Rethinking for the Long Run

Designer Isaac Mizrahi and New Balance just debuted a collection of footwear and apparel exclusively on QVC, while Mattel’s Barbie’s just launched its latest capsule with Puma, in honor of the doll’s 60th anniversary. These initiatives are reminders of how sportswear companies with roots in athletic footwear have, over the past decade, expanded their realms far beyond sports licensing deals with global football clubs, U.S. leagues, and individual athletes.

A sampling of a few of many recent ventures by companies such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, and other competitors underscores how these marketers have increasingly become involved in most of the major segments of lifestyle licensing:

  • Designer collaborations. Fila launched its high-end, multicategory Fila Fjord line, designed by Astrid Andersen, adding to its existing portfolio of designer collaborations with the likes of Fendi and Gosh Rubchinskiy. Nike offered 2018 holiday collaborations with three women designers, Martine Rose, Yoon Ahn of Ambush, and Sarah Andelman. Adidas Originals introduced assortments with Yohji Yamamoto and his Y-3 brand, White Mountaineering, and Alexander Wang. New Balance is tying in with Comme des Garçons as well as Mizrahi. Reebok has long-term deals with Victoria Beckham and others, as well as collaborations with labels such as Have a Good Time. And Puma has recently paired with brands ranging from haute couture label Karl Lagerfeld to streetwear designers Mike Cherman and Atelier New Regime. This list just touches the surface of the collaborative activity in this segment.
  • Capsules with character/entertainment and toy properties. Adidas Running is introducing six limited-edition Ultra Boost sneakers timed to Game of Thrones’ last season on HBO; Fila paired with Nickelodeon for a Rugrats apparel and footwear collection sold through Champs Sports stores; and Puma is adding a new Sesame Street collection this spring under an ongoing partnership with Sesame Workshop, as well as offering streetwear and footwear collections to mark the 60th anniversary of Mattel’s Barbie, of which the capsule mentioned above is part.
  • Pairings with corporate brands. Puma has been an active participant in this sector, forging lifestyle deals in various categories with Sega, electronic music brand Roland, and cosmetics company Maybelline. Meanwhile, Converse has paired with Coca-Cola, and Nike has teamed with Mountain Dew, Krispy Kreme, and Momofuku; many of these involved third partners as well, namely Kith in the Coca-Cola venture and NBA star Kyrie Irving in the Mountain Dew and Krispy Kreme examples.
  • Celebrity tie-ins. Adidas has a long-term deal with Kanye West and his Yeezy brand, as well as entering into collaborations with the likes of Kylie Jenner. Nike’s recent celebrity pairings include Kendrick Lamar. Reebok partnered with rapper Cardi B in 2018, while UnderArmour marketed a limited edition with Duane Johnson/The Rock, also last year. Puma has long-term alliances in place with Selena Gomez and Rihanna and has done capsules with everyone from musicians The Weeknd and Big Sean to model Cara Delevigne. (Musicians are the most frequent type of celebrity partner.)

Initiatives such as these, and many more like them, are still connected to the marketers’ original core mission. Apparel typically features sports- or athleisure-inspired designs, for example, and athletic shoes are frequently part of the mix. Most of these companies are still involved in traditional sports licensing and endorsements as well.

Diversification brings many benefits, however. It takes the brands into new markets and distribution channels, such as luxury; piques the interest of new fans, particularly younger consumers that may not be avid sports followers; offers a portfolio of different kinds of business models to help cushion the ups and downs associated with any one segment; provides something new to avid sneakerheads on an ongoing basis; and, of course, presents the promotional and marketing benefits, especially in the form of viral marketing through social media, that go along with any collaboration.

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