Last year I wrote an entire discussion on why Nike could recover the basketball division. I even went as far as discussing the ten topics for the season that would inspire interest in the brand and in basketball. I hung my hat on the success of the Kyrie line and built an analysis that propped up my HOPE that basketball would bounce back. I did this because I had built my entire business around Nike basketball and the steady decline in interest In Nike basketball affected how my business operated and was one of the primary factors in my sales grinding to a halt. I needed and wanted Nike basketball to bounce back so I ignored the reality. I finally discussed the reality of basketball footwear in an article geared around the incoming class of Nike Basketball endorsers.
In the article above I explained why the endorsements of athletes is important but ultimately will fail at delivering the eyes and passion for kicks that my generation had/has for hoops shoes and Jordans. Here is the main point from this discussion:
- Because basketball was basically the first sport to become professionalized for kids, the outcome has reduced interest in the sport. The professionalization of all sports has reduced interest and the result is decreased viewership especially by the group who sportswear makers are targeting.
This point is the reason I’ve avoided the LeBron 15.
To be honest the LeBron 6 through 10 allowed me to build a foundation of steady growth in my sneaker business. Those models all captured a moment where basketball, although still slow in sales, was still selling okay. Social media wasn’t as prominent. eSports was in its infancy in the US and grassroots basketball although horrible for the sport overall, hadn’t completely erased the hope kids had for becoming the next great player.
By the time the 11 rolled off the assembly line for Nike the brand realized that resellers were capitalizing on the margins left on the table by the brand. Nike began increasing prices. The design of LeBrons became less about creating models that were eye catching and more about creating a technical performance shoe for an athlete that was bigger and stronger than anyone in the league. The design implemented Foamposite (Armourposite) and took the robotic theme of Lebron as machine way too serious. The increase in price and the playfulness of “The LeBrons” and Lebron’s alter egos were tossed to the side for angry LeBron.
Nike basketball prices were all the way up to 250-300 dollars for the Nike Basketball pack featuring a random Nike+ technology and worn by LeBron for the 2012 Olympics. Kids realized that they could never make their high school teams if they hadn’t played basketball since they were 5 so they stopped trying. Pricing increases, guys getting older who loved the NBA, and a culture that celebrated one sport athletes who were destined to be high school, then college, then pro, players had erased any attachment for the next generation of kids to the NBA.
Social media and video games became more important. Instagram made everybody a model and influencers began to carry just as much weight as sports stars. The kids Nike thought would continue to buy basketball shoes, began styling themselves in trainers with skinny jeans and jogger pants gaining thousands of followers. They began making videos about Grand Theft Auto and getting paid by YouTube. MineCraft became more important than the NBA draft. The LeBron 11, 12, 13, and 14 were all outlet shoes so when the 15 was introduced I didn’t even waste time on it since every sneaker blog was writing about the shoe. I looked at the posts and visited Nike. When I saw the 15 I said, wow that shoe actually looks like it belongs in today’s market, but I didn’t write about it. I avoided the 15.
Today I was asked by one of my peers on Twitter if I’d written anything about the LeBron 15. (Follow Detroit Bear on Twitter). That’s why we’re here. The LeBron 15 is the most on trend model produced since the LeBron 8. The LeBron 8 is by far the most popular model of all of the shoes released in the series. This shoe is the polar opposite. According to my philosophy basketball won’t be back because kids aren’t interested.
I have to adjust my philosophy. Last year I wrote the articles linked above hoping that Nike Basketball would bounce back. I wrote the articles a year too soon. The Nike x NBA deal places the Swoosh back in control of the narrative of basketball. The marketing of the NBA as a business is buffered by the storytelling that will be created by Nike to promote its products. Last year the brand decided against launching an All Star Campaign. This year they will be the All Star Campaign. It will be a seamless integration giving Nike a platform to deliver innovation via technology and performance gear. Does this mean that the LeBron and Nike Basketball will rebound?
It does mean that the footwear has a better of chance of moving. The villain/ superteam stories that exist for the league is much more vital and important this year.
Social media is full of vitriol against Trump and while everybody is still using social (Snap, IG, FB, Twitter), a lot of people are doing so mindlessly and they are getting fed up with politics. Their response is to watch more video they can control via YouTube and Facebook. Breaking2 was a gateway drug for Nike Basketball. It proved that under the right conditions people will return to sport and watch on social media. Sports as entertainment has become easier to access via your feeds. Nike has tapped into this through AR that will be featured throughout the Nike Basketball line.
Nike’s launch of the 15 was a Facebook event. Uninterrupted was paid by Nike Basketball to promote the video via Facebook. The event was yesterday 10/16/2017. As of today 10/17/2017 the video has been viewed 162,000 times. Not an astonishing number and it speaks to an issue I’ve yet to discuss here. The NBA is not a 15-25 year old demographic anymore. That group is on Snap and IG. While that demographic is often focused on for selling footwear the entire marketing structure for footwear as it relates to performance needs to be altered. NBA products will always be Jordans and the people who are buying NBA products are the 30-50 year old range. The LeBron has a difficult time connecting primarily because of how LeBron was created. He was a travel ball guy. His rise saw the end of adoration of NBA Athletes as endorsers. Nike created a machine that produces NBA players via grassroots, but that same grassroots machine divorced kids from the game. Old guys can’t connect and young people don’t connect.
The shoe pictured throughout this post is the “Ghost” version of the LeBron 15. It wasn’t released commercially. It’s sold out on SNKRS and NDC. It’s the 1 of 3 models of the shoe to drop so far. The “Ashes” is garnering a higher resale value but that is an illusion. If Nike is doing a controlled release of the shoe, meaning limited drops, the LeBron 15 will do very well. Limited release shoes fall outside of the traditional marketing needed to move the numbers of a general release shoe. Do I like this shoe? No, but it wasn’t designed for me. It’s designed for the Tubular, trainer generation. It’s on trend and that’s good for the brand because it will be the first LeBron that can actually transition from the court to a fashion dominated IG society. The bulky outsole is definitely on trend when looking at the shoes being released. The lightweight, but reinforced flyknit technology makes a number of colorways possible, but the brand may want to avoid a multicolor of the shoe. This shoe is the only model in the entire LeBron line that feels like it could perform well in fashion.
Will it do well?
I think Nike’s takeover of the NBA will be instrumental in helping performance footwear by the Swoosh to sell better. While I like the Jordan XXX2 much better as an OG/old head option (30-50 years old), the LeBron, if limited initially before a big roll out, will perform better than expected. I think this will have more to do with Nike x NBA than with LeBron. Until Nike and other footwear companies figure out how to reengage the 15 to 25 year old demographic basketball sales will struggle. Video will be key and I expect to see a lot of video for Nike Basketball this year.