LeBron James’ Liverpool Co-Sign Proves Nike Is Playing a Different Sport | Highsnobiety

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Getty Images / Ryan Stetz/NBAE

It was back in October 2019 when the UK High Court ruled that Liverpool FC would not have to continue its multimillion-pound sponsorship deal with New Balance, thus allowing the Reds to enter into a new mega-contract with Nike.

New Balance – whose £45m a year deal, which began in 2015, was slated to terminate this summer – argued that a “matching clause” enabled them to carry on as Liverpool’s kit manufacturers if they put up the same terms as the Swoosh. According to reports, the Bostonian institution’s legal bid wasn’t far off succeeding, but in the end, it was Nike’s superior distribution network and, most importantly, promise to promote the kit on its iconic ambassadors such as Drake, Serena Williams, and LeBron James that won out. “The New Balance offer on marketing was less favorable to Liverpool FC than the Nike offer, because Liverpool FC cannot require New Balance, on the terms of its offer, to use global superstar athletes of the caliber of LeBron James, Serena Williams, and Drake,” ruled the judge.

On Wednesday night, James (a fan and investor in Liverpool) turned up to the LA Lakers’ game against OKC wearing the new home shirt, bringing the fruits of the new partnership to bear for the first time. As of writing, the image has around 1,100 replies, 21,000 retweets, and 87,000 likes – the kind of numbers that will have the marketing top brass who are keen to grow the brand in international markets purring.

Liverpool’s New Balance partnership was not a flop, by any means – in fact, it was wildly successful, with the final home shirt rumored to have been the highest-selling in the club’s history, shifting an astonishing 1.7 million units. It provided the uniforms (and one or two neat lifestyle sneakers) as the club fully emerged for the doldrums, winning the Premier League, Champions League, Club World Cup, and Super Cup. The NB emblem will forever be associated with the already-legendary Klopp era.

Reports suggest that the Nike deal is worth £30m-a-year, which is much less than New Balance’s aforementioned bottom line of £45M. But that’s only half the story. As the court case argued, merchandise royalties – said to be 20 percent – and global reach could vastly inflate that figure. According to one expert, earnings could eventually reach upwards of £100 million, allowing them to compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Juventus for superstars such as Kylian Mbappé (himself a Nike athlete).

For a club like Liverpool, one whose ambitions extend far beyond the pitch – not least into Chinese and North American markets – Nike is the only show in town (you could also argue adidas, but there is rumored to be something of a rift between the pair, after the Three Stripes decided against extending their deal in 2012). Who better to promote its trail-blazing history than arguably the greatest storytelling brand in the world? Aside from offering up its roster of influencers, it’s been reported that Nike will partner Liverpool with a major U.S. sports team, in addition to releasing product under its Converse and Jordan brands. PSG has already proven just how successful the latter tie-up can be.

Last week, the new home shirt – arriving in traditional red with teal and white trim as a nod to kits from 1993 to 1996 – was launched on the Liverpool website, with customers having to wait in a queue for around an hour. Most sizes sold out. Excitement is already at fever pitch, and Drake hasn’t been seen wearing his yet.