Few things go together quite like superstar athletes and big-name shoe brands.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry spent much of the past two NBA seasons proving that he is worth every penny — and then some — that Under Armour shelled out to add the player to its endorsement roster in 2013.
And while any thoroughbred basketball fan can riddle off stats for Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — the Golden State Warriors other two leading men — only recently have the two ballers entered the realm of “household names.”
On Monday night, Curry dropped 36 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder and lead the Warriors to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year. But that performance followed a major victory for Thompson, who made NBA playoff history Saturday when he landed a record 11 3-pointers.
As Green and Thompson see their star power rise, prospective shoe-deal chatter is heating up.
Are either of the ballers primed to sign the next headline-making shoe deal?
Thompson, who previously had a rookie shoe deal with Nike, is currently sponsored by Chinese sneaker brand Anta. Meanwhile, Green has openly stated he’d like to partner with Nike for a signature shoe. The Swoosh has already built a relationship with Green, dropping an all-star player’s edition of its HyperRev 2016 for him back in February.
But with Anta lacking a U.S. presence and Green not having the mega deal or signature shoe he says he wants from Nike, whether there is more to be desired in the shoe market is a question worth asking.
“All these deals come down to the money at the end of the day. Whoever is going to pay the greatest [amount] is going to get the contract,” said Matt Powell, a sports-industry analyst with The NPD Group. “If I’m an elite athlete like Klay, I’m probably saying, ‘How do I have my shoes available here in the United States so my friends and fans could be buying them?’ I don’t know how long his deal is with Anta, but I think he’d have to wait until the contract ended before he could move on.”
Still, there is also on opportunity for Anta, which announced its partnership with Thompson and also unveiled his signature shoe in February 2015, to use Thompson as a vehicle to enter U.S. markets.
“Anta picked Klay to [help it] become legit with the Chinese consumer. They wanted to be able to say to the Chinese consumer, ‘We have an NBA player wearing out shoes and therefore you should wear them as well,’ ” Powell said. “[Anta has] not tried to exploit that interest here [in the U.S.]. It would be interesting to see if they now change that strategy because he has now become such a star.”
He added, “Without having the shoes here — the most important basketball market in the world — they certainly aren’t leveraging him like Under Armour is leveraging Curry.”
As for Green, Powell said he expects that big brands are also eyeing the player but suggests, “He’s a little less of a [valuable] property than Klay would be.”
Either way, both stars have revenue-grossing potential, Powell said.
Although it may seem tempting for big brands to start throwing millions or even billions (see: LeBron James and Nike) at the stars right now, Powell said there is still plenty of time for both sides to weigh their options.
“If you look at [Michael] Jordan as an example, he didn’t really become a force [in the shoe industry] until after he stopped playing,” Powell said. “He sold a lot of shoes back in the day but nothing like the numbers he’s selling today. So typically, a player can have some longevity — this is not something where you’ve got to strike now.”
Further, considering average lead times on shoe production, it’s tough for brands to create shoes or new partnerships in a cinch or anticipate who will be the breakout stars throughout a season.
For that reason, it is often wiser for brands to pace themselves and sign players as well as produce new shoes “[within] the normal cadence of when the product is desired by the consumer,” Powell explained.
“The real peak for basketball selling is in the fall — where you have a combination of back to school along with the high school, college teams and pros starting to play,” the analyst said. “We’ve also seen brands use the All-Star game weekend as an opportunity to introduce a new shoe — because they know the players are going to be showcased in that event.”