With the NFL season now officially underway, football fans welcomed their favorite teams back on to the field with a busy weekend of intense match-ups. Like most opening weekends, viewers got a first glimpse at new signings, and rookie draft picks, but for some, the most notable new introduction wasn’t even on the field.
Fans of footwear (and football overall) got a special treat this weekend, when Adidas innovator and brand ambassador Kanye West gifted a select few athletes never-before-seen cleat prototypes of his popular ‘Air Yeezy’ line.
Flying off the shelves initially in a low-profile sneaker form, West and the Adidas team specially delivered two versions of the popular line, with Super Bowl MVP von Miller of the Denver Broncos receiving a grid-iron ready version of the ‘Boost 750s’ and Houston Texans receiver Deandre Hopkins scoring a pair of the ‘Boost 350s’. Minnesota Vikings Running Back Adrian Peterson also got his hands on a pair of the coveted ‘350s’.
A photo posted by Von Miller (@vonmiller) on
— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) September 9, 2016
The special release sparked a firestorm of feedback on social media with most asking, “Is this a one-time release or sign of creative direction to come?” Sports enthusiasts didn’t have to wait much longer, as Adidas confirmed via social media the release of the “Yeezy cleats” as a full-fledged athletic line, and then instantly sold out online.
Despite the NFL buzz, It’s no secret that historically Adidas has struggled in the United States footwear market, posting a declining 9% market share overall in 2015 after plummeting exponentially since 2011. While Adidas athletic apparel remains consistent abroad, The United States has continued to puzzle the sportswear giant.
While linking its brand with an unequivocal superstar in the music scene is a sure way to generate immediate cultural buzz, it’s unclear if artist-driven creative strategy would mean long term success. Adidas has made initial steps in American football, posting a 30% market share last year, however these incremental strides don’t necessarily mean a rising tide for overall sales in the United States.
“We’re starting to see brand influencers not only embody the core values of their perspective companies, but also be given the keys to think creatively and construct new ideas and campaigns for them,” said rEvolution Creative Director Brian Quarles. “With influencers already possessing key consumer demos for perspective companies, brands like Adidas are relying on the power of influencers’ established social media followings to help inspire and guide product development moving forward.”
With this shift in product development occurring more frequently, brands have begun to explore different avenues to merge creative influencers’ interest across sports, uniting athletes around ideas rather than simply playing fields or positions. Lifestyle brand influencers are now being called upon to create exclusive products that will be used as ammunition to sign the next big pro athlete.
As Adidas delivers the concept design for the new Kanye West cleat, Nike and Jordan also recently launched a cross-over into Football, but not the one you may expect. European football or as American’s refer to as soccer, has also seen a major barrier broken down in terms of icon and athlete product collaboration.
Nike, who is no newcomer to product success in the sport, tapped their Jordan Brand for a special release with Brazilian superstar, Neymar. The collection not only launches a partnership for a high performance cleat, but also marks the first time in history a soccer player is represented by the iconic Jordan Brand. The cleat is also accompanied by a limited run of apparel as well as special edition sneaker, pairing Jordan’s famous #23 with the sacred #10 of Neymar.
While its clear iconic figures endorsement of footwear products may briefly boost sales and create social buzz, Adidas is placing itself in uncharted waters by giving West a stab at designing performance-driven footwear.
Nike on the other hand isn’t putting all of its chips down on a creative stamp of one individual, choosing to connect Jordan and Neymar on the grounds of cross-generational success rather than one athlete yielding his image to another. Though it’s too early to know for certain, both these sports products represent different endorsement strategies for professional sports, mixing iconic influencers, high-performance footwear, and street fashion together in one package. While each campaign strategy may differ in execution, big-time sportswear companies are beginning to use their lifestyle ambassadors to target and recruit elite athletes to expand their reach even further.