How Nike Can Best Use Its NBA Stars With Basketball Sneaker Sales Struggling

LeBron James Kevin Durant NBA Finals
LeBron James (left) and Kevin Durant in the NBA Finals.
REX Shutterstock

Basketball sneaker sales today aren’t as strong as they have been in recent years. But that shouldn’t discourage brands, especially Nike, from using its sponsored stars to push its other footwear offerings.

According to data provided by The NPD Group Retail Tracking Service, basketball footwear sales in the U.S. were down 22 percent in the 12 months ended April 2017. Industry insiders agree that Nike, with the NBA Finals underway and three of its renowned ballers playing (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving), would be best served to have them promote its lifestyle footwear.

“Nike needs to tie them successfully to Sportswear because that’s where the action’s at right now,” said Lester Wasserman, owner of sneaker boutique West NYC. “With the exception of a handful of styles, basketball is not being worn off-court.”

Kevin Durant Nike KD10 Kyrie Irving Nike Kyrie 3 Kevin Durant (L) in the Nike KD10 guarding Kyrie Irving, who is in the Nike Kyrie 3. REX Shutterstock

And Matt Powell, VP and sports industry analyst with The NPD Group, thinks Nike should act soon to capitalize off of the momentum created by the NBA Finals.

“Fans are really focused on the individual games and this championship. If you look at the licensed-apparel business, for example, the greatest number of T-shirts and hats are sold within the first 48 hours after the game,” he explained. “After that, sales really start to fall off. It’s the excitement and immediacy that really maters.”

Powell suggested that a good way for the brand to capitalize from the basketball excitement would be to have a star like James wear a popular lifestyle look, such as the Air Huarache, off the court in a highly visible setting.

Nike Air Huarache

Nike Air Huarache, $110; nike.com

But James, Durant and Kyrie all have signature sneakers with the Swoosh (LeBron 14, KD10 and Kyrie 3, respectively) that they are currently promoting. Despite this, Wasserman is convinced using them to promote kicks not bearing their names is a good thing.

“You’d be using them to activate product that’s essentially not their product, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because you’re paying the person anyway,” Wasserman said. “They’re wearing other things off the court, so you may as well have them feature Nike product on their feet to sell it.”

The West NYC owner also stated Nike could benefit from creating lifestyle executions, with either materials or colors, of its signature basketball product.

Both Wasserman and Powell agree that the brand would have the most success using James as a Nike Sportswear ambassador, with Durant as its second-best option.

And if Nike were to use stars like James and Durant to move Sportswear units, Powell believes it would have an easier time with this than competitors that also endorse basketball superstars playing in the Finals.

“I think it’s easier for Nike than Under Armour to do this with [Stephen] Curry because: 1) he’s not really viewed as a fashion icon; and 2) they don’t have a sportswear business,” he explained.