2020 Vision (of Marketing)

What Nike and Kevin Durant’s release of the 2018 KD eyewear collection means for the future of athlete marketing.

Kevin Durant and Nike released the 2018 KD Collection last week. (Photo from SportRx)

There is a good argument to be made that NBA players tend to be the trendsetters when it comes to fashion and shoes over their colleagues in other professional leagues in America.

The KD Collection eyewear from Nike and Kevin Durant continues to advance that argument.

While this isn’t the first edition of the KD Collection, it remains one of the more unique partnerships between a major brand and its’ star endorser, especially in the lifestyle space. This partnership is a great example of extending the already existing relationship between Nike and KD and it sheds even greater light on how the endorsement space is rapidly evolving.

“If athletes want to attract lifestyle brands, they must put their personality on display. If you want a shoe deal, talk about shoes. If you want an eyewear deal, talk about eyewear. The more authentic the content, the more attractive you will be to potential brand partners.” — Blake Lawrence, CEO, opendorse

Signature shoes have long been a staple of endorsement deals between major apparel companies and NBA players, but as players continue to better understand their ability to build individual personal brands, the endorsement game is likely in for major shake ups. It is hard to argue that the KD brand isn’t one of the biggest in professional sports.

“If you want people to remember you, appearance matters,” said Jeremy Darlow, Brand Consultant and author of Brands Win Championships. “Bottom line. Recognizing that, athletes are now starting to take steps to leverage apparel, footwear and accessories to develop unique visual identities that transcend sports. Partnerships with footwear and apparel companies will only further the reality that athletes are brands too. We’re entering a new era of athlete branding.”

From the player’s perspective, this makes a lot of sense for KD. Durant has become known for his interesting pre and post-game outfits that often include backpacks and unique eyewear. Beyond building out a following for his popular signature shoe line, this is a natural extension of the KD brand.

David Schwab, Executive Vice President at Octagon and Founder of Octagon First Call believes the KD Collection fits not only into the Durant brand but also extends into the areas that Durant has explored off the basketball court.

“The marketplace has changed in which talent has a bit more say in the brand creative and execution. A collaborative process makes the desire to participate stronger for talent. Durant specifically is a very much into tech and equity type businesses. His own glasses line falls very much in his strategy and off the court personality.”

With a changing marketplace and the evolution of athletes taking it upon themselves to build an equitable brand, even their actions on or around the court can play a major impact in getting to a desired result. Can a basketball player own the eyewear niche? Build a leading clothing line?

“Kevin Durant has built a brand that extends well beyond the basketball court, providing Nike a natural face for their eyewear line,” said Blake Lawrence, CEO, opendorse. “KD is a great example of how athletes can use social to highlight their off-court persona and attract brand partners that align with their lifestyle.”

While this partnership may mark one of the first times an athlete has been attached to a lifestyle eyewear line, it isn’t a completely new concept but one that continues to rapidly evolve.

“Durant seems to be taking his lead from a former teammate — now rival — Russell Westbrook, who’s really the model for athlete trying to expand their personal brand’s through fashion, as seen by Sports Illustrated having Russ on top of their most fashionable athletes list,” said sports media relations consultant Zack Smith, who’s worked with Nike’s Jordan Brand. “When you think about it, most on-camera interviews are all shot above the shoulder. We’ve seen logo placement get higher and higher in response to that, from the chest to the collar to, now, something that’s literally in the eye-line of the fan and consumer.”

Smith continued: “And eyewear is a fairly open category. First it was sneakers, then suits; players have even started working with high-end luggage and bag companies. With Stern changing the league dress code years ago, it’s been a progression for athletes — so it’s less of a current immediate trend, and something that NBA players have really been doing for awhile. The biggest question for me is Durant’s personal stories surrounding this line: how did he work with designers, what elements tie-back to his own life? It’s that connection to the athlete that helps sell the product, and from a PR perspective, the truest way to build somebody’s personal brand.”

The former fashionable Thunder Duo (photo from TheBigLead.com)

Even from the brand perspective, not only is finding the right endorser key to a successful partnership, but building off an athletes authentic personality only strengthens the power of having that players brand associated with the products being sold. Brands can even drive more value from a partnership by driving eyeballs to a lesser known entity within the brand.

“This is a great example of a brand leveraging something authentic to the athlete to bring awareness to an existing product line. Even if consumers don’t purchase KD glasses, they now know Nike makes eyewear,” said Amanda Shank, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Ripken Baseball

Regardless of what the KD Collection does in sales in 2018, its impact on how athletes market their personal brand and how major sports brands make their pitches to these athletes will be as clear as 20/20 vision.

This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.

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