Athletic shoe and apparel brands are learning that the winning endorsement for their performance wear may be just as much off the court as it is on the court.
In the longstanding chase for profit and margin, sneaker brands such as Nike, Addidas, Under Armour and Sketchers are learning to tinker with their celebrity endorsement strategies in order to align with an evolving media landscape.
Athletic Shoe Deals for Non-Athletes? Of Course
Late in 2015, Nike and comedian/actor, Kevin Hart revealed a new cross fitness shoe named the "Hustle Hart." The shoe, as described by Hart, is a way to encourage fitness and wellness for your average consumer, not for aspiring professional or highly competitive athletes.
Hart ironically worked as a shoe salesman at Foot Locker before being launched into stardom by media mogul Damon Dash. From then, Kevin Hart soon evolved into a household name. Much of his rise in the mainstream and non-black media has come by way of Youtube where many of his standup routines and skits could be viewed.
However, to receive a shoe deal by such a brand as storied as Nike is new and unprecedented for any star whose primary avenue of public engagement has been through social and not traditional media.
Yes, rappers like Run DMC, Jay Z and Rick Ross have received shoe deals from Nike and Reebok respectively- but none of these were for exercise and performance shoes.
Relatively Speaking: History of Shoe Endorsements
The first athletic shoe endorsement was made by Converse All Stars with Chuck Taylor, a professional basketball player from Indiana who later worked as a salesman for Converse and never took a percentage from the shoe sales.
Taylor just got free shoes.
Similarly, Jessie Owens was supplied with free Addidas running spikes for the 1936 Berlin Olympics but little else.
Jessie Owens and Chuck Taylor- Their Endorsements never earned them a dime
Through the decades however, spiking with Michael Jordan's deal with Nike, brand sponsorships have become increasingly lucrative as these shoe and apparel companies grew in size and relied heavily upon elite athletes and hip-hop musicians for visibility and marketing.
Their approach had been relatively straight forward: sign who ever is hot for a few years and renew their contracts until they are no longer greatly profitable.
Athletic Apparel Endorsements turn to Pop Culture
But the endorsement paradigm is now shifting as athletes like Lebron James and Steph Curry are amassing social audiences which they will carry with them long after they retire from professional sports.
According to Barron's, Under Armour has enjoyed 23 straight quarters of 20%-plus sales growth thanks to deals with high performance athletes such as Steph Curry (left) and Cam Newton (right)
Stephen Curry, along with Cam Newton, has yielded incredible returns for Under Armour whose shoe sales rose by 40% in Q2 2015 after Curry became an NBA Finals MVP and champion.
After regrettably passing on an endorsement with Steph Curry prior to his NBA championship, Nike and Lebron James made headlines with the announcement of a lifelong deal worth at least $500 million.
Singer, Demi Lovato secured a deal with Sketchers which lasts until the end of 2016. Like Hart, she is marketing to the casual and personal fitness fans who follow her on social media platforms
While Michael Jordan was and is a household name and national icon, modern celebrities like Hart, Curry and James can get their messaging out quickly to followers they have a incredibly direct relationship with. Moreover, marketing on Instagram or Facebook with a celebrity is far more cost effective and measurable than television ads.
Addidas, who in the 90s signed music group Run DMC, outbidded Nike to sign musician Kanye West in 2013. Puma meanwhile signed Kendall Kardashian, Kanye's 18 year old sister-in-law who, as far as we know, has no competetively athletic feats or reputation.
Sketchers, who was once endorsed by Kim Kardashian for $40 million, now enjoys deals with pop singers, Demi Lovato and Meghan Trainor.
New Social Media Landscape Change in Strategy
With an off-the-court audience of 18 million, Lebron James' deal with Nike makes "cents"
All of the celebrities listed celebrities have massive, million +plus personal social media followings, something the traditional platform-based celebrity from a decade ago missed out on.
Given the large social media and thus mobile audience of today's celebrity, starpower is no longer restricted to television screen or court time. Celebrities now control so much of their own marketing power.
Thus in order to gain a competitve advantage, additional market share and improved quarterly revenues, brands are becoming more resourceful in how to capitalize on celebrity, which is now moving from the big screen to the phone screen.
Medvis Jackson is a web designer at Hindsite, curator at Kulchah and avid cricket fan. You can follow him @medvisjackson for his random thoughts.