If you watch sports on television, there is almost no avoiding Shaquille O’Neal. He’s an NBA talking head on TNT, but separately, he also pops up in advertisements for Carnival Cruise Line, Gold Bond, Icy Hot, Krispy Kreme, National General Insurance, and Ring home security, among others. He now makes more money each year in endorsements than he earned each year playing in the NBA.
Despite how ubiquitous his face has become on television, there’s still more to learn about Shaq as a businessman that you likely did not know. Shaq’s extensive success as an endorser is the subject of Tuesday’s episode of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” The episode, appropriately, is titled “Shaq, Inc.”
About halfway through the episode, Shaq’s TNT co-anchor, fellow NBA alum Charles Barkley, is asked if there is anything he can learn about business from Shaq. “Of course,” says Barkley. “He’s got a lot more money than me. And I’ll tell you this one thing about him: He says, ‘I get all my companies together that I work for once a year,’ and he says, ‘How can I do better for the company?’ That’s pretty smart on his part.”
Indeed, it’s an extremely smart way to add value to the companies he works with, beyond simply appearing in ads to hawk their products. And it is unique among athletes.
Shaq started doing this in 2012. Once a year, he brings together executives and sales reps from all the companies that he reps, all in one room in Atlanta, and he asks them what more he can do for them, and how he can be a better asset.
That’s a celebrity going above and beyond to earn his endorsement paycheck.
There are two other notable business nuggets in the HBO episode. Shaq says that his angle in endorsements has always been to appeal to the middle class—that is, he’s not representing fancy things for rich people. That’s because of what his mother, Lucille O’Neal, has told him ever since he made it big in the NBA: “There’s more middle class than there is spoiled rich brats like you, Shaq.”
He also insists that if he doesn’t like a product, he won’t endorse it. To be sure, that’s a claim every athlete or celebrity endorser likes to make, and Real Sports interviewer Bernie Goldberg is dubious, and presses him on it in the episode.
Shaq counters with the story of how he became an ambassador and investor in the startup Ring, which Amazon just acquired for $1 billion.
He recently bought a new house, and when he called a traditional security company looking for security cameras, they quoted him at $40,000. He wasn’t willing to pay that, so he bought a Ring doorbell camera for $300 and loved it. Then he sought out Ring’s CEO. “I said, listen. I love your product. If you need me to help you get it out there, let’s talk business.”
That’s how Ring ended up with Shaquille O’Neal in its advertisements. And arguably, it helped propel Ring to mainstream awareness. “If I’m going to sell it to the people, I’ve gotta be honest with the people,” Shaq says. “If I don’t like something, I think they’ll be able to see it.”
Shaq also bought an equity stake in Ring, and got a big return on his investment when it sold to Amazon. “I would have liked to have gotten a bigger hit,” he says, “but I got a big hit.”