The pro basketball superstar led his Toronto Raptors through a grueling playoff run to the NBA Finals, marking the first time the team has made it to the sport’s biggest stage. In the process, Leonard hit arguably the greatest shot in franchise history, an anxiety-causing Game 7 buzzer beater on May 12 over 7-foot-tall defensive specialist Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers.
And he hit the seemingly impossible shot in the New Balance OMN1S “2-Way,” which the brand dropped as a surprise five days earlier.
New Balance global director of consumer marketing Patrick Cassidy explained to FN that it was vital to the brand’s success in basketball to capitalize on Leonard’s buzz.
“We’re in a landscape and a culture right now that moves so fast with digital and social media that if you were to stick with standard timelines of campaigns or product development you will miss the moment,” Cassidy said. “The culture dictates that we act as quickly and aggressively as possible to capitalize on things that are happening right now.”
The way New Balance released the “2-Way” pack, which featured the aforementioned OMN1S and a complimentary 997 Sport, wasn’t according to plan. (A broader launch of the court-ready OMN1S shoe is scheduled for October, Cassidy told FN.) The brand felt that the conversation surrounding Leonard and his MVP-caliber play was so powerful during the playoffs that it presented the perfect time for the brand to strike.
“As we’re building [Leonard product and our basketball business] it’s important to be nimble in how we go to market,” Cassidy said. “An opportunity presented itself and we were able to pull everything together to develop the right amount of product for the consumers who were asking for it. As we have these long-term strategic plans for basketball it’s important for us to have mechanisms in place where we’ve got to act and moves things faster and make things happen.”
And the surprise launch paid off. New Balance confirmed with FN that it sold more than 1,000 pairs of the OMN1S and 997 Sport combined in less than one minute. (Cassidy said with excitement that the shoes “vaporized” almost immediately.)
After the pack’s release, the shoes immediately landed on the resale market, with the OMN1S and 997 Sport selling on StockX for as much as $594 and $750, respectively. (Retail prices of the shoes were $140 each.)
The move also impressed the basketball market’s toughest critic, Matt Powell, The NPD Group Inc.’s senior sports industry analyst. He stated New Balance has “done the best job of anybody I’ve seen” regarding how the brand leveraged Leonard to promote shoe categories other than basketball alone.
“Kudos to them to not restricting him to just being a basketball shoe endorser and having a broader view of the market,” Powell told FN. “They were wise to include non-performance footwear in the mix because performance footwear continues to be quite challenged, especially basketball.”
Although Cassidy wouldn’t confirm if New Balance has another Leonard-focused sneaker release planned for the 2019 NBA Finals, he did say the brand was prepared to capitalize on a major moment, if one were to happen.
“There are various ways we can be more flexible like what you saw with the ‘2-Way’ pack,” Cassidy said. “The plan is to be opportunistic and surprise people.”
Leonard and the Raptors will be at home to face Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors for Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals tomorrow. The broadcast on ABC tips off at 9 p.m. ET.
Below, watch behind-the-scenes footage of NBA star Stephen Curry’s FN cover shoot.