Written by Gerald Flores (@imgeraLd) with contributions by Larry Gallagher
From the look on his face as he first walks into the Complex Mag headquarters, you would have thought Matt Powell just discovered an alien race. With hip-hop music blaring through this corner of the Time & Life building and staffers clad in streetwear, this environment is certainly different from the regular appointments Powell has with big sneaker corporations.
The 62-year-old industry aficionado, who’s both respected and reviled by sneakerheads, is in New York for the unveiling of the Air Jordan XX9 and is stopping by the Complex photo studio to get photographed for this profile.
“I want to shoot you with a blunt in your mouth,” the magazine’s resident photog Liz Barclay jokes, as clicks sound off on her DSLR camera. Powell, being a good sport, laughs it off, and straightens up his pose.
I’m not a fan boy.
“You should shoot me in front of a bunch of spreadsheets,” he responds in a tone much like a college professor. “Because that’s what a lot of my detractors on Twitter think I do all day.”
To a certain extent, those detractors are right. When it comes to getting sales figures and stats on sneakers, Powell is the go-to person. As an analyst for SportsOneSource, his views on the industry are so valued by business insiders that Forbes tapped Powell to blog about his findings every month in a column called Sneakernomics.
But his views on the culture have also stirred some controversy among 'heads. Powell's taken a clear stance on the real value of celebrity sneaker deals. In a nutshell, he thinks they're overrated and not worth a brand's investment.
“If you look at athletes and the money that they’re getting paid, I would argue that none of them really worth what they're getting," he said. "So I can’t believe that a music artist endorsing a shoe brand for pay is really meaningful.”
As divisive as statement like that may be among sneakerheads, Powell confesses that nothing draws more cynics than when he mentions Kanye West’s adidas deal. Just this week, Powell wrote a Sneakernomics post for Forbes predicting that the upcoming line will not be a commercial success for the brand.
“I’m trying to explain that it’s really important that [Kanye x adidas] is kept exclusive, and it’s hard for people to get,” he said. “When you monetize these things by making more pairs, people won't want them anymore. I really fear that adidas will try to make this into a big moneymaker, just like the S. Carter deal or the G-Unit shoes.”
Good or bad, those types of by-the-numbers observations is what’s helped grow Powell's personal audience. And because of those estimations, the analyst has been called everything from a moron to a racist by sneakerheads.
"I’m not a fan boy. I would tell you that the people who are the most argumentative with me are probably Kanye's biggest fans, so they take it personal," he said. "Another thing that I think people take exception to is that they have an impression of the marketplace, but they don’t have any data. So when I expose the data, they say that it’s wrong or I'm making stuff up, but this is what the data says."
Armed with 20 plus years of industry experience at places like Modell’s, Sneaker Stadium, and even having worked with Michael Jordan, John Elway, and Wayne Gretzky at (now defunct) MVP.com, Matt hasn’t been one to shy away from his adversaries either.
The Portland, Maine-based analyst admits he doesn’t have the best knowledge of sneaker culture. In fact, he doesn’t even wear sneakers himself, which he says is a way to not show favor to the brands that he works with.
Powell may not have a grasp on sneakerhead terms like VNDS or NTDenim, but he really doesn't care. A self-proclaimed "sneakerologist," he likes to observe the sneaker culture like an anthropologist would study a tribe of people. (He actually was a sociology major in college before getting into sneakers.)
"I feel like I am teaching, I feel like I am bringing something to the discussion beside just an opinion," Powell says. "I mean everyone's got an opinion about stuff, and we could argue about shoes we like all day long. But the data and the numbers mean a lot."