If I learned anything from Travis Sheridan, Fresno's ex-pat who's now assistant vice president in charge of innovation and entrepreneurship at St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, it's this: Your identity is your brand and your brand is a commodity. More than anyone I've met, Sheridan seems to understand the value of a carefully crafted personal brand.
It's an innovative way of thinking, and one I keep retuning to after the announcement earlier this month that Houston Texans running back Arian Foster will begin selling stock in himself.
Shares of the stock — offered by Fantex Brokerage Services — will be linked to Foster's future economic success and include playing contracts, endorsements, appearance fees and the like. The company will offer 1,055,000 of the $10 shares, with a $50 minimum. No investor can own more than 1%.
Foster will make $10 million up front, while forking over 20% of his future earnings (or at least the money his future self might make).
Trading on a celebrity's "brand" is nothing new.
Athletes have always been good at it (read: endorsement deals). My brother had more than one Bo Jackson poster in his room. Who didn't own a pair of Michael Jordan sneakers? I had a pair of Larry Bird's signature shoes and I wasn't even a fan.
Entertainment companies have long understood the importance of branding their stars. Disney has been particularly crafty in this respect. Its stars have serious vertical integration. They are on TV, in the movies, and on the radio.
This isn't the first time financiers have looked to bet against future revenue, either. In the late 1990s, David Bowie made headlines with "Bowie Bonds," which paid interest from the current and future revenues on 25 of his albums.
Of course, after video killed the radio star, the Internet destroyed the music industry entirely and those bonds ended up being junk — though not officially "junk bonds."
Until now, the brand has always been used to sell a product.
Foster was the lure to get you to follow the team, to watch the game, buy the jersey or the latest version of Madden NFL. Or join a fantasy football league.
Here, Foster is the product.
Investing in him is probably a bad idea. Fantex has put out a full list of potential risks, the least of which is Foster's continued ability to play the game of football. There's also a chance that the National Football League will intervene and stop the whole thing before it gets started.
It's hard to say whether this is a logical step of a consumer society, smart entrepreneurs are simply picking up on the next big sell, or it is just a scam.
My hunch is it's more of the first.
Either way, imagine buying in on the ground floor of something like the Michael Jackson brand, back when he was just one of five brothers. It was clear even then that he would be a star, but could anyone have guessed at the real earning potential of that brand? Sure, it would have been a wild ride (what with the literal monkey business and the Neverland accusations and legal battle), but in the end, what a payoff!
Foster's current deal aside, that kind of potential profit center can't be ignored for long. So, a note to all authors, musicians, athletes and actors: Start paying extra attention to what your brand might be worth.