Can Nike Reinvigorate the Struggling Basketball Market?

Performance basketball sneaker sales are struggling, and industry insiders are sparse with insight on how the market’s leader, Nike, can reinvigorate the once dominant category.

“The consumer is so in charge today of what’s happening; a decade ago, I would have said brands dictate what the consumer buys,” Matt Powell, VP and sports industry analyst with The NPD Group, explained to Footwear News. “The kid is telling the brand what they’re going to buy and not going to buy, so it would be very difficult for a brand to turn their fortunes around overnight.”

Powell believes it’s the style of shoe, not the players wearing them, that’s not attractive to today’s consumer.

“Athletes still have tremendous reach into the marketplace as influencers, but it’s not about the basketball shoe they wear on the court,” he said. “We had an example of Russell Westbrook [of the Oklahoma City Thunder] wearing Vans off the court that got a lot of coverage a while back. That kind of influence is much more important than what they’re wearing on the court.”

Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder Air Jordan XXXI
Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Air Jordan XXXI.
CREDIT: AP Images.

Ankur Amin, co-owner of East Northport, N.Y.-based retailer Renarts, believes the performance basketball silhouette of today just isn’t fashionable.

“Boundaries are getting broken, and it’s not about a label anymore; lifestyle is blurring into performance, performance is blurring into fashion,” he said. “Everything is cyclical, and right now the cycle isn’t there for basketball.”

And Powell agrees.

“This is really about a fundamental shift in the fashion world. The fashion spinner, if you will, has moved on to other categories,” Powell said. “We are in a massive retro trend right now, and we’ve been in this cycle of lifestyle or casual running that’s been quite strong. Kids have moved on to other categories.”

Despite giving up some basketball market share in 2016 to Under Armour, thanks to the success of Golden State Warriors baller Stephen Curry’s shoe franchise, Nike still dominated the category.

Under Armour Curry 3
The Under Armour Curry 3 “Chinese New Year.”
CREDIT: Under Armour

In a move that could help its business and jump-start the challenged category, Nike dropped the prices of its signature shoes for NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The LeBron 14 retails for $175, which is down $25 from its $200 LeBron 13, and the Zoom KD 9 has a $150 price tag, a $30 decrease from its $180 KD 8.

The signature shoe prices for Kyrie Irving, another Nike-sponsored NBA standout, have not changed between last season’s look and the current season’s shoe ($120).

Nike Kyrie 3
Nike Kyrie 3 “Black & Ice.”
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nike.
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