Brands Looking Outside The Lines For Endorsements

If you are looking for the stars of tomorrow, the NFL and NBA draft are a good place to start. In addition to competing with the best in their respective sports, newcomers like Jadaveon Clowney and Jabari Parker will also be competing for endorsement dollars from major brands. Sacks and dunks can very quickly translate into a shoe deal, and for those brands, that means more sales. But, what if the stars of the future endorsement deals are no longer found on draft day? What if they are instead found on stage at the Grammys?

The athlete endorsement race has long been dominated by global sporting goods giant Nike. Its success in grabbing the best athletes in every sport – LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo and Calvin Johnson – secured a 54% market share of the global sporting goods market, according to a recent article on

Next to Nike, the Adidas brand holds the most weight in terms of history and name, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at its market share, a measly 4.4% of the global sporting goods market. Adidas’ athlete roster is certainly not in the featherweight class, with Lionel Messi, Robert Griffin III and Derrick Rose, but it is hard to compete with Nike’s behemoth roster. This stranglehold has been an issue, but a new strategy, moving more towards lifestyle influencers could change that conversation. 

The lines between athletes and lifestyle influencers continue to blur. Pop stars have sneaker lines, and athletes are tabloid fodder. And so, the consumer’s infatuation of both genres has become intertwined. In addition, sporting goods and apparel has become more fashion-focused than ever before. This lifestyle-performance category has seen immense growth in the past decade, and Adidas has taken notice. 

Instead of continuing to chase after the premier athletes that Nike has signed, Adidas is now investing heavily in creative deals with music superstars. Most recently it has signed deals with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams to lend their status and creative genius to the brand. The deals look to give these two personalities free rein over creating their own Adidas product.

This is perhaps the most important wrinkle of these two new deals, and something that could set the Adidas’ lines apart from Nike. If the Swarovski-encrusted Adidas that Pharrell wore during his recent appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” are any indication, we can expect some interesting innovation from these two. 

This musical superstar, sneaker partnership might sound familiar, and it should. When Adidas was a struggling sneaker brand trying to maintain relevance in the mid-'80s, they were saved by a partnership with hip-hop giants Run-D.M.C., the group responsible for leading hip-hop music into the mainstream. After Run-D.M.C. released the song “My Adidas,” Adidas signed them to the first hip-hop endorsement deal. The group made the Adidas’ superstar shoe one of the most popular of the decade, and, in turn, made the brand millions of dollars worldwide. 

Regardless of the outcome, this move by Adidas marks a monumental change in the approach of sports apparel brands. Similarly, Under Armour has a deal with the popular TV franchise “Duck Dynasty,” producing hunting gear and apparel worn by the stars of the reality show. Nike’s Jordan brand has also gone to the well for a music superstar, recently signing singer/rapper Drake to produce a signature shoe. 

As far as consumers are concerned, performance apparel is no longer limited to just athletes, and these brands are making changes to their endorsement portfolio to reflect that new reality. It will be interesting to follow the results of these new lifestyle endorsements, and how far they might go. As new networks and technologies are developed and exposed to a younger audience, we are seeing younger consumers begin to be far more invested in the social media celebrity.

These social media celebrities (specifically on Instagram or Vine) are far more relatable than the superstar athlete. Will we see a Nike shoe line designed by a budding Instagram celebrity in the near future? Can Kanye West and Pharrell, superstars off the field, help lightning strike twice for Adidas? Only time will tell, but the fact remains, that these developments are game-changers for the future of endorsements.

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