The Big Executive will be tasked with providing strategic direction, athlete recruitment, and marketing briefs for the brand’s upcoming relaunch into hoops.
The newly created position comes in tandem with Reebok’s ambition to re-establish the brand in team sports, beginning with basketball. After leaving its prior Adidas Group ownership over the past 15 years, Reebok was acquired by Authentic Brands Group in March 2022, marking a new path forward.
“We just want to do things differently,” O’Neal told Boardroom. “That’s what we were best known for back then and what we want to stay true to now.”
When ABG acquired Reebok for $2.46 Billion last year, one of the first major moves made was appointing longtime exec Todd Krinsky as Reebok CEO. Krinsky famously started at Reebok just after the brand signed O’Neal in 1992, first officially working in the mailroom, before later playing instrumental roles in building Allen Iverson’s signature series and the brand’s crossover into the entertainment lane in the early 2000s.
In addition to O’Neal’s appointment as President, Reebok names fellow Class of 2016 Hall of Famer Allen Iverson as Vice President of Reebok Basketball.
“Being at the company for such a long time, one of the things I’m most proud about, is a lot of brands have relationships with their athletes and endorsers. Usually they’re giving them product in perpetuity and having them come to events and appearances,” Krinsky told Boardroom. “With this, we’re actually bringing two of our legacy athletes together and having them be in real management positions within our company.
“It’s a new move in our industry that hasn’t been done before.”
As for Shaq, he will be instrumental in player recruitment and business development.
“A big part of my role will be leveraging my network to build bridges, connect the brand with players, and help those players develop through their partnership with Reebok,” O’Neal added.
Iverson will specifically help drive player recruitment, while placing a focus on the brand’s presence in grassroots and community initiatives, and his annual “Iverson Classic” High School showcase game.
Shaping The Deal
Over the last 30 years, a series of domino effects occurred, culminating in the appointments.
In 1992, O’Neal and Reebok together launched the Shaq Attaq series, the company’s first signature shoe. O’Neal left the deal in the late 1990s to launch his own “Dunkman” branded line of value-priced shoe. However, the separation was short-term. The two sides came together again in 2012, with officially branded pairs of the Shaq Attaq line and the iconic Shaqnosis re-launching in Retro fashion.
In 2015, Shaq was in talks to sell 50% of his future likeness earnings to Authentic Brands Group, a parent company that helms an icon legacy rights portfolio that includes the likes of Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Muhammad Ali, David Beckham, and Elvis Presley.
With a sizable cash offer on the table, O’Neal turned to CEO Jamie Salter with an alternate idea:
‘I’d like to invest it in ABG…We’re going to build this company together.’
That deal instantly made Shaq the second largest individual shareholder of ABG on the spot.
In all, Authentic Brands Group now boasts an extensive collection of over 50 brands and icon rights within its umbrella, such as DC, Eddie Bauer, and Airwalk. Since bringing Shaq on board, the group has not only grown his brand, but also leaned on Shaquille’s strategic input for additional big moves from ABG.
“Shaquille was always pushing Jamie and I to buy Reebok,” said Nick Woodhouse, President and CMO of Authentic Brands Group. “When it came to fruition, we knew that from a legacy perspective, there is maybe no other business person-slash-athlete more in tune with a brand than maybe Michael and Nike. [Jordan and Shaquille] really sit alone, in terms of in the last 30 years together, creating and building brands together [with an athletic company.]
“It was an obvious transition for Shaquille to become Todd’s right-hand guy and run Reebok Basketball.”
As the company regained its footing and outlined a new outlook, with respect to O’Neal and Iverson, Krinsky knew he wanted to incorporate Reebok’s icons in a new way.
“Todd and I were talking about [the format of] a Lifetime Deal,” recalls Woodhouse. “Todd said, ‘Lifetime deal? This is different. These guys deserve to be in the executive ranks of our company.’”
The conversations continued from there.
“We started to talk about creating a strong role for Shaq to really be influential. It wasn’t going to just be a consulting role,” added Krinsky. “We wanted him to be in the fire with us and making strategic decisions. We felt like, ‘Let’s have Shaquille run this business with us.’”
Identifying New Athlete Partners
While the brand is expecting for Reebok Basketball to fully re-launch in early 2025, the appointments will allow for O’Neal and Iverson to make their mark on the ground level of defining the strategy that will set the foundation for the re-emergence.
“AI is a founding father of Reebok Basketball and has left a lasting impact on the game and its surrounding culture,” added O’Neal. “There is no one I’d rather work with to bring in a new generation of ballers to Reebok than him. Shaq and AI back at it – feels good.”
Reebok has primarily leaned on one-off ambassador partnerships in recent years, with NBA and WNBA players like Montrezl Harrell, Lexie Brown and Josh Richardson bringing Retro models to the pro hardwood. Under the new strategy, the brand will be creating new performance models for an expected full roster of athlete partners to headline on the game’s grandest stage.
As Krinsky reveals, Shaq has already made an impact in landing their newest signing.
“We’re about to announce our first partnerships, that he’s been very passionate about,” said Krinsky. “He called me with an idea that he thought would be perfect to kick this thing off. Two weeks later, we were all in New York meeting with this person and now we’re getting ready to announce.”
From a process standpoint, given O’Neal’s frantic schedule, he leans on FaceTime calls and virtual meetings to keep things pushing forward.
“He’s very, very passionate, and he moves very fast,” continued Krinsky. “He calls you with an idea, and 24 hours later, you’re talking to that person. He’s going to accelerate the conversation. I know a lot of people in the business, but I’m not getting everyone on the phone or in New York in 24 hours.”
“If we want to talk to the Top 5 prospects in the country,” added Woodhouse. “Shaquille will say, ‘Give me a week — and I’ll get them on a Zoom with us.’”
As Woodhouse notes, the investment from both sides speaks to their excitement level around building the Reebok brand together.
“The gravity of this announcement is when you think about how precious Shaquille’s time is,” said Woodhouse. “He’s one of the most sought after advertisers, endorsers, announcers, collaborators and business people in the world. This is Shaquille’s time that he could be doing something else with. He has chosen to spend a great deal of time with us, and that shows how important it is to Shaquille and how important it is to us. We want Reebok to take its rightful place, not just in the NBA, but in global basketball.”
Defining A New Playbook
As the company continues to map out its future ahead, the climate and landscape of the athletic industry has come a long way from the heights it reached during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Pro athletes are just one component of the potential endorser strategy, with NIL ambassadors across college and high schools an option, alternate pro leagues featuring top players, and influencers and creators leading the way from a content perspective across social media.
“You can get players that are younger, you can create deeper relationships early on,” said Krinsky. “I think every single young kid is their own company now with the content that they can create. It’s about being a great player, but it’s also about telling a story and being great partners together.”
Together, O’Neal, Woodhouse, and Krinsky see the power in a united push towards forging a lane that can be unique to Reebok.
“From footwear to marketing, there’s a ton of the same right now in the basketball space,” said O’Neal.
“We do not want to go in, and two years from now be playing the same game [as other brands] — where we have a signature shoe and then this Shaq thing fades out,” said Krinsky. “That’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to be disruptive, and go into the marketplace with a very Reebok mantra that we’ve always had in basketball.”
From a big picture sense, the brand is hoping that the new executive roles featuring Reebok President Shaquille O’Neal and Reebok Vice President Allen Iverson will speak to the company’s commitment to celebrate, incorporate, and integrate their greatest endorsers beyond their playing days.
“There are so many athletes that are connected to brands through their careers, but once they retire, it’s a very transactional relationship,” framed Krinsky. “I think it says a lot to athletes, to say, ‘Look at Shaquille, and look at the empire that he’s built.’ … I think he’s creating a lane where he can be a role model for how athletes look at their post-careers. He’s built quite a legacy from a business perspective and a boardroom perspective. This is one more step in that direction.”
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