Despite the basketball shoe category’s recent struggles, today’s top athletic brands are still investing millions into showcasing product. (The extravagant events throughout Los Angeles for NBA All-Star Weekend are proof.) But sneaker industry experts still don’t have faith that the hoops sneaker market will rebound anytime soon.
“The consumer is very clearly spelling out for us that they want non-performance footwear right now, and I don’t see basketball growing in 2018,” said Matt Powell, senior industry adviser for sports with The NPD Group. “It’s not a matter of product; it’s a matter more of the big fashion trends.”
According to data provided by Powell and NPD, the top three sneakers at retail in 2017 were the Nike Tanjun, the low Chuck Taylor All Star and the Nike Air Huarache, none of which is a performance basketball style.
And Peng Cheng, owner of the West Coast-based boutique Bait, agrees — despite a recent uptick in basketball shoe sales in his store’s doors. But his reason for why the category is performing poorly isn’t that the looks are no longer fashionable.
“I don’t see [basketball sneakers] becoming popular anytime soon, but I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as the last four years, and it’s picking up — I see that in my stores, too,” Cheng said. “[And] don’t think it will ever come back because there are frankly too many SKUs that every brand puts out, and there’s no more collectability to the basketball lines. That’s what has driven that business.”
Aside from trends and too many products on retail shelves, Cheng believes there’s another issue hindering the category’s growth in 2018 — which he suspects applies more to Nike than other brands.
“There are some distinguishable design aesthetics between [Nike signature] lines that you can tell if you are in the business, but to the public, a lot of the shoes could easily be someone else’s shoe. Every shoe looks very similar,” Cheng said. “The new LeBron [James] shoe could very easily have a ‘KD’ [Kevin Durant] logo on it. I just don’t see any significant design aesthetic changes every year, and that may be because of the technology — I don’t know if that limits the design styles.”
The latest two styles for James and Durant, the Nike LeBron 15 and the Nike KDX, respectively, feature some of the same technologies such as knit uppers (Battleknit and Flyknit) and visible Zoom Air cushioning units.
But the store owner doesn’t just have concerns concerning the basketball market. He also has solutions.
“Two quarters ago, Jordan Brand released the Kaws Jordan 4. Imagine if they did the most production units on that. It would sell out everywhere, and everyone [would want] to wear them, because right now they’re just sitting on shelves in boxes,” Cheng said. “Then take the retro, which is way overdistributed, and make that your limited-edition that you only sell through boutiques or a Foot Locker — make those your limited ones. Basically, flip your collaborations and your inline, and people will all of a sudden go back for your retro, because it’s supply and demand.”
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