In The News

Bulls' Noah May Earn More Than The Spotlight

Crain's Chicago Business, February 05, 2013

By Danny Ecker

When the Chicago Bulls' star guard, Derrick Rose, tore the ACL in his left knee nine months ago, the spotlight at the United Center began to shift to center Joakim Noah.

Mr. Noah is comfortable being the temporary face of the franchise (fans will recall the gaudily striped, cream-colored suit and bow tie he wore as the ninth pick in the 2007 NBA draft). And, if he plays his cards right, he could be in for a big endorsement payday.

Riding the best season of his professional career to his first NBA All-Star selection, Mr. Noah, 27, could nearly double his income from endorsements to about $2 million annually. That's on top of his five-year contract with the Bulls, which pays him more than $11 million this year.

Mr. Noah says he's focusing on the game, not his personal brand. Nevertheless, $2 million a year would place him among the top 25 NBA players in endorsement income—still far behind figures like LeBron James, who earns more than $30 million a year from endorsements—but in a class with players like Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets.

“It's launched him beyond regional and local deals,” says Mr. Noah's agent, Donald Dell, an industry veteran whose previous clients include Michael Jordan, Arthur Ashe and Mr. Noah's father, Yannick, a successful professional tennis player in the 1980s.

Experts estimate that the near-7-footer's endorsement portfolio is worth about $1 million a year. That includes a six-year shoe deal with French sporting equipment brand Le Coq Sportif, which runs through 2013, a three-year contract with Boca Raton, Fla.-based fitness supplement company BSN Inc. and a deal with New York-based Vita Coco Coconut Water, which recently renewed his spokesman contract for another year.

Adding to that base of midsized product deals, Mr. Noah's strong play—he leads all NBA centers in minutes played this season—and the increased media attention have put “one or two national endorsement deals on the table” that weren't there a year ago, Mr. Dell says. “His performance has caught up with his personality.”

“He certainly picked the right time to get noticed,” says Ryan Schinman, CEO of New York-based Platinum Rye Entertainment Inc., which represents about 20 Fortune 100 companies in buying talent for brand promotion.

Mr. Schinman says the weeks following the Super Bowl—particularly leading up to the NBA All-Star game on Feb. 17—could be crucial for Mr. Noah's endorsement future, as advertisers turn their attention from football to basketball.

What remains to be seen is whether Mr. Noah can hang on to some of the spotlight when Mr. Rose returns to the court as expected in the next couple of months.

With his vibrant demeanor, that shouldn't be a problem, Mr. Schinman says. “Once you're on that train, people won't stop taking notice just because (Derrick Rose) comes back,” he says.

Mr. Noah says he prefers to be associated with brands that he would use anyway, but he isn't keen on getting too involved in the process. “I don't try to control my own brand. That's not really my style,” he says.

Of course, that laissez-faire attitude doesn't necessarily mean he'll turn down lucrative offers that may not be a perfect fit for his demeanor. “Money definitely has something to do with it—let's not get it twisted,” he says. “But you might as well pick some brands that fit who you are.”

Companies that may look for Mr. Noah to hawk their products include official NBA corporate partners like Sprint or Kia, but also gaming, electronics and packaged-goods companies.

Likely bidders, says Jim Andrews, senior vice president of Chicago-based sports marketing firm IEG LLC, will need to be able to handle both sides of Mr. Noah's emotions.

“His enthusiasm rubs off on fans and teammates, but for some marketers, the more outrageous aspects could be a negative. You're not quite sure what the next thing out of his mouth will be,” says Mr. Andrews, who likens Mr. Noah's brand to that of former NBA star Charles Barkley, who famously said, “I'm not paid to be a role model.”

“He's probably looking at a smaller potential pool of companies and brands who are a little edgy and more willing to take a risk,” Mr. Andrews says.

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