Missed opportunity or conscious omission? Under Armour, Anta and Puma own the NBA Finals but don’t activate – ARCH-USA
LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Giannis, Zion and Westbrook, what do these names have in common? They make up the full list of NBA stars from Nike and Jordan Brand (Melo and Chris Paul are also on that list, but no). These stars have always played a part in elevating their brands in the NBA Playoffs and one of them has always been part of the NBA Finals for the past ten years. In many cases, multiple players from Nike/Jordan Brand’s Signature Roster have always dominated coverage of the NBA Playoffs and Finals, except when Curry dominated and Under Armor rode the wave for massive shoe growth with Curry. 1 and 2.
At present, adidas is replaced by Jaylen Brown and Jordan Brand is replaced by Jayson Tatum, but the real stars of this series are the Warriors returning to the Playoffs for the first time in years. The Big Three buyout tour can be seen as the rise of alternative basketball brands, but there’s been no activity beyond a few social media posts. Draymond was out, which means Converse isn’t a factor, but even if he played well, it wouldn’t really matter. Game 4 Klay has only appeared once, but Anta is a Chinese brand and trying to activate and gain eyes in the US is not a priority for their team. Marcus Smart’s profile has been raised as NBA Defensive Player of the Year and Puma is smart enough to give Smart the above-the-fold landing page on their site, but their marketing dollars seem tied to Melo Ball and his signature shoes that sit at home like the main guys at Nike.
It’s an understandable puzzle. I wrote earlier this year about the lack of performance basketball sales except for the Zoom GT Cut. So it makes sense that brands don’t pour money into basketball, doesn’t it? The brands have all embarked on collaborations and work with fashion brands. adidas bought Jerry Lorenzo and Fear of God. New Balance jumped into bed with Aime Leon Dore and Teddy Santis (Kawhi, their number one, hasn’t played in two years). pouring money into football boots. On-pitch/on-court sneakers are out of style. They are tools for participating in the game. Except they have been shown not to be when done correctly. The Zoom GT Cut hit and continues to hit every time it drops, establishing that a basketball shoe still has influence. More importantly, the Cut sold without any storytelling or marketing from Nike. The heavy lifting was done mostly through YouTubers and, surprisingly, resellers. Here is a report including a discussion of the resale value of Zoom GT Cuts: July 2021 Resale Report and Analysis: Part 2 – Price Tier Breakdown and Amount Sold – ARCH-USA
Are we in a post-marketing moment for basketball? Has the NBA become a track platform where athletes are more influential as personalities than they are for their basketball talent? Which means they can sell casual wear much better than performance wear? If we are right now, will brands start slowing down the introduction of signature sneakers, or are signature sneakers just a tool to access pro athlete followers as brands? Is the international market now the home of professional basketball to drive performance basketball sales? Here’s an important factor to consider: Ratings for this year’s Finals have so far been 30% higher than the last two seasons. If basketball is on the rise again, shouldn’t signature sneakers be an activation point for brands that have the superstars in the final? Klay Thompson and Anta, Under Armor and Curry should be doubling down right now, but they’re not. Jaylen Brown had an incredible post-season, but Fear of God and adidas weren’t a factor. Is this NBA Finals viewership growth a missed opportunity or a conscious omission?