But at the same time, with the global giants making inroads everywhere, the big Chinese brands have even struggled at home. “There’s no question that adidas and Nike have expanded the market totally and Li-Ning’s share has gone down dramatically,” says Powell of Sports One. “No one really has any hard numbers on that. There’s some speculation out there, people have done some estimates, but nobody is doing like what we do here and measuring retail point-of-sale data or even wholesale numbers. But Li-Ning has lost share in the Chinese market.”
Reversing that trend is going to be a costly proposition, but most importantly the product has to be right. “The consumer today is so smart and so on top of what the next shoe and the next trend is,” says Powell. “They came out and bought Starburys back in the day but it was mostly because people wanted to say ‘Hey, I bought a pair of Starburys on the first day.’ It wasn’t that those were the greatest looking shoes in the world or that kids planned to wear them to school. The lines were all about collectors wanting to have a cash receipt stamped with the first day of the launch. You’ll see
This whole D.Wade / Li Ning alliance could turn out to be a uniquely historic referendum on what really sells a shoe — the brand, the player, or the design?
some of that with Li-Ning I’m sure, but you’ve gotta be so on point in today’s market. The kid knows what’s right and what’s not right, he’s willing for pay for what’s right, and you can’t sell him what’s wrong. It’s remarkable.”
All three major sneaker Chinese brands—Peak, Anta and Li-Ning—have traditionally been modestly priced. “Li Ning is known for their better technical shoes for sports that are important for the Chinese consumer like badminton and ping-pong,” says Powell. “I’m not putting those sports down—they’re not important here but they’re very important there. Li-Ning make a highly technical product for those activities, but the bulk of their business is very moderately priced foot covering. And the Chinese kid, as he has access to the internet and as his economic situation gets better, he’s saying ‘I want premium product, I don’t want the moderate product anymore.’” Signing Wade allows Li-Ning to enter that rarefied air.
This whole D.Wade / Li Ning alliance could turn out to be a uniquely historic referendum on what really sells a shoe — the brand, the player, or the design? Brands like Under Armour have already shown that there’s room in the basketball market, and that’s with strictly B-list talent (apologies, Brandon and Kemba). What will Li Ning be able to do with a genuine superstar — one whom Michael Jordan himself hand-picked to be his successor — at the forefront? That will be the real story.