Can NFL Players Become Sneaker Influencers?

Before this season, NFL stars rarely expressed themselves through their on-field footwear choices. But players during the current football campaign have offered a variety of custom looks that have caught the attention of sneakerheads everywhere.

But does a standout on the gridiron have the power to become a go-to sneaker influencer? Industry insiders believe they can — but question how much influence over the masses they can actually have.

“I think any athlete can fill that role. How big they’ll be is the money question,” said Matt Powell, global sports industry analyst with The NPD Group. “We’ve seen brands try to use NFL athletes as a forward-fashion icon, and it really hasn’t paid off.”

Powell also questioned how much of an impact a football star could have at retail. “Under Armour with Cam Newton sold a lot of the Highlight cleat [and] showed the marketplace that we could sell expensive cleats to kids,” he said, “but that market overall is shrinking: Football has not been good for several years now.”

But the dwindling football footwear market hasn’t stopped some of the league’s biggest names from putting extraordinary effort into their game day cleat choices — for both pregame warmups and in-game looks.

New York Giants star receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz have worn several custom looks throughout the season, and another famed receiver, Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has sported looks featuring images of late athletes including Arnold Palmer, Kimbo Slice, Muhammad Ali and José Fernández. And on the defensive side, Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller warmed up this season in custom fur Adidas cleats.

Odell Beckham Jr. Craig Sager Nike Kickasso.
A close-up of Odell Beckham Jr.’s custom Craig Sager-inspired Nike cleats, made by Kickasso.

But despite the players’ attention to style, some in the footwear industry are skeptical that these athletes and others can inspire what consumers will fill their closets with.

“It feels like anyone with any substantial following within a given community is considered an influencer nowadays. It really doesn’t seem to take much,” said Chase Ceparano, co-owner of Huntington, N.Y.-based retailer Rise. “That said, I do think marquee athletes can generate buzz around specific products, but I do not see this whole hybrid or lifestyle-shoe-turned-cleat trend making much noise. … Their ability to really influence the style community is very unlikely. They are looked at for their performance on the field or in the gym, not outside of it.”

Adidas Yeezy Football Cleats
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller’s Adidas Yeezy football cleats that were worn before the Sept. 8 season opener against the Carolina Panthers.
CREDIT: Twitter.

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