Can Custom Cleats Help Make Baseball More Popular With Younger Sports Fans?

Custom New Balance cleats Mache Robinson
Custom New Balance cleats designed by Mache, worn by Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners.
REX Shutterstock

Baseball has long been referred to as America’s Pastime. But its popularity in the states is dwindling, and most sports fans list football as their favorite game.

With custom cleats permeating baseball at the Major League level and catching the eyes of younger sports enthusiasts, can the sport use this as a vehicle to become beloved domestically once again? Matt Powell, VP and sports industry analyst with The NPD Group, doesn’t think so.

“You have a shoe that can only be used to play the game. To me, it becomes an exercise in futility to think custom baseball cleats will make a difference,” Powell explained. “And I don’t think millennials and Gen-Z are watching baseball. They may see the highlights, but they’re not sitting down for four hours and watching guys stand around.”

Troy “Kickasso” Cole, a renowned sneaker and cleat customizer who has done cleats for stars Matt Kemp of the Atlanta Braves and Matt Strahm of the Kansas City Royals, has a little more faith in what one-of-a-kind cleats can do for baseball, but believes its the player that benefits more than the sport from the attention.

“It draws attention to the athlete and I think it draws attention to the team, but to the game, I don’t know if the custom cleat is going to push anyone to pick up baseball,” Cole said. “[But] shoes are something that anybody could relate to. You get custom shoes on the right player and tell a cool story, I think it could be a big deal.”

Matt Kemp custom July 4cleats Kickasso Matt Kemp’s custom July 4-themed cleats, designed by Kickasso. Kickasso

Both Kickasso and sneaker artist Dan “Mache” Gamache agree that the list of players who could make noise with custom cleats include Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge.

Those players, according to Gamache, have something he believes baseball has been missing for years but could be found in other sports: personality.

“With football and basketball, there’s a little more personality, and baseball is a little more old school, he said. “The cleats certainly help get the personality back into the game.”

Even though these stars have large personalities, they are weighed down by smaller social media followings than standouts in other sports.

“If you go by social media following, Bryce Harper may have about 1 million followers on Instagram. Compare him to some of these bigger names in other sports and he doesn’t have as big of a following,” Mache explained. “They don’t have the following of a LeBron [James] or a [Kevin] Durant or Steph Curry, who has 20 million followers.” [Ed. Note: Harper has 1.1 million followers on Instagram and Curry has 17 million.]

And because of that difference in social media following, custom work in other sports, such as football, gets far more attention.

“If I would have done the same cleat for a No. 1 NFL guy, it’s a different response. And it’s not the athlete’s fault; it’s just baseball and its following,” Cole said.

The 2017 MLB All-Star Game is set to take place tonight at Marlins Park in Miami. Game time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET and will be aired on Fox.