Street style now favors lower-profile footwear, which has hurt the popularity of court-ready basketball sneakers. But Nike, the basketball market’s leader, is still investing in the sport and its marquee athletes.
Nike’s latest athlete to get a signature shoe is Indiana Pacers star Paul George. His PG1 sneaker arrived in stores worldwide on March 4 and retails for $110.
Despite consumers’ waning interest in basketball shoes, industry insiders still believe it was wise for Nike to invest further in the category.
“[Nike] needs fresh faces, they need fresh product,” Matt Powell, VP and sports industry analyst at The NPD Group, told Footwear News. “LeBron’s [James] sales are in decline, [Kevin Durant’s] sales are in decline, and while I don’t expect Paul George to offset those declines, it will certainly help to soften them.”
Ankur Amin, co-owner of the Long Island, New York–based athletic retailer Renarts, believes it’s smart to invest in basketball sneakers because of universal wearability.
“Basketball requires footwear to be sport-specific, but it is the most transitional to the street,” he said. “Most of the other major sports require you to have cleated or sport-specific footwear.”
But helping bolster Nike’s basketball footwear sales alone isn’t why George is important to the brand. The Indiana forward is one of the league’s best players.
He’s a four-time NBA All-Star and currently outperforming his career averages in points, assists and rebounds per game. Through 63 games, George averaged 22.3 points, 3.3 assists and 6.4 points per game.
But what industry experts believe could hold his star power back is playing in Indiana.
Prior to the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, George’s name was mentioned in several trade rumors that would have landed him on a team in a major market, such as the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers. (George and the Pacers face the Celtics in Boston tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST.)
Powell, an admitted Celtics fan, said Nike could benefit from George’s signature shoe sales if he played in a bigger market.
And Amin agrees.
“If he ends up in a big market [the PG1] could be very meaningful,” he said. “[Carmelo Anthony] never translated to selling a lot of shoes but he does enough [as a New York Knick] for Jordan Brand.”
George, a California native, will become a free agent in the summer of 2018.
Prior to George getting a signature sneaker this season, Nike had four looks attached to ballers in the league for James, Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kobe Bryant. James’ shoes were the most expensive and Irving’s were the least.
While James’ kicks has the highest price, George’s shoes have the lowest. And even though George isn’t as revered as James or Durant, Amin believes a fresh face attached to a lower-priced shoe could improve Nike’s sales in the struggling basketball market.
“[Kevin Durant] had huge success in the $95, $100, $105 range when he first came in,” Amin said. “When KD went into the $160 to $170 range, it was harder to get the same following and it dried out. Maybe a lesser star like Paul George could be attached to a lower price point and resonate [with consumers].”
Powell believes the lower price point will reinvigorate business, but won’t make the basketball category for Nike as strong as it once was.
“We’ve seen lower prices improve liquidation rates, even on KD and LeBron,” Powell said. “It’s not offsetting sales, but at least the shoes are moving at an acceptable sellout rate.”