Former Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman joins LeBron James, Michael Jordan among athletes getting in...

ByKelly Cohen ESPN logo
Wednesday, January 5, 2022

They are rivals on the basketball court, but they are friends and business partners in the world of tequila.

They also get to drink the results of the partnership.

In the summer of 2016, Charlotte Hornets owner and NBA legend Michael Jordan, Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wes Edens and Boston Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck and his now-wife, Emilia Fazzalari, sat together in a trendy Manhattan restaurant when they were in New York for an NBA board of governors meeting.

They might not have known it before the meal began, but they left the dinner about to embark on a journey that would lead them into an exceedingly popular world for athletes and celebrities: big booze.

That quartet of NBA owners later launched Cincoro, a small-batch tequila brand.

"It was something pretty magical. ... We are really collaborators at heart and very team-oriented. And we started feeling like a team or a family, if you will, that first night that we got together," Fazzalari told ESPN.

"It's really, for us, about a lifestyle of enjoying moments to share with your chosen family."

And that shared love of tequila -- good tequila -- made them realize they had to create a brand.

Although Cincoro is successful, the coronavirus pandemic has upended the spirits industry after an auspicious 2019. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., supplier sales in the U.S. were up 5.3% in 2019, increasing by $1.5 billion, to a new record of $29 billion.

Cincoro is not the only spirits brand backed by the sports world. Jordan has another rival to face in the world of booze: LeBron James. He recently helped launch Lobos 1707, a range of high-end tequilas and mezcal.

Though spirits, wine and beer brands are more attractive coming from Hollywood, athletes and alcohol are still intertwined. In 2018, sports market intelligence company Sportcal found that alcohol brands had more than 280 active deals with sports organizations. Not surprisingly, beer brands accounted for 89% of the deals.

"Actors and musicians have been investing in distilled spirits brands for some time, and professional athletes are a natural progression of this celebrity trend. Celebrities want to align themselves with high-end products that symbolize quality, style and sophistication -- and that fits nicely with super-premium spirits. It also makes good business sense from a consumer standpoint. With the increasing popularity of spirits, more and more adult sports fans enjoy watching their favorite teams with a cocktail," Lisa Hawkins, senior vice president of public affairs at the Distilled Spirits Council, told ESPN.

So how can booze be big business? Look no further than actors like Ryan Reynolds and George Clooney or music mogul Jay-Z.

Clooney sold Casamigos, his tequila company, for $700 million in 2017. Reynolds also had similar luck, selling Aviation American Gin. He was able to split the initial $335 million payment with other shareholders and can earn an additional $257 million based on performance in 10 years.

Jay-Z invested $310 million in champagne brand Armand de Brignac in 2014 and has also made at least $100 million from D'Ussé, a cognac venture he has with Bacardi.

Are other athletes set to cash in?

NAME: Troy Aikman, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and current sportscaster


FUN FACT: EIGHT is considered a light beer that was made after two years of experimentation with organic grains by brewing scientists from Oregon State University. It will first be served at bars and restaurants in Texas only in February and will launch in Texas retailers in March. EIGHT will give 1% of revenue to "organizations that work tirelessly to expand access to better nutrition and physical activity for those whose circumstances hold them back."

NAME: Conor McGregor, boxer and MMA champion

BRAND: Proper No. Twelve's Triple Distilled Irish Whiskey

FUN FACT: McGregor announced he would be launching a whiskey brand after his boxing loss to Floyd Mayweather in 2017. It subsequently hit shelves in September 2018. In July 2020, Jose Cuervo exercised stock options to increase its share -- valuing the brand at more than $235 million.

NAME: David Beckham, former English footballer and current president and co-owner of Inter Miami CF

BRAND: Haig Club

FUN FACT: Haig Club is a single-grain Scotch whiskey offering from Haig Whisky, which is one of the oldest whiskies in the world.

NAME: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, former professional wrestler

BRAND: Teremana Tequila

FUN FACT: The tequila is marketed as being good for the health-conscious consumer: low-calorie, zero-sugar, zero-carbs and gluten-free.

NAME: Abraham Ancer, golf

BRAND: Flecha Azul

FUN FACT: Ancer, who is a Mexican-American, is launching what he calls the first "hangover-less" tequila. He hopes it will help destigmatize tequila from being known as a party drink that leaves you feeling awful the next day.