Scoring Dwyane Wade’s Li-Ning Deal

Dwyane Wade is headed to the Far East.

After confirming the end of his endorsement deal with Nike subsidiary Jordan Brand on Tuesday, the NBA champion said he’s taking his talents to China-based athletic company Li-Ning.

A formal announcement of the partnership is expected next week, while Wade’s team, the Miami Heat, is in China to compete in the NBA’s China Games.

Marketing experts are mixed on how the endorsement will play out for Li-Ning. Keith Wan, director of sports and athlete marketing for the Leverage Agency, said signing Wade will give the Chinese company more firepower to compete in the U.S. with brands such as Nike and Adidas.

“This is huge for Li-Ning because it doesn’t have someone like a Lebron James or Michael Jordan who can carry a brand,” he said. “It’s a positive for Wade too because he’ll be able to expand his international appeal to the Chinese market.”

According to research firm The Q Scores Co.’s latest ranking of athlete popularity in the U.S., Wade is recognized by 66 percent of all sports fans between the ages of 12 and 64. The player also ranked 106 out of 621 sports personalities that the company measured.

Q Scores EVP Henry Schafer said Wade could be a valuable asset to Li-Ning, depending on the strategy the brand chooses to promote him here. (The brand declined to comment on the details of the endorsement until next week.)

“The issue in terms of marketing in the U.S. is if it’s going to be perceived as a compatible fit in the eyes of the consumers,” Schafer said. “Li-Ning is going to have to establish a brand identity that connects Wade positively to the brand.”

With product innovation driving most of the sales in the athletic category, SportsOneSource analyst Matt Powell said he doesn’t foresee Jordan Brand’s loss of Wade as having a significant impact.

“My estimate is that [Wade] signature product sold $15 million to $20 million last year in retail, and for a billion-dollar brand, that’s pretty minor,” Powell said. “Nike basically stepped aside because I don’t think it finds the same value in individual player endorsements.”

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