Shaq Shoots for Shoe Comeback

NEW YORK — Shaquille O’Neal is reconnecting with an old teammate to get back in the footwear game.

The player, who retired this past June, has brought back former brand manager Mary Gleason to help revamp his Shaq-branded footwear and apparel. “She’s the LeBron James of my shoe team,” O’Neal said of Gleason, president of Shaq and Dunkman (Gleason also manages Schottenstein Luxury Group brands Judith Leiber, Adrienne Vittadini and Taryn Rose). “I don’t have the know-how to build a brand, but Mary has the capabilities to do it.”

It was Gleason who originally helped O’Neal launch his value-channel lines in 1999 with Starter. Nike acquired the rights to Shaq and Dunkman when it purchased Starter and Gleason’s Group 3 Design brand management company in 2004, where she continued to oversee the labels until the end of 2005.

When Starter was sold to Iconix Brand Group Inc. in 2007, O’Neal decided to take the brands in-house, under his company Mine O’Mine. By the time O’Neal became the master licensee, the lines had gone through some hard times. “It went from being about a $170 million a year business in 2005 to, this year, only about $30 million,” Gleason said. “So it’s definitely in a rebuilding stage.”

ACI International CEO Steven Jackson, Shaq and Dunkman’s footwear licensee, said Gleason’s marketing sense and relationship with retailers is what the brand was missing the past few years. “Mary’s played such an important role in terms of how the brand has grown, and now that she’s back, it will be re-energized.”

Gleason said her first priority was to launch a website to showcase O’Neal’s personality as well as his products. The site, Shaq.com, went live this month and merges O’Neal’s blog and personal social media handles with e-commerce.

His spring ’12 line of sneakers will debut on the Web in February and will make up almost 80 percent of all products sold on the site. Retail prices for footwear range from $20 to $30 for children’s, and $25 to $40 for men’s.

With an already-strong social media following, O’Neal is looking to leverage his more than 4 million Twitter followers and 2 million-plus Facebook fans. He added that these social platforms give his namesake brand new avenues to reach consumers that it didn’t have before. O’Neal, who announced his retirement from the NBA via Twitter and the mobile video platform Tout, said he also plans to use the mediums again to announce 20 job openings with his brand.

In addition to being distributed on the website, the Shaq-branded footwear also will be sold at retailers such as JCPenney, Academy, Big 5 Sporting Goods, Famous Footwear and Shoe Show.

Tim Chase, children’s shoe buyer for Kannapolis, N.C.-based Shoe Show, said the brand’s value proposition and Shaq’s strong identity are its biggest strengths. “There are only a few players who’ve really been able to turn the dial as far as driving sales, and Shaq’s had longevity. It looks like he’ll be able to have an impact even after his retirement.”

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