype and buzz that is already around him.”
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Matt Delzell takes a look at Ricky Rubio through his sports marketer’s glasses, all he sees are dollar signs.
“He’s young. He’s Spanish. He’s a good-looking kid,” said Delzell, a director for Los Angeles-based Davie Brown Talent, one of the largest talent buyers in the United States. “There is a lot of hype and buzz that is already around him.”
“Buzz” is that most fickle, slippery of qualities that is harder to get a grip on than one of the point guard’s no-look passes. But Delzell said that intangible quality, combined with a flashy style of play, a baby face and a shaggy ‘do that is en vogue with young people make the 18-year-old Rubio a highly marketable commodity in the endorsement world.
That’s icing on the cake for most big-time athletes. But for Rubio, who is facing a contract buyout from his Spanish professional team that could cost him more than $6 million, it might mean the difference between playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA this year or delaying that dream for another season or two.
“The majority of the rookies that come into the league aren’t faced with this dilemma,” Delzell said. “Whatever they sign for, they get to keep. With him having to give up so much, he may be more inclined to consider endorsing opportunities or appearances.”
The opportunities should be plentiful for a precocious young talent with the flair for the dramatic.
Darin David, a director with the sports marketing firm Millsport in Dallas, said Rubio’s appeal both in Europe and the United States would make it conceivable for him to recoup much of the money he loses on the buyout, if not all, through endorsements.
“If he is able to deliver the kind of play that’s expected of him, then certainly between the U.S. and Spain he’s going to be more popular and have a lot more interest globally,” David said.
Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn left on Monday to fly to Spain to meet with Joventut officials in hopes of reducing the cost of the buyout.
“I’m hopeful that in some small way I can be helpful in this process and keep it moving forward and solving the singular the issue, which is the buyout,” he said.
The Timberwolves jumped at the chance to grab Rubio with the fifth overall pick on draft night, a move that had the 2,000 or so fans at Target Center for a draft party cheering wildly.
“We understand how special he is. Frankly, how unique he is,” Kahn said after the draft. “There’s never been a player like this. Nobody has ever played in the gold medal game against Team USA at the age of 17. There’s no such thing. It’s almost surreal.”
Under the rules of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, the Timberwolves can only contribute $500,000 to the buyout cause, so Rubio can use all the help he can get. He made less than $100,000 playing for Joventut last year, so he is by no means a wealthy man who can just write a check and be done with it.
That’s where the business world comes in.
Rubio signed with Joventut at 14, the youngest player ever to appear in a game in the competitive Spanish ACB league. His emergence coincided with the Internet explosion, and his YouTube highlights have drawn massive amounts of hits after Rubio helped Spain to the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics.
“He’s going to be in the news more and more, and people are going to anticipate more and more what this kid can do on the court,” David said. “He does have that going for him.”
Rubio is already appearing in a television commercial for Gillette, a company that has been aggressive in securing relationships with some of the biggest names in sports. Rubio appears in the spot with New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, tennis superstar Roger Federer and golfer Tiger Woods, perhaps the most recognizable sports figure in the world.
“It’s a pretty good start,” Delzell said. “Hype got him this commercial. He hasn’t played one second of NBA basketball, but there’s already so much hype.”
Hype, of course, will only take him so far. Once he arrives in the States, Rubio will have to show on the court that he is every bit the “virtuoso” and “orchestra conductor with the basketball” that Kahn described in a letter to Timberwolves fans after the draft.
“There are plenty of companies who will say that he’s interesting and will keep an eye on him, but we’re not going to invest or commit that significant amount of money without seeing that he’s legit,” Delzell said. “So if he performs, I don’t have a doubt that he will be able to make up that buyout amount. It will come down to performance.”