It’s a matter of simple mathematics: 1.3 billion > 300 million. Forget earning power, forget marketing, forget the rest. There are 1.3 billion people in China, and 300 million people here. That means they need a whole lot more sneakers.
What do you know about China and sneakers? The average sneakerhead has no doubt noticed the highly coveted annual LeBron China exclusives and the “Year of the...” Air Forces and Air Jordans. The average NBA fan no doubt noticed Reebok signing Yao Ming, and the proliferation of seemingly new brands — Peak, Anta, Li-Ning — on the feet of journeymen, rookies, and aging stars alike. The slightly more advanced sneakerhead or NBA fan may have sought out some of these shoes, only finding them on the web. The logical conclusion may be that these are small, upstart brands, trying to challenge the global leaders. The logical conclusion—in this case, anyway—is wrong.
When you have 1.3 billion potential consumers at home, it doesn’t matter whether you can reach 300 million more people on a different continent. There’s a reason Li-Ning and Peak have roughly 7,000 stand-alone stores each in China, and barely any market presence in the U.S. of A.. But here’s the thing: The mathematics work both ways. Those 1.3 billion potential customers haven’t escaped the notice of the big fish in the U.S., hence the China tours and China exclusives (and Hypebeast’s very recently launched China edition). And China’s sneakerhead counterparts see what we see, read what we read. Some are no doubt reading this. And let’s be honest — no matter where you’re from, would you rather emulate LeBron James or Shane Battier?
Which brings us to Li-Ning’s signing of Dwyane Wade. As you have no doubt heard by now, when Wade’s Jordan contract expired at the end of September, Li-Ning was waiting, pen in hand. Former
When you have 1.3 billion potential consumers at home, it doesn’t matter whether you can reach 300 million more people on a different continent.
gymnast Li Ning’s eponymous brand had already made forays into the NBA, signing former All-Star guard Baron Davis and 2010 No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner. Davis had been a star, and the hope was that Turner would one day become one. But Wade is something else—a superstar in his prime, coming off his second NBA title and his eighth All-Star appearance. This could be, if you’ll pardon the phrase, a game-changer.
“The U.S. does half the world’s business in athletic footwear,” says Matt Powell of performance sports retailer Sports One. “Then Europe does another third. China is going to be the second biggest market after the U.S. very shortly if it isn’t already, but it’s still dramatically smaller than the U.S. On the flip though, they have four times the people we do, so as the economy continues to improve there, at some point China could be the biggest marketplace. But not in my lifetime.”