On September 8, Adidas introduced the Yeezy Boost Cleat. On September 16, the NFL threw them out of the game. Citing a rule that calls for cleats with “one dominant base color,” the NFL fined Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins $6,000 for wearing them last Sunday in a win over the Bears. Given that Michael Jordan was famously fined $5,000 for his black-and-red Air Ships back in 1985, that seems like a bargain, especially given a 30-second commercial spot during an NFL game costs in excess of $600,000.
Hopkins claimed he would wear the Yeezys again “only if Kanye agrees to pay the fine.” And honestly, why wouldn’t he? Unless there are escalations, a full season of Yeezy exposure from Hopkins would cost Kanye (or adidas) under $100k, a small price to pay for getting even more Yeezy in front of the massive NFL audience. Not that they necessarily need the extra publicity—released on September 15 for $250, the “Turtle Dove” 350 cleats sold out immediately. It seems a safe bet that the 750s will do the same. But if Yeezy is going to go mainstream, this is an easy (and cost-efficient) way for the brand to grow.
The fines do something else as well: They give the Yeezy brand a genuine sports moment, a Jordanesque one, no less, that has been essential to the success of virtually every authentic athletic brand. Von Miller posting the 750s on Instagram and wearing them for pre-game warmups was cool, but Hopkins getting fined for wearing the 350s in an actual game, that’s real. The black-and-red Air Jordan 1 has been promoted successfully using the original “banned” story for over 30 years now. The similar arc with the Yeezy provides a non-Kanye-centric story for would-be fans of the sneaker, not the guy.
There are alternatives to players continuing to rack up fines. The next 350 cleat could be produced in “Pirate Black,” which might be uniform enough to pass NFL muster. Or Adidas could produce a cleat in an all-new solid weave that later is produced in a non-cleated version—the opposite path of the “Turtle Dove.” Or guys could start wearing the 750 cleats, although they look kind of like something Johnny Unitas would have worn.
Then again, maybe Adidas doesn’t need to do anything else. Maybe players don’t need to risk more fines and no one needs to wear a cleated Yeezy in the NFL again. After all, no one can find a single photo of Jordan wearing black-and-red shoes in a regular-season game, yet the “banned” story persists. There is still work for the Yeezy brand to do in order for it to become a real player in sports—having Yeezy-branded footwear worn in the NBA by players other than the likes of Nick Young would be a huge help. But they’re already off to a great start, thanks to the machinations of the NFL. Maybe this was Adidas’s plan all along. Or maybe DeAndre Hopkins deserves a raise.