Kevin Durant has turned a criticism into a clever marketing ploy. When the Finals MVP left Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors in free agency last offseason, fans deemed it a weak move, with some going as far as calling him a “cupcake” for bolting to play for the team that knocked him out of the playoffs. In fact, when he returned to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder last season, one fan even dressed as a cupcake. But the worm has turned. On Nike’s website, Durant’s new sneakers, set to release on Sept. 1, have a very interesting theme. The sneakers, which are deemed as the “Red Velvet” KD 10s, have a rather unique backdrop of … yep, you guessed it, cupcakes!
LeBron James remains the biggest endorsement star in the sport with estimated earnings of $44 million this year off the court, and he is still the king when it comes to moving product. Nike sold $340 million worth of James’ signature shoes in the last 12-months through January, up 13% from the prior year, according to SportScanInfo. It is nearly double the amount of the NBA’s second best seller, Kevin Durant. Durant’s KD signature line of sneakers had sales of $195 million in 2014 for Nike, up 11% from the prior year. This follows a meteoric 400% rise in 2013 when Nike flooded the market with the popular KD VI. The low-top version of the this season’s KD7 in flashy colors like teal and pink is a bit hit with female teens, according to SportScanInfo footwear analyst Andy Annunziata, who compiled the sales data for Forbes. Nike made a huge bet on the NBA’s reigning MVP last summer when it inked Durant to a 10-year contract extension that could pay as much as $300 million, including royalties. It is the richest player endorsement deal in the history of sports.
The biggest gainer among NBA players with signature shoes was Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers’ guard has been a linchpin for Nike for years in China, where Bryant is adored. His U.S. shoe sales more than doubled last year to $105 million, up from $50 million, despite Bryant missing most of the past two seasons with injuries. Credit Nike’s new Flyknit technology, which it incorporated into the Kobe 9 (Nike also pushed the sale price to $200). “Nike continues to reinvent new technologies on a regular basis, and they have instant credibility when they introduce a new technology in basketball,” says Annunziata.
Irving is an up and coming player to watch. His first signature Nike shoe was released in December, and it racked up $7 million in sales during its first three months. The profile of the Cavaliers’ point guard has surged with the arrival of James in Cleveland. The Cavs are featured the NBA maximum of 25 times on broadcast partners ESPN/ABC and TNT. “You have to be in front of the public to get things rolling. That is why Kyrie came out of the box strong,” says Annunziata.
Adidas has lost traction in the basketball shoe market and had only a 2.6% market share last year, down from 5.5% in 2013. This week it announced it would not renew its NBA uniform deal after it expires in 2017.
Injuries have hampered its top two signature athletes, Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, in recent years. Adidas bet the farm on Rose in 2012 to the tune of $185 million over 13 years after his MVP season the previous year. The Chicago Bulls’ point guard has been snakebitten ever since. The latest blow was a torn meniscus in his right knee last month that required surgery. Sales of Rose’s Adidas signature shoes fell 20% last year to $32 million. Howard was never a big seller for Adidas and his signature shoe has now basically fallen off the map. Sales plummeted 70% last year to only $1.5 million or less than James’ racks up in two days. Adidas has shifted its attention more to John Wall and Damian Lillard over the past year.