Kanye West told everyone yesterday that Kanye West is the highest paid person in the sneaker industry right now, even above Michael Jordan. And the only person that believes that is Kanye West.
His exact words went as such: “I am currently the single highest paid person in footwear. That means I make more money on shoes than Michael Jordan.”
There’s no way to prove or disprove this claim. Adidas has never released any sales information on any of Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers or apparel and has never disclosed how much they’re paying the man.
The only numbers that we have to go by are the ones provided by Kanye West himself. And although Kanye is many things and wears many hats, I highly doubt that he’s the person running business analytics and tracking units sold and revenue grossed for each of his sneaker releases.
Here’s what we do know.
In December 2013 when Kanye left Nike for Adidas, he was reportedly paid $10 million to join the brand. In February 2015, Adidas released its first Yeezy sneaker, the high-top 750 Boost, and reportedly only sold 9,000 pairs of the shoe at first.
Since then, there have been multiple Yeezy shoes and releases. There’s been the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350, Yeezy Boost 350 v2, Adidas Powerphase Calabasas, Yeezy 700 Wave Runner, and, most recently, the Yeezy 500 Mud Rat.
Production numbers on these pairs has greatly varied. Some have been more limited than others. Some have been more expensive than others. Yeezy is now its own subsection of Adidas and is operating independently to an extent, even releasing its own footwear under the Yeezy brand with no connection to Adidas.
Kanye threw some numbers out there on Yeezy sales yesterday, too.
Are his sales numbers legit?
Here's what he had to say: "The Yeezy 350s sell 400 thousand pair in four hours. Only thing close to this is the iPhone.”
With resellers and online-only releases, it’s easy to move a ton of pairs of a hyped sneaker in a short amount of time, so this could be true, at least from a numbers standpoint.
Yeezy isn't the only sneaker brand moving units like Apple. Jordan Brand reportedly sold over a million pairs of “Space Jam” Air Jordan XIs in December 2016.
Kanye also went to say, “The desert rat 500 sold 250 thousand in one hour on Coachella weekend. Please do not try to play Yeezy or anyone who wears Yeezy. We are the future.”
Given the number of people I've seen wearing the shoe, Kanye’s claim is likely true. The resale value is hovering at $50 above retail, which leads many to believe that Kanye’s initial claim of “everyone who wants Yeezys, will get Yeezys” is coming true.
He also said, “The Yeezy 700 is adidas most requested shoe.”
The rollout of the Yeezy 700 was strange. It was raffled off at ComplexCon in November. Pairs were pre-sold on Yeezy Supply, and then the shoe finally released in March. Could it have been Adidas’ most-requested sneaker given the extended tease of a release that it underwent? I believe it.
Is he really the highest-paid person in sneakers?
Kanye’s claim about being the highest paid person in sneakers is where things start to get shaky:
Are we talking that he gets paid the most per pair—likening himself to an independent artist that makes way more money per album sold than a major label artist—or is he talking net worth?
If it’s the latter, it’s definitely not true. In May 2016, LeBron James signed a reported lifetime billion dollar contract with Nike. Maybe Adidas gave Kanye that sort of money. They did, after all, give him long-term contract extension in 2016, but the specifics of that contract are unknown.
In reference to making more money than Michael Jordan, ESPN reporter Darren Rovell tweeted, “Jordan’s annual take from Nike likely in the $125 million range. I’m going to say Kanye is...um...not anywhere close.”
Michael Jordan is also worth $1.65 billion. Kanye West’s net worth is reportedly somewhere around $145 million (don’t come at me with a, “Well, actually, it’s $150 million," Kris Jenner).
The comparison to Jordan is interesting because Kanye seems to be fascinated by him. He says he used to draw Jordans in elementary school and has rapped for years about comparing himself to the Jumpman. And last year, Adidas actually surpassed Jordan Brand in North American sales. He even tweeted, “Adidas have been great partners and they've let Yeezy be Yeezy. This could've never happened at Nike.”
He’s still obsessed with Nike, even after his 2015 rants saying CEO Mark Parker, “even talked shit.” Parker, for what it’s worth, is worth an estimated $250 million. Nike co-founder Phil Knight is worth near $30 billion, although he stepped away from the brand in June 2016.
Kanye’s subsequent tweets, showing his connection to President Donald Trump, have caused people to say they’re “off Yeezy” or even sparked them to post videos of them throwing away their Yeezys, much like they did in 2016 when New Balance supported Trump. It also proved negative for Under Armour, whose CEO, Kevin Plank, was on Trump’s manufacturing council. Kanye said he supported Trump over a year ago and no one burned their Yeezys.
I think it’s all for show and I’m not going to get into politics. Because nothing is cornier than dragging politics into sneakers—something that Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Communists, whatever, all wear.
Michael Jordan, allegedly, said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” and maybe that’s the angle Kanye West is going for. I don’t know. Maybe he’ll tell us in a tweet. Maybe he’ll tweet out Adidas' financial earnings or a personal payment from the brand. Maybe he has equity in the company like Steph Curry has in Under Armour.
I am, supposedly, a sneaker expert and I have no clue. The most frustrating fact of this whole matter is that people do know the specifics of this deal and they’re not allowed to talk. It’s business. It builds the mystique of exclusivity around the Yeezy line.
What I do know now is that they’re going to make a ton more sneakers. Dozens of colorways of the 350. A new model called the 451. A basketball sneaker. More 700s and 500s. Some are really, really good. Some aren’t for me. But Kanye West and Adidas aren’t going anywhere.