If you were asked to think of a connection between the basketball court and fashion, you would probably struggle. To be fair, we can’t see many runways featuring the shorts and vests, although basketball boots have long been a popular casual footwear choice for young people. However, the connection we are talking about is a little more subtle and is actually based more in the world of influencers, as freetips.com explains.
In 2008 the Olympics took place in China, and when the US men’s Olympic team touched down on the tarmac, the waiting press not only took great interest in who had arrived but snapped images of LeBron James wearing a pair of headphones. At that point, they were relatively unheard of, but when the pictures hit the media Beats by Dre went viral, and everyone wanted to own them. Sports stars from many arenas are social influencers, although many probably do not even realise the power they have to impact on their fans.
Of course sponsorship in exchange for endorsements has been a thing for many years but this was more of a casual arrangement, the company had just happened to give James the headphones with no strings attached, and yet it proved to be one of the most influential marketing moves the brand ever made.
It sparked something of a revolution in the way fans thought about their idols, and suddenly, nothing was off-limits. No longer were they just interested in the Basketball star, they were keen to learn about the man behind the uniform. Suddenly fans began lining up to buy the suits they wore, the watches they sported and more. For the players, life was not their own, but for the companies, they chose to support as paying customers the free advertising was worth its weight in gold.
Such was the Beats effect that the company now officially collaborates with the NBA and they are not the only brand to do so. Stance, who manufacture socks was another success story when Dwayne Wade launched his own company as a brand partner, which lead to the official on-court socks of the NBA being, yep you guessed it, Stance socks. Hookit’s marketing director Roger Breum explains the evolution. “We’re seeing athletes driving more and more value for the brands they work with. Over the past few years, the individual athlete has become the most powerful part of sports. We don’t expect that to change anytime soon.”
The effect is measurable, and we are not talking about pocket change. It is estimated that James is responsible for driving $137 million worth of business to names he supported and that largely comes from fashion and apparel, such is the influence of these players. “Athletes have really developed a love of fashion. They’re sitting front row at fashion shows and working on their own collaborations outside of basketball. The walk into the arena has now become their runway” Says Lisa Piken Koper, the senior vice president of merchandising partnerships at the NBA.