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The Art of Negotiation Part II: Kevin Durant and Relationship Building

August 28, 2014 • Uncategorized
Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Kevin Durant’s reported $265 million plus offer from Under Armour illustrates how important relationship building is when you’re negotiating. After reading reports from ESPN and other media, I was impressed with the way Under Armour understood the story of the NBA’s most valuable player, and offered him value that goes beyond dollars. As with LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, the negotiation process is fascinating, especially one that is under such incredible scrutiny.

In particular, here’s what negotiators can learn about relationship building from the Durant offer:

1. Set the stage by understanding existing key relationships. Under Armour understood Durant’s close ties to his mother. When he won the MVP award, he thanked his mother for pushing him through hard times: “You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You the real MVP.” Under Armour’s package includes a community center built in Durant’s mother’s name—a way to honor such an important person in his life. A building will stand well after Durant retires, with the potential for supporting other families like Durant’s.

2. Find common ground. Under Armour is a Maryland company, based 30 miles from Durant’s boyhood home. The company regularly invests in the community. The idea of “keeping it local” appealed to Durant. The proximity helped Under Armour take a big risk. The company has never committed to a sponsorship deal of this size. It’s reportedly nearly 10 percent of its current annual marketing budget. Even if Nike matches the deal and keeps Durant, the offer is a shrewd way for Under Armour to grab headlines about where it wants to go in this sport—by reaching out to a neighbor. Relationships to places, not just people, are important.

3. Ask with confidence, even if the numbers aren’t specific. ESPN reported that Durant visited Under Armour headquarters “and was said to be blown away by its pitch [which] didn’t include talk of specific numbers, but impressed Durant with attention to detail about his life, the hometown flair and return on investment of its stock, which would make up part of Durant’s compensation.” If you have set the stage well and establishing common ground, the ask is an invitation to take a strong relationship to a new level. It’s a natural extension of what has come before.

Your Game Changer Takeaway

Negotiators understand existing loyalties and build on them by setting the stage and finding common ground. They can ask with confidence because they have calculated the risks. Under Armour is an excellent example of this strategy. Durant was one of Nike’s most loyal athletes, rejecting an offer by Adidas that was more than $20 million higher to sign with Nike. Like Nike before it signed Tiger Woods, Under Armour has a very small basketball business. This is a major play to raise its profile in this sport to a never before seen level.

The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company’s Game Changer Negotiation Training workshops teach businesspeople the framework for successful negotiating, so that you can close more deals while building stronger relationships. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.