It looks like we have a new player in the sneaker game. No, it is not FILA, you damn hypebeasts that only wear old clothing because it is cool now. Puma, the athletic wear and shoe design company with the third coolest logo (ranking behind Sketchers and Asics), has made a recent splash in the NBA. They have signed four NBA draft picks to huge deals: top 3 picks Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton, and lottery picks Zhaire Smith from Texas Tech and Michael Porter Jr. Puma also poached veteran Rudy Gay from his Nike deal, supposedly to help them lead their NBA shoe development.
These signings may not have been the biggest news to come from the German apparel company. Puma also named rap and business mogul Jay-Z as the president of their basketball division. This marks a focused shift towards basketball, attempting to combine culture and basketball in ways that other sneaker companies have been able to do. It seems to represent an exciting change for the company.
But can it work out for the company? Yes, signing multiple top draft picks is indeed a step in the right direction for Puma. But it could possibly be too late for them to break through the stalwarts of the industry. Nike, Jordan, Adidas, and Under Armour have already staked their claims on the NBA talent, leaving the proverbial scraps for Puma. Not that there is anything wrong with Rudy Gay, but when your competition has LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry at the top of their marketing campaign, your company is going to be a little behind the eight ball.
The big thing here is that Puma has a lot of ground to make up in order to make a dent in the shoe game in the NBA. Their draft pick signees are their first NBA sponsored athletes since Knicks legend Walt Clyde Frazier (their most recent signing was WNBA superstar Skylar Diggins-Smith, not to be forgotten). Their experience in the basketball shoe game is limited. It is remedial compared to the other major industry players. The first shoe that they have released, the Puma Court Clyde, is going to be their most important.
Wrong! But welcome to the family! https://t.co/ORXb2rbhry
— Skylar Diggins-Smith (@SkyDigg4) June 19, 2018
(Important note here: never forget about Skylar Diggins-Smith)
The shoe draws from the original Puma Clyde sneaker, adding on an engineered knit upper to provide flexibility as support. The first colorway is a loud combination of reddish orange and yellow, specifically to draw the attention of consumers. The shoe drops later this year in October, at a reasonable price point of $120.
As long as it is comfortable and light enough, it definitely looks like a cop.
On a different front, Puma must find a way integrate their shoes and clothing into the culture in the way that Nike and Adidas have done. That was the point of making Jay-Z the head of the basketball division. Similar to artists like Kanye and Pharrell, Puma wanted a cultural icon at the head of one of their most important divisions.
But will it work? We all know the business and culture mogul that Hov has been for his entire career. But whether or not he has the same draw to this social generation is up in the air. I’m not sure that the target consumer group that Puma wants will gravitate towards uncle Jay. Kanye represents a brashness and reckless personality that is attractive to people on Twitter. Jay-Z raps about financial security and repenting for cheating on his wife now, and I just don’t know if that’ll resonate with consumers.
So is Puma poised to make a run at the top of the sneaker industry? Signs point to no. But they definitely have a talented group of sponsored athletes that have the potential to carry the brand to new heights in the sneaker game. It will be fun to see if the German-based brand tries to break in using innovative styles and designs, or tries to stick to the classic Puma look.