Despite the loaded roster of sponsored athletes Adidas and Puma have, Kanye West and Rihanna provide their respective brands a desirability that the sports professionals don’t.
“In the last golden era of sneakers, the energy drivers were the athletes. Bo Jackson, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan: These were the GOATs of our society that were influencing what we were buying,” said Jeff Staple, founder of Staple Design.
Today, Staple added, it’s moved into an era of celebrities — and a lot of them are musicians.
“Sneaker companies are signing up music acts as if they were record labels,” he said. “That’s moving the needle right now, and it’s definitely working, because these artists do a collaboration and people go gangbusters-crazy for it.”
But it’s not just musicians that brands are aligning with: Kylie Jenner is a Puma ambassador, Karlie Kloss is with Adidas, and Nike outfits Kevin Hart.
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For Chase Ceparano, co-owner of Huntington, N.Y.-based boutique Rise, the reason brands team with celebrities and style influencers is because they have a look more consumers desire than athletes.
“Frankly, I’ve never heard anyone ever say they’d like to dress like LeBron [James], Russ Westbrook, [James] Harden or any of these top-level athletes. What we do hear about and see clearly though is the influence of rappers, musicians and socialites in terms of the personal style making an impact on our audience,” he said. “These are the individuals we follow on social media. These are the personalities many of us borrow from, in one way or another.”
But are they bringing in major sales? Matt Powell, global sports industry analyst for The NPD Group, says no.
“If you look at what LeBron sells in a year, it’s significantly more than any celebrity has sold,” he said. “I think if you have a whole lot of celebrities in aggregate, they can be meaningful, but there’s no a single celebrity out there that has sold even Kobe [Bryant]-esque kind of numbers — and Kobe’s not that important anymore.”
But Powell still believes there’s value in celebrity and style influencer partnership.
“What you’re trying to do is connect with the fans of celebrities or athletes and get them to buy your product. In the case of celebrities, the money the brand has to spend is relatively small, so [endorsements] are fairly easy to do,” he said. “And they’re ephemeral, meaning they’re not signing 20-year deals with people, and if that celebrity doesn’t get you a return, you move on to somebody else.”