Is Adidas Set to Steal James Harden?

Under Armour has NBA MVP Stephen Curry. Adidas is going after MVP runner up James Harden.

According to several reports, the first of which came out this morning from ESPN, the German athletic giant is willing to pay as much as $200 million to add the Houston Rockets guard to its roster of athletes. Harden had a multiyear deal with Nike but that recently ended. The Beaverton, Ore.-company reportedly has until next week to make the three-time NBA All Star a counter offer.

For Adidas, it is a pivotal moment. A spokesperson for the brand confirmed to FN, “We’ve invited James Harden to join Adidas. We’re a brand of creators and he truly embodies what that means with his approach to the game, his look and his style on and off the court. He’s coming off a historic season where he was voted MVP by his peers and earned First Team All-NBA honors. His connection with fans is unparalleled and unprecedented and he can take the game, our brand and the industry to new heights.”

The company — which has shoe deals with marquee names such as John Wall and Derrick Rose — recently severed uniform ties with the NBA. In March, the company said it would not renew its agreement with the league to be its apparel sponsor after the 2016-17 NBA season. It also said it would instead devote more time to expanding the number of athletes it sponsors.

Analysts, however, are cautious about such a high profile signing. Matt Powell, sports industry analyst for the NPD Group, said Adidas has taken several steps in the right direction with its marketing and product development in recent months. But big-money endorsement contracts, he said, are rarely worth the pay out in terms of how many sneakers actually get sold.

Adidas has seen its sales slip in the U.S. market, thanks to increased competition from Under Armour and Skechers. A move such as signing Harden could help it reverse course.

“We haven’t been focused on the U.S. consumer the way we needed to be — it’s what we’ve been talking about for a year,” Mark King, president of Adidas North America, told FN earlier this summer. “The biggest challenge is being relevant in the U.S. the same way we’re relevant in almost every country in the world, breaking through and being that cool brand for U.S. consumers.”

But don’t rule Nike out yet. The Swoosh last summer outbid Under Armour when the Baltimore-based company tried to steal one of its biggest endorsers: Kevin Durant.

Nike stepped in at the last minute with a 10-year deal for Durant in the range of $250 million.

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