How LeBron James Is Going to Change the Retail Game in L.A.

LeBron James excited Los Angeles Lakers fans when he announced this month he would rock the purple and gold. And local sneaker and apparel retailers are ready for the boost in sales the NBA’s biggest star will undoubtedly bring.

“Anytime a player of that caliber comes to a new city, it creates so much excitement, which leads to individuals going out and celebrating. One way they celebrate is to buy product,” said Isack Fadlon, owner of sneaker retailer Sportie LA. “You’re going to see a lot of activity. With all the energy, it can’t help but drive more business to retail.”

LeBron James
Kids waiting for LeBron James in Los Angeles.
CREDIT: Reed Saxon/AP/REX Shutterstock

There’s no doubt that James’ influence has been a boon for the cities he plays in.

According to a Harvard University study published in May 2017, researchers found that James had a profound impact on local economies — measured through the number of restaurants, and eating and drinking establishments — during his two stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and time with the Miami Heat.

The report stated that the athlete’s presence increased the number of eateries within one mile of the stadiums by roughly 13 percent and employment in those businesses by 23.5 percent.

Major players in the footwear and apparel realm in downtown L.A. believe the area will experience something similar, and the surge won’t be limited to the food industry.

“He will bring a lot of energy and new merch sales to L.A. and the world,” explained Peng Cheng, owner of boutique chain Bait. “I believe the impact this time around will be even greater than Cleveland and Miami because of the maturation of social media and also because it’s [the] Los Angeles Lakers.”

But some would argue that while the presence of James — who signed a hefty four-year, $153.3 million contract with the Lakers — could help retail, it likely won’t boost sneaker sales significantly.

“L.A. has never been a great basketball shoe market,” said Matt Powell, senior industry adviser for sports with The NPD Group Inc. “The weather argues against wearing high-top, heavy shoes, and the skate look has been more important there. And certainly, sandals, flip-flops and slides are more important. You’re going to sell a lot of jerseys, but I don’t think he’s going to be important to footwear.”

The analyst believes James’ business impact will be similar to that of Laker legend Kobe Bryant — a fellow Nike athlete — in terms of apparel and sneaker sales.

“When Kobe was at the height of his career, he had the No. 1-selling jersey in the league,” Powell said, “but he really never made an impact in California in terms of footwear sales.”

Nike LeBron 15
Nike LeBron 15

Still, it could be smart for retailers to invest in the Nike LeBron shoe franchise. According to data provided by NPD’s retail tracking service, James led all signature basketball sneaker sales throughout 2017.

While preseason and regular-season action is still months away, storeowners are already stocking up on all things King James, such as jerseys, shirts and hats. In
addition, Fadlon said, the parking lot next to his flagship store on Melrose Avenue will soon feature a mural of the baller.

And Cheng stated his nine Bait doors — five of which are in California — will be filled to the brim with James and Lakers product.

“We will definitely have more Lakers and LeBron merch, but we are not Foot Locker or a mall chain, so we will be more curated on what we choose to bring in,” Cheng said.

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