U.S. Retail Basketball Shoe Sales
Kevin Durant lamented to Sports Illustrated in a cover story last year about how he was sick of being No. 2. Durant was selected second in the NBA draft and was second in the MVP voting three times. His Oklahoma City Thunder finished runner-up to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals and Durant was widely considered the NBA’s second best player entering this season. The man standing in front of him is/was often four-time MVP LeBron James.
Durant is now in the midst of the best season of his career while carrying the Thunder to a league-leading 40 wins. He has closed the gap with James on the court and is the heavy favorite to win his first MVP award. Durant has also closed the gap with James off the court when it comes to selling shoes.
Sales for Durant’s Nike signature sneakers jumped 400% last year from $35 million to $175 million in the U.S., according to research firm SportsOneSource. “The KD VI is an outstanding shoe and did really well last year, particularly at Christmas,” says SportsOneSource analyst Matt Powell. “Durant has really come into his own as a player and a personality.”
Durant signed a seven-year deal, $60 million deal with Nike in 2007. It was the last mega-contract handed out to an NBA rookie by the big shoe companies. Durant’s on-court success triggered incentives in his Nike deal that pushed it north of $10 million a year, but the deal was slow to pay off for the $26 billion in sales sports giant. Nike sold only $15 million at retail of KD’s shoes in 2011 and some blamed OKC’s small market size. But the Thunder made the NBA Finals in 2012 and Durant’s Nike sales more than doubled before skyrocketing again in 2013.
The NBA is hot right now with franchise values soaring and the league on the verge of a blockbuster new TV contract. The basketball shoe market is also booming with total sales up 20% in the U.S. to $4.5 billion last year, according to SportsOneSource.
James remains the NBA’s leading shoe salesman. Nike sold $300 million of his signature sneakers last year, as he picked up his fourth MVP trophy and second NBA title. Sales were flat versus the prior year after a 50% jump in 2012. James is the NBA’s leading endorser pulling in $42 million a year and Nike represents his biggest paycheck at an estimated $20 million a year.
James caused a stir early in the NBA season when he rarely wore his Nike LeBron 11s during games. In the Heat’s first 18 games, James wore his new kicks only two complete games, according to the Wall Street Journal. Nike tweaked the shoes to fit the specifications of the six-foot-eight, 250 pound James and he has been wearing them regularly ever since. Sales for the LeBron 11, which retail for $200, were up early in the season before flattening out over the holidays. Powell doesn’t think the James’ fit issues had any effect on sales. “These shoes are custom made for athletes,” he says. “Cosmetically the shoe looks the same, but it is not same shoe.”
The gap between James and Durant and everybody else is vast. In the U.S., Durant sells three-and-a-half times the shoes of Kobe Bryant, who ranks No. 3. Bryant is the NBA’s most popular player in China and has connected with the Chinese people through eight straight years of extended offseason visits for Nike. Bryant’s shoes are a big seller in China, but moved only $50 million at retail last year in the U.S. Bryant was an Adidas athlete the first six years of his career, before joining Nike in 2003 with a five-year, $45 million deal. His current deal pays more than $15 million annually.
Derrick Rose ranks No. 4 with $40 million in sales of his Adidas’ signature sneakers. Sales were flat versus 2012 for Adidas’ top pitchman, who is out the rest of this season with a knee injury after missing all of 2012-13 recovering from ACL surgery. Adidas gave Rose a 13-year, $185 million contract in 2012 to be the face of the brand in the U.S. and help close the gap with Nike in basketball. The strategy hasn’t worked yet. Adidas’ U.S. market share in basketball was only 5.5% in 2013, according to SportsOneSource. Nike and its Jordan subsidiary had a 92% share last year, while Reebok (1.4%) and Under Armour UA -4.05% (0.7%) fought for the scraps.
Adidas’ other athletes have also struggled to move product. Dwight Howard morphed from one of the NBA’s most marketable players to a pariah with fans during his awkward three teams in three seasons saga. Howard is also hurt by the challenges that big men historically face selling shoes. Adidas sold only $5 million worth of Howard’s signature sneakers in 2013, according to SportsOneSource’s data. John Wall moved from Reebok to its parent, Adidas, last season. Results were less than inspiring for the 2010 No. 1 draft pick. Wall’s retail sales were also only $5 million.
Today’s NBA stars are all still looking up at the man who started the basketball shoe craze three decades ago. Michael Jordan joined Nike in 1984 with a five-year contract worth $500,000 a year plus royalties. Nike outfitted him in red and black Air Jordans, which the NBA fined Jordan $5,000 a game (and later banned the shoes) for not matching the Bulls’ uniforms. Nike paid the fines and ran with the publicity around the ban. Jordan became a shoe selling juggernaut fueled by six titles with the Bulls.
It has been 16 years since Jordan laced up his high-tops for the Bulls and 11 years since he last played an NBA game, but the Jordan Brand is bigger than ever. U.S. retail sales hit $2.25 billion last year, up 12.5% versus 2012 for its shoes. Jordan commanded 54% of the U.S. basketball shoe market in 2013. The retro Jordan shoes make up about half of Jordan Brand sales. “Nike has made an art form of unrequited demand,” says Powell regarding the retro shoe releases. “Making sure that there is supply well below demand keeps things fresh.”
Nike has signed up current NBA players to carry the torch with new releases of the Jordan Brand. Carmelo Anthony ($30 million) and Chris Paul ($30 million) both have their own signature shoes for Jordan. Other NBA Jordan athletes include: Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Ray Allen and Joe Johnson.
U.S. Retail Basketball Shoe Sales
LeBron James (Nike): $300 million
Kevin Durant (Nike): $175 million
Kobe Bryant (Nike): $50 million
Derrick Rose (Adidas): $40 million
Carmelo Anthony (Jordan): $30 million
Chris Paul (Jordan): $30 million
John Wall (Adidas): $5 million
Dwight Howard (Adidas): $5 million
Article via Forbes.com