Kawhi Leonard recently signed a multi-year shoe deal with New Balance. The company is looking to make headways into the basketball sneaker market dominated by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. It’s a curious but fitting decision for both sides.
Last month, New Balance announced that it was partnering with Toronto Raptors’ superstar, two-time Defensive Player and former NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard. The multi-year endorsement deal is reportedly quite lucrative, on par with the Jordan Brand extension that Leonard turned down earlier this year, a four-year deal worth up to $22 million.
Many people are surprised by the deal and have jokingly derided it through social media:
Yes, for all intents and purposes, this is an atypical decision. However, I’ll argue it’s a fitting move for the unorthodox, enigmatic personality that is Kawhi Leonard. Here’s why the deal works for both parties.
Not Your Grandma’s Shoe
When you think basketball, New Balance is generally not the first or even second shoe company that comes to mind. Unfortunately, like everything in life, it carries a certain reputation. It’s a brand that you often associate with older people, past the prime of life, sitting in a retirement home.
What’s the best way to put this? New Balance is like the Prius of shoes— they’re affordable and practical but not very stylish or manly. Like all stereotypes, there’s a grain of truth to this; my grandma used to wear a pair of New Balance shoes.
Considering this situation, it’s only natural that the company would want to reinvent itself within the basketball community. That’s why it makes perfect sense for New Balance to target one of basketball’s biggest stars— Kawhi Leonard. People know who this guy is, he’s available and apparently, he’s pretty good at basketball. According to my research, this is the biggest basketball personality for New Balance since James Worthy signed a signature shoe in the 1980s.
To many people, this deal doesn’t seem to make much sense: a seemingly bland company wanting to reinvent itself reaches out to an equally bland star. How is this going to help either side? Let’s dig a bit deeper.
For Kawhi Leonard, teaming up with New Balance is a snug fit. First and foremost, you can’t be an NBA superstar like Leonard and not have your own signature pair of shoes. According to various reports, this wasn’t likely to happen with the Jordan Brand and possibly one of the reasons why he decided not to renew his contract. Instead of being one of many high-profile athletes, Leonard gets to be the face of a reinvigorated franchise (seems oddly familiar).
For New Balance, this is an ingenious move that will turn a perceived weakness into a positive (just needs a strong marketing campaign). As I mentioned before, people tend to think the company is boring and bland. Leonard is stoic and a little boring. However, like New Balance, he gets the job done, game in and game out; Leonard has been a dominant force thus far for the East-leading Raptors.
That should be the focus. The company can capitalize on Leonard’s unorthodox, enigmatic personality, his reliability and two-way ability on the court to offer something completely different to the basketball consumer: a shoe that’s unassuming but brings deadly performance.
Even if this approach doesn’t fully resonate here in North America, according to experts, the company is positioning itself for success in Asia (a booming basketball market).
Next Year’s Stocking Stuffer
Personally, I’m interested to see how this all unfolds. There are definitely legitimate concerns— Kawhi Leonard doesn’t really have a social media presence— that need to be addressed if this venture is going anywhere. But like any tantalizing basketball prospect (i.e. Bruno Caboclo), there’s potential.
Perhaps this time next year you and I will be asking Santa for a pair of Leonard’s signature New Balance basketball shoes.