When Michael Jordan decided to venture into the tequila business, he may well have applied a fairly simple strategy. He would have just put his name on the label and autographed a few bottles to sell out in a matter of hours, no matter if the agave distillate tasted good. Instead, the NBA Hall of Fame member and current owner of the Charlotte Hornets teamed up with the owners of the Celtics, Lakers, and Bucks to create a highly select tequila brand that has already won awards in tasting competitions from New York to Los Angeles.
"It's not about the group of owners, that it's a celebrity-sponsored brand," said Emilia Fazzalari, CEO of Cincoro Tequila and wife of Wyc Grousbeck, the owner of the Boston Celtics. "It was never about that. For us, the most important thing was the liquid. The idea came about three years ago when Jordan developed a love for Mexico's iconic liquor while dining with Grousbeck; Fazzalari; Jeanie Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers; and Wes Edens, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.
"We wanted a tequila with a great flavor," Fazzalari said. "We're competitors on the court. We face each other and compete with each other throughout the season, but we are collaborators by nature. And the NBA tycoons didn't want to just sign a check and watch from afar what happened to the investment. Michael Jordan was involved in designing the bottle. He worked with Mark Smith, vice president of innovation for special projects at Nike.
They came up with a pentagonal package (which refers to the five rows in which the agave pencas are arranged). The bottle has a degree of inclination of 23 degrees, the number that Michael Jordan used in his uniform.
"Michael's influence was that of a true tequila lover and a person who only does things right," Grousbeck said.
Edens brought his knowledge of logistics and the supply chain. Weekly conference calls and some meetings were held. The partners tried 1,000 different blends before deciding on a flavor.
"All partners are actively involved in the company and we have been since day one," Fazzalari said. "We are not silent partners".
Cincoro bottles four different tequilas, produced of course in Mexico, starting with the white, not aged, which sells for $70. A limited-edition, Extra Añejo, remains in barrels for periods of 40 to 44 months and has a list price of $1,600, with a black bottle engraved in gold.
According to Russ Pareti, marketing director at Cincoro, the tequila market is growing approximately 10% a year. But the luxury segment shows an annual expansion of 40%. "This is really taking off," he said. Fazzalari did not specify sales or production figures, except to point out that stocks have been exhausted in some of the 12 markets in which this tequila has been launched in the United States.
Entrepreneurs expect to have a presence in all 50 states next year, before taking the product to Asia and Europe. The owners of the NBA have signed business partnerships before. On one occasion, they invested in the same company or fund. However, Grousbeck could not recall a case in which four or more team owners had joined in one project. "It's pretty rare," he said. "But there are close ties between team leaders in general".