Over the course of three days, nearly 300,000 people flocked to Hard Rock Stadium for the inaugural Miami Grand Prix in May. The Formula 1 mega racing event brought plenty of glitz and glamour to Florida with help from celebrity attendees such as LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Serena Williams and more A-listers, who watched cars from Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren speed over the road and street courses at 200 mph.
Equated to the Super Bowl by sports media, the Miami Grand Prix was a pivotal moment for Formula 1 racing as it looks to conquer the U.S. market. ESPN announced the live telecast recorded an average of 2.6 million U.S. viewers, marking the largest-ever audience for a live F1 race broadcast on American television. (For comparison, the 2021 MLS Cup reportedly averaged more than 1.1 million viewers on ABC.) And as of last month, Formula 1 renewed its U.S. media rights deal with ESPN until the end of 2025, reportedly worth between $75 million and $90 million per year.
Encouraged by those viewing figures — and by the growing popularity of Netflix’s “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” docuseries featuring a behind-the-scenes look at F1’s teams and drivers — other companies are hopping on board, including some in the fashion industry.
In an exclusive partnership, athletic brand K-Swiss and McLaren Racing have teamed up on a multiyear deal that marks a series of firsts for both companies. Best known as a heritage tennis label, K-Swiss will venture into Formula 1 racing for the first time — and for McLaren, this marks its first footwear partnership.
“For me, the biggest opportunity is reaching a new consumer by offering an exciting collaboration from two iconic brands and building a true global partnership,” K-Swiss international brand president Dave Grange told FN.
Grange stepped into that leadership role in June 2021, bringing decades of experience at Lacoste, Keds and Adidas. While at the helm of K-Swiss, Grange has since focused on reinvigorating the brand’s collaboration strategy, with partners such as Kith, Stadium Goods, Rowing Blazers, Concepts and Corridor.
By working with McLaren — which has one of the largest fanbases in F1 with roughly 351 million, plus 5 billion social impressions per year — K-Swiss is looking to grow its audience through an elevated collection of footwear and apparel.
“We are both heritage brands with a 57- and 60-year history in performance sport, and we have a clear brand connection and synergy,” said Grange.
McLaren is one of the oldest active teams in F1, the highest class of single-seat, open-wheel and open-cockpit professional motor racing. The team has been in competition since 1966, formed by acclaimed New Zealand racer Bruce McLaren. K-Swiss, meanwhile, debuted the first all-leather tennis shoe that same year.
Grange noted, “I also feel McLaren is very aspirational and premium, both in F1 and their supercar division.” To that end, he said their first collection drop will be targeted to the high-end consumer.
And the shoes will come with a performance guarantee. Lindsey Eckhouse, director of licensing, e-commerce and e-sports at McLaren Racing said the team’s crew and engineers have been wear-testing the product.
“Creating a shoe for our race team is a huge cornerstone of the partnership,” she said. “It was really about incorporating our race team’s feedback so that we could create the right shoe for them, but also leaning into that [K-Swiss] heritage and lifestyle so we can offer something to our fans that we’ve never been able to offer before.”
The K-Swiss x McLaren footwear line will officially debut in late spring ’23 with prices for the launch ranging from $50 for slide sandals to $400 for a premium sneaker.
“We’re doing a mix of performance products and also heritage products that have been stylized, materialized and colored for McLaren to align with the values of the brand,” said Brian Keating, VP of product design at K-Swiss. “A lot of people think of McLaren as expensive, super premium and exotic. So we wanted products that reflect that, too. We are also making products for McLaren that have their own unique technologies.”
Fans of the racing team can expect looks in its signature papaya orange colorway, as well as lifestyle silhouettes filled with neutrals. All styles will have recognizable K-Swiss branding such as its traditional five stripes, for instance, along with the McLaren F1 racing team logo, as well as K-Swiss’ patented Tubes technology.
“We can bring such a strong story together through different channels with this partnership,” Eckhouse said, noting that McLaren drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris will also be wearing the shoes.
“Eventually, we would look at bringing some of their design tones into what we’re creating with K-Swiss as they’re huge assets for us in driving visibility of the partnership.”
She added, “We can take advantage of K-Swiss’ distribution network and their channel marketing and some of their retail relationships. So that if somebody doesn’t know as much about McLaren and they get excited about the product, it’s a really powerful way to come into the sport.”
While the shoes in the line are unisex, many of the styles were selected for the fact that they’re popular with women, said Keating, noting F1 has continued to post gains with a female demographic.
In terms of distribution, Grange said he is focused on premium placements in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and EMEA regions, as well as direct-to-consumer online at Kswiss.com and Mclaren.com. “We foresee our distribution internationally over the coming years being around 60% DTC and 40% stores,” he added.
Next November, Formula 1 is continuing its U.S. expansion with the Las Vegas Grand Prix, joining the Miami event and an Austin race that launched in 2012. Other major destinations on the circuit include Silverstone in the U.K., Monaco and Monza in Italy — all major races that both K-Swiss and McLaren can capitalize on throughout the year.
There’s also McLaren’s car launch event, which happens in February, which Eckhouse said will be a big opportunity to make noise and promote the launch of the K-Swiss collection.
“These tentpole moments are where we align,” explained K-Swiss’ VP of marketing, Anna Amador. “If everyone is involved and everyone is amplifying and rallying around a race, we can leverage that. It offers us a bigger stage to connect with consumers and to sell to consumers.”