Wednesday September 27, 2023
The Best Employers in Sports Survey is Now Open!

The Sneaker Industry Plans To Right Wrongs With WNBA Signature Shoe Deals

  • Signature sneaker deals have eluded many of the top WNBA players.
  • WNBA signature shoe sales don’t receive equal status as NBA deals.
Breanna Stewart is one of the few WNBA players with a signature shoe deal.
Courtesy: Puma
Front Office Sports Today

Taylor Swift Takes NFL to New Heights

Taylor Swift and her rumored relationship have brought in a new, more female-heavy audience.
Listen Now
September 27, 2023 | Podcast
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied
When University of Maryland transfer Angel Reese hit the campus of Louisiana State University, the nation’s former top recruit had only 70,000 Instagram followers.

Her profile grew in her first season under head coach Kim Mulkey’s program — she won a national championship, became known as a double-double machine, and used her personality to charm anyone and everyone off the court.

The trendsetting forward now has 2.1 million Instagram followers and counting, and her $1.6 million NIL value is more than the combined salaries of the top six highest-paid WNBA players.

But the Tigers star was aiming for a goal that has evaded many of her predecessors: landing a big shoe deal.

At a press conference before the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Reese made it clear that she was already working on it.

“Hopefully, I can sign into a shoe deal before I leave college. That is my big goal right now, especially with NIL. I know I can make as much in college and probably more than the WNBA, so that’s just going to be important for me going into the league, emphasizing my fashion.”

During Reese’s life-changing tournament experience, her team received a surprise visit by the first WNBA player to dunk a basketball in a game and third to receive a shoe deal: Lisa Leslie.

After Leslie met Reese, she reflected on the significance of that deal with Nike.

“It was a blessing,” said Leslie. “If I was playing basketball or trying to be a fashionista, finding my size shoe at the time (13) was not that easy. I was really blessed when I got my own shoe. My shoe was based off of a Chanel bag. It had the puffy Chanel pattern on there, if you will, and then I had silver because I love silver and gold jewelry.”

Even with her own shoe deal, Reese may still face the same obstacles Leslie faced 25 years ago.

WNBA signature shoe sales don’t receive equal status as NBA deals.

Four-time NBA MVP LeBron James may be up to his 20th model, but even Carmelo Anthony, who saw his signature shoe sales fluctuate through his career, still landed additional colorways and 13 shoe models. 

Sheryl Swoopes, the WNBA player with the most models, with seven. 

“The thing I noticed a long time ago is a lot of the shoes, even if it was Dawn Staley, Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie, or Rebecca Lobo’s Reebok, there was a harder criteria,” ESPN sneaker expert Nick DePaula said. “They had a different set of expectations where if their shoe did not sell well, then they did not even have a second or third shoe. 

“The biggest disparity is actually who gets a shoe — and once somebody does have a shoe, the expectation level is different.”

A shoe deal drought

A dozen years passed between the release of Candace Parker’s Adidas Ace Commander and Ace Versatility in 2010 and Breanna Stewart’s Puma Stewie 1 in September 2022, without a new WNBA signature sneaker deal. Nike took 15 years between WNBA shoe deals.

Nike innovation sourcing strategy manager Malcolm Hodge believes that the company is making amends for leaving female athletes out of consideration.

I think the 15-year gap had to do with us trying to figure out what the future was for the company, the future of athletes, the future of sport,” Hodge said. “Right, wrong, or indifferent, we just did not have the right strategy around how we thought about it at the time. 

“So, now, there is newer effort and new energy that is revolving around diversity, inclusion, and making sure we are getting the right people involved at the right time… I think we have acknowledged we were not doing it right, which is where we are putting all this energy around women today.”

Stewart, a two-time WNBA Finals MVP, was never offered a signature shoe with Nike, and when her deal ended, she moved to Puma. Stewart is now on her second model.

“She (Stewart) was only 26 or 27 at the time when she signed with Puma, but her resume was as if she was a 35-year-old Hall of Famer,” DePaula said. 

To recover lost ground, Nike had to venture into new emotional territories. 

The first Nike Air Deldon’s colorway was dedicated to Elena Delle Donne’s battle with Lyme disease, and her second is directly related to her coming-out story. 

The third, a tribute to her sister — who is blind and deaf and has autism and cerebral palsy — is truly next-level. Delle Donne and Nike incorporated the company’s FlyEase technology to feature hands-free technology and modifications to the shoe’s heel and tongue. 

“Competition is always a good thing,” Washington Post women’s basketball reporter Kareem Copeland said. “They [Nike] saw Puma. They were another company preparing and getting back into that market. I think this might be a little bit of motivation for others.”

DePaula said it’s noteworthy that Puma gave Stewart’s shoe the same marketing emphasis as LaMelo Ball’s shoe, which was released around the same time. Stewart is now onto her second model within her Puma deal, the Stewie 2 “Ruby,” named after her daughter.

“It appeared that Breanna and LaMelo had an equal level of support and push from the photoshoots and launches,” DePaula said. “They were making a distinct effort to really put Stewie on that level and make it a fully realized launch.”

Thanks to social media, the marketing landscape now extends well beyond traditional television commercials and billboards. 

“I think the social media aspect is definitely part of it when you look at when Diana Taurasi launched her shoe — there wasn’t really any social media platform other than Facebook and Myspace,” DePaula said. “Now, you are really able to rally around players’ channels and different platforms that are dedicated to women’s sports and also promote the shoes.”

 A different obstacle

Nine of the top 10 WNBA players are Black, but the recent distribution of signature shoe deals doesn’t represent this fact. 

Reigning Las Vegas Aces champion A’ja Wilson, who’s currently in first place in WNBA All-Star voting with 35,968 votes — doesn’t have a shoe deal.

Wilson is an NCAA champion, WNBA champion, four-time WNBA All-Star, WNBA Rookie of the Year, two-time WNBA MVP, and WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. Although she has recently been in ads for the Nike Cosmic Unity, it’s not her signature shoe — she doesn’t get a percentage of each sale, and the line and models aren’t named after her.

“The fact that Elena Delle Donne has a shoe, Breanna Stewart has a shoe, you see in the WNBA and media there is just natural promotion of white athletes at the expense of Black athletes, and that is not always in line with their production. Stewie and Elena Delle Donne are former MVPs, but so is A’ja Wilson,” The Athletic’s Sabreena Merchant said. “Where is her shoe?”

Hodge is optimistic about future relationships for potential WNBA sneaker signees, but emphasizes that the industry can’t simply stop at sneakers.

“I think we need to take it a step back from sneakers and look at what equity looks like,” Hodge said. “We need to make sure we are supporting women the way they should be, and if sneakers are a byproduct of that conversation, then by all means. If it’s sneakers, if it’s the salary, if it’s the jerseys, if it’s the equipment, if it’s the capital — we should have broader conversations.”

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

The average resale price for Liberty-Mystics at Barclays Center is $100, a 28% jump over all WNBA regular season games.

Liberty-Mystics Is Best-Selling Playoff Series of WNBA’s First Round

The average resale price for Mystics-Liberty at Barclays Center is $100.
A close up of a WNBA basketball

WNBA Enters Playoffs With Wave Of Continued Growth

League completes regular season with broad set of increases
National TV ratings for Liberty games surged 58% this season over last year.

Star Power Drives Liberty Ratings, Ticket and Merchandise Sales

Liberty e-commerce sales doubled while ticket sales surged 100%.
A close up of a WNBA basketball

WNBA Commissioner Explores Denver Expansion, Broader Markets

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert will visit Denver on Wednesday.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

Taylor Swift Takes NFL to New Heights (w/ Andrew Brandt)


Featured Today

NFL's Swift Mania Starting To Show Impact Through Merch Sales, Viewership

Taylor Swift stole the NFL's spotlight by attending Sunday's Chiefs game.
First Take vs. FS1
September 26, 2023

Sharpe: 'First Take' Would Still Beat 'Undisputed' Without Stephen A.

Even if Smith leaves, Sharpe said he will still beat Skip Bayless in the ratings.
September 25, 2023

Oakland-MLB Relationship Devolves Into Next-Level Toxicity

Commissioner, mayor have very different accounts of July meeting
Jacksonville Jaguars Team President Mark Lamping addressed community members at Strings Sports Brewery on Main Street for the first of 14 planned town hall sessions to present the team's plans for the new "stadium of the future" complex and address the public concerns.
September 25, 2023

Jacksonville Jaguars President Walks Back Stadium ‘Threat’

"Viewing those comments as a threat to leave Jacksonville isn't correct."


Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Chicago Cubs
New York
Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group, Inc.
USA - Multiple Locations

Up Next For College Football Playoffs: More Change, Money, And ... Streaming?

Many changes are coming to the CFP when it expands to 12 teams.
September 22, 2023

Texas, Oklahoma's Big 12 Exit Could Have Cost $60M More

The school's move to the SEC is costing about $100 million.
Tickets for Colorado’s upcoming road game against Oregon are more expensive than 14 of 16 Week 3 NFL matchups.
September 20, 2023

Deion Sanders' Impact Makes Tickets Pricier Than NFL Games

Colorado-Oregon tickets are pricier than most Week 3 NFL matchups.
Boise State Broncos running back Ashton Jeanty (2) runs the ball against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks during the first half at Albertsons Stadium.
September 20, 2023

The First Official Proposal for Promotion-Relegation In College Football

Realignment is forcing Group of 5 schools to rethink their structure.
Renderings of the University of Virginia's new proposed athletic facilities.
September 20, 2023

Virginia Joins The College Facilities Arms Race

UVA plans to upgrade football and Olympic sports facilities.

How Daktronics Helps Elite Athletic Programs Secure Top Talent

How colleges are utilizing Daktronics' displays to elevate recruiting.
Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker speaks at post game press conference after 31-7 win over Central Michigan at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
September 19, 2023

Mel Tucker Firing Would Prevent $80M Buyout on Historic Contract

Tucker was suspended after a report of alleged sexual harassment.
SMU has raised $100 million from donors before it forgoes media rights payments for the first nine years of its ACC tenure.
September 18, 2023

SMU Raises $100M for ACC Move as Basketball, Football Sales Surge

SMU has raised $100 million ahead of its 2024 move to the ACC.