How NBA teams are using fashion to improve the fan experience – WWD

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When former Nike Inc. and Under Armor Inc. executive Dean Stoyer joined the Phoenix Suns as director of marketing and communications in 2019, the team was ranked last in the Western Conference.

The Suns hired a new head coach, Monty Williams, ahead of Stoyer’s first season which was postponed for a period due to COVID-19. The team returned to play in the bubble that summer and posted an 8-0 record, setting the tone for the following season, which ended in the NBA Finals where they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. .

In so many words, the team is significantly better than its previous seasons, when NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley joked on “Inside the NBA” about the team’s woes, alleging hard seats and nachos. expired in the arena. But while the team shines on the court in this year’s NBA playoffs, where they are now in the semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks, their off-court collaborations, according to Stoyer, have boosted the club’s merchandise sales. team at the “upper echelon”. .” A story from NBA.com showed that the Suns are ranked eighth in popular team merchandise, and teams that round out the top 10 include the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies.

These projects help increase the franchise’s relevance in other markets and around the world – the kind of relevance held by teams like the New York Yankees, with one of the most popular sports logos in the world, and the Paris Saint Germain FC, which benefits from partnerships with Jordan and Goat that lend themselves to young sneakerheads in Europe and abroad.

“When we took over this side of the business we were in the bottom third of the league, but about a week ago the league released their end of season sales report and we are [in the] higher echelon over a year,” Stoyer said. “I was very lucky that the ownership and senior management took this chance and allowed me to take charge of all of this. I think they are one of the first teams to bring all of their integrated marketing channels together to drive all our stories.

Stoyer took over the franchise’s merchandising business and assembled a small in-house design team to handle the designs, believing that a t-shirt is powerful when done right. “I learned that from my days at Nike and Under Armour,” he said.

“I learned the importance of putting the focus on purpose in everything we create, putting the fan before everyone else and the athlete at the center of everything we do,” he said. for follow-up. “When we lead with the voice of our athletes and our coach, we connect with fans in a sincere and authentic way – this extends to the natural collaborations between artists, designers and our players. When we create with purpose , there is never a lost word, point or frame that could distract or distract from the message we are trying to convey.

The Suns have released collaborations with Warren Lotas, Jeff Hamilton and LRG, and have a launch this month with Kill the Hype.

The NBA and fashion have been synonymous for decades. The sport has seen many style shifts, from the glamorous 1970s to sneaker and apparel endorsements, the hip-hop and streetwear era of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the GQ button-up period of the early 2010s in response to the league’s dress code, and now the “tunnel style” era where designers are vying to be the brand of choice for athletes for their tunnel entrance.

Individual athletes are getting the most attention, attending runway shows in New York, Milan and Paris and signing collaboration deals, endorsements and red carpet moments. But teams are not left behind in the fashion ecosystem.

NBA franchises launch product collaborations through officially licensed collections that involve more than one team. It’s a regular occurrence that dates back years with brands like The Very Warm and more recently with Rowing Blazers, Grungy Gentleman, Standard Issue Tees and Keizer Clark, among others. Eyewear designer and maker Imatta acquired the NBA license last year and launched sunglasses, visors and goggles for the league this month.

“We chose teams that we wanted to work with initially, but as we shared with the NBA and franchises, other teams reached out to us,” said Keizer Clark founder and designer Marc. Keizer.

His Los Angeles-based brand produced vintage letterman and rugby-inspired apparel for the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio. Spurs.

The NBA, Keizer Clark capsule collection.
Courtesy picture

“We’re used to designing a collection and knowing that’s what we want to do, so adding the layer of teams and league,” Keizer said. “We got caught up in their licensing and partnerships and tried to design around those to make sure we didn’t step on any toes.”

Keizer Clark has been pictured on several NBA players over the years and most recently on Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum ahead of the team’s semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Keiser sees the collection as a looping moment as Boston is his hometown.

“It wasn’t about the money,” Keizer said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity, whether we profit from it or not. I’ve always believed that as a brand, you need to be validated by retail buyers, publishers and celebrities in order for the consumer believes in your brand, your design and your price.The league was thrilled when we did the cardigan sets because they had never seen it before.

Individual teams don’t have to wait for officially licensed collaborations for new products. The Los Angeles Lakers made apparel with artist Takashi Murakami for ComplexCon in 2019 and this year collaborated with Madhappy to benefit the brand’s Madhappy Foundation. The Philadelphia 76ers teamed up with retailer Lapstone & Hammer on the “76ers Crossover Capsule” which featured collaborative product from Needles, Eric Emanuel, Everest Isles and Blackstock & Weber, among others. And Kith and the Knicks have released two Nike Air Force 1 apparel and sneakers to date (the retailer also designed the team’s City Edition jerseys).

Keizer believes it is much easier to work with buyers from NBA stores and arena stores than to sell to fashion retailers, because buyers know what their consumers like and are confident in the number of fans who will enter. their stores.

Lotas produced a clothing collection named “The Final Shot”, inspired by Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker’s buzzer beater shot over the Los Angeles Clippers. “We were waiting until the end of last year’s regular season to drop with the same design starting in the summer of 2020,” Stoyer said.

“We treated it like an old-fashioned sneaker drop,” he added. “A thousand people started queuing at 11 p.m. for a 9 a.m. gate. I found out later that people were coming from New York, Florida and Texas because they knew that was the only place to get the product.

LRG launched apparel with the Suns in April, and the team teamed up with Jeff Hamilton on an NBA 75th Anniversary jacket. They made a small run of 20 jackets to gauge fan appetite, and it worked well enough for the partners to release another jacket this month. They’re also teaming up with Kill the Hype on the caps, which also launched in May.

Stoyer presented a unique opportunity for gamers through Valley Threads, an in-house brand where Suns and WNBA Phoenix Mercury players can design their own capsule collections. Suns point guard Cameron Payne launched the new line with his own designs. His teammates surprised him by wearing his designs on their flight.

“We were able to contribute to the whole business,” Stoyer said of the merchandise launches. “The intangible assets associated with extending your brand impact ticket sales, memberships and revenue. I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out how amazing our team was. We needed to set the stage for success off the pitch and make sure our brand is in the right place.

Phoenix Suns point guard Cameron Payne in Valley Threads

Phoenix Suns point guard Cameron Payne in his Valley Threads collection.
Courtesy picture

But fashion teams and brands have different goals.

For example, Brett Johnson, the artistic director of Monumental Sports and Entertainment which operates the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics sports franchises, as well as Capital One Arena where the teams play, was tasked with elevating the brand to a luxury profile.

Johnson partnered with Graff Jewelry to curate a selection of pieces for the Washington Wizards welcome event, although the company is not their official jewelry partner. The goal in teaming up with the jewelry company was to establish a level of detail that it wants to convey to Monumental players, ownership, and VIPs.

The designer also created a luxury travel collection with merino wool tracksuits and a travel bag for the Washington Wizards exhibition game in Japan centered around cherry blossoms, Japan’s signature flower, and for the 110th anniversary of the cherry blossom planting in Washington, DC. as a gift from the mayor of Tokyo in the United States The collect and display game plays well for one of the star wizards, Rui Hachimura, who was born in Toyama, Japan.

The luxury collection can become accessible to the general public in addition to teams, owners and VIPs.

Johnson said he’s also in talks with a watch company that currently doesn’t have a presence in the DC, Maryland area and would like to expand its presence at Capital One Arena.

“What I was tasked with doing was transforming the whole brand,” Johnson said. “It’s more than a one-time event. I come from a luxury industry and I want to stay in a luxury industry and I want to be first to market and have that relationship and rapport with luxury brands. It’s different from what I’ve seen everyone do. I think it’s something cool, different and I really hope it’s inspiring and writes a new chapter in sports history.

As far as products go, Stoyer and Johnson are branching out into different product styles beyond what you’d expect from a typical merchandise store with apparel and swimwear.

Johnson’s collection for the Wizards will debut the cherry blossom field he designed for the team’s home game, and the Suns’ next collaborations will launch in May. Additionally, Keizer Clark is releasing a new NBA collaboration in June.

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