LeBron James sent shockwaves across the internet on Sunday with the announcement that he will be joining the Los Angeles Lakers next season — and now the retail world is beginning to feel the ripple effect.
The blockbuster four-year, $153.3 million deal brings with it plenty of new merchandise, and the potential opportunity for Nike to capitalize on the association with arguably the top player in the NBA.
The athleticwear giant placed a reported $90 million bet on James when he was still in high school; 15 years later, the partnership is still going strong, now with a lifetime endorsement deal and a range of signature sneakers that sit at the top of the brand’s basketball category in terms of sales.
Still, it may be jersey sellers that feel the biggest impact from the move, particularly as basketball shoes continue to underperform compared with the overall sneaker market.
“I do not expect this to be a major shoe event,” said Matt Powell, senior industry adviser for sports at The NPD Group Inc. “L.A. is not an important basketball shoe market.” Rather, the performance styles tend to sell best in the Northeast, according to insiders.
The partnership can only help Nike in general, however, argued Jeff Van Sinderen, an analyst with B. Riley FBR. “This move creates considerable buzz around LeBron, and as he plays on his new team, that should be positive for Nike,” he said. “L.A. [the city and the team] has energy like no other and being associated with that should be good for the brand.”
Indeed, fans have been eager to get their hands on fresh yellow and purple Lakers jerseys bearing James’ name and the number 23. Those searching for the official Nike logo version were disappointed to find the NBA Store sold out in a matter of hours, with a restock expected “sometime in August,” according to tweets sent to numerous disgruntled fans.
James’ Cleveland Caveliers gear, meanwhile, is being sold at a discount, though Van Sinderen added that if supply dwindles, it could push up the value among fans who want collector’s items.
Fanatics, a licensed sportswear seller, said preorders spiked 600 percent in the first three hours of sales, compared with the same period after James announced his return to Cleveland from Miami in 2014. The jerseys will ship after the deal is officially signed, which is expected to happen Friday afternoon.