Last week, we at KicksUSA released a study in our Shoe Science category regarding the impact that NBA player performance has on shoe sale revenue. This in-depth review went straight into the stats regarding player production and their off the court revenue.
This blog post is going to discuss why we felt compelled to put together the Dunking for Dollars study, provide a few more pieces of insight that we found but didn’t add to the original article, and introduce a few more players we have for consideration in new and unique ways to expand the scope of this investigation.
The genesis of this concept can be traced back to long days spent reviewing various sales data and figures at my 9-5. As anyone who has ever worked knows, there tend to be a few times throughout the day where your mind wanders and you begin to think of topics that never have crossed your brain previously.
For me, I noticed considerable movement from one month to the next in certain shoe sales data. After taking way too long to put two and two together (I mentioned that my mind was wandering, right?), I noticed that I was specifically tracking the sales of Kobe Bryant’s shoes over the course of fiscal year 2015.
This got me thinking.
So, as any sane person would do, I immediately jumped to conclusions. I began thinking that Kobe Bryant is one of the most popular players the NBA has ever seen, but he is pretty old for NBA standards. He also isn’t having a great year while playing on a bad team for the past two NBA seasons. Therefore, it would make sense to see him have fluctuating sales data.
The seed of curiosity was planted though, and I wanted to see what other players we could be working with. I found something that may have been an instant answer for my hypothesis: Most players experienced the same volatility with their off-the-court-revenue that Kobe Bryant was seeing.
I think it is fair to say that most people see the total dollar amount that a player makes when they sign a contract with one of the primary shoe vendors and also the number of each player’s shoes sold. They may stop and think that those numbers are solely indicative of a player’s popularity or previous experience in the league. At the very least, we consider that the total number will be paid out in full to the athlete in regular intervals. However, this is not necessarily the case, as Matt Powell of Sneakernomics states regarding LeBron James’ lifetime deal with Nike:
Likely, this deal is similar to Nike’s contract with Michael Jordan, which pays a percentage of dollars sold to the athlete. There may be some upfront payment as well. Likely the estimate is based on sales continuing at a high level after retirement.
With so many variables in an athlete’s life, from injuries to trades to cap casualties, consistent earnings from a player’s shoe deal was an assumed benefit of being in the limelight.
However, the true reality began to dawn on us that there was an inherent correlation between the amount of money an athlete is making (including outside contracts and endorsements) and their performance on the court. Given the fact that most players make more money on their shoe deals than with their NBA contracts, there is some dynamic information to understand. We can begin to predict and understand more about the players in the NBA as we begin to define all the variables that go into them making decisions on and off the court.
Thus far, we have outlined why we started out down the path that we did for the Dunking for Dollars piece. But, as I mentioned, there was an immense amount of data that we were able to unearth when we were putting together Dunking for Dollars. However, some of the information was only partially relevant to our main thesis, so it was omitted from our initial piece. As a lover of information though, I wanted to outline some additional conceptual ideas here.
Never fear though, as we are not bound by the limitations of our previous piece in the blogosphere! Here, we can discuss some of the cool, additional, details that got left out of Dunking for Dollars simply based on relevancy.
First, there was the case of additional data that we could have thrown into consideration when debating the impact of player performance on the court. More specifically, we want to consider the factor of nationally televised games and playoff performance.
If we expand on the concept regarding an injured player’s absence from both the public eye and decrease in off-court revenue, as discussed in Dunking for Dollars, we could surmise that a player that is playing more nationally televised games in a month should see an upswing in revenue for that month.
However, this is not the case, according to the data.
For example, Kevin Durant saw a massive jump in sales between January and February. Therefore, according to our assumption, it would make sense that Oklahoma City would have played more nationally televised in February, but the opposite proved to be true, as OKC played six games in January but only five in February.
|Monday January 5, 2015||10:30pm||Oklahoma City||Golden State||NBA TV|
|Thursday January 15, 2015||8:00pm||Oklahoma City||Houston||TNT|
|Friday January 16, 2015||8:00pm||Golden||Oklahoma City||ESPN|
|Wednesday January 21, 2015||8:00pm||Oklahoma City||Washington||ESPN|
|Sunday January 25, 2015||3:30pm||Oklahoma City||Cleveland||ABC|
|Wednesday January 28, 2015||8:00pm||Oklahoma City||New York||ESPN|
|Sunday February 8, 2015||1:00pm||L.A. Clippers||Oklahoma City||ABC|
|Thursday February 19, 2015||8:00pm||Dallas||Oklahoma City||TNT|
|Sunday February 22, 2015||7:00pm||Denver||Oklahoma City||NBA TV|
|Thursday February 26, 2015||10:30pm||Oklahoma City||Phoenix||TNT|
|Friday February 27, 2015||10:30pm||Oklahoma City||Portland||ESPN|
Proving the point further, Cleveland only played four games in March, compared to seven in February, yet Kyrie Irving only saw a minor drop in shoe revenue between the two months. This drop is nothing that would indicate a serious, or even probable, connection between the two points.
In fact, given the stats comparing the national television games with player shoe sale revenue, there doesn’t appear to be a connection at all between the two. Why is this not a factor when we established that player injuries are a major factor? Both cause the player to be out of the national limelight, and thus, should impact their national recognition.
Well, there are two clear answers to this problem. The first answer is that ESPN exists. So, even though the national audience won’t have access to every single game a particular player is playing in, ESPN will show enough stats and highlights to make the nation feel acquainted with the player. For example, everyone in the country knew that Kevin Love was an amazing basketball player even though he was somewhat hidden on a bad Minnesota Timberwolves team in a small market.
So, what is the second answer to this problem? While injuries remove a player from the court entirely, not being in a nationally televised game will still allow for a player to record playing stats and put in highlight reel performances. The biggest fault of injuries for a player is that they are completely removed from the court, however, this same pitfall is not evident when a player is simply in a smaller market. Take it from one of our featured athletes, Kyrie Irving, who personified the concept of injuries being more detrimental to a player’s worldwide recognition than a small market in his most recent commercial.
Another conceptual idea to consider is the level of team success that a player experienced throughout the year. Is there a direct line that can be drawn between a team’s playoff run and the shoe revenue of the players on that team?
At first thought, the answer seems to be obvious. If a great player leads his team to the playoffs and goes on a run throughout the playoffs, then it would seem to make sense that his shoe sales would skyrocket. If their team is experiencing success, they are performing on a national stage, and they are most likely putting up impressive numbers as they are the stars for their teams, it would seem to check off all of the boxes that we have seen throughout this study.
The answer though is not quite as simple.
The NBA playoffs begin in April and run through June. Luckily, two of the players from our study play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Eastern Conference Champions last year and one of the teams that played throughout June. Therefore, we can see how the playoffs impacted both LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
LeBron James had one of the best statistical post seasons in recent memory, averaging 30 points per game, 11 rebounds per game, and 8.5 assists per game throughout the playoffs, almost single-handedly dragging the injury-plagued Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. While James saw a decline in his shoe sales during the start of the playoffs, he saw a major jump in his shoe sales in the month of June, which would seem to support the concept that playoff success leads to increased shoe sale revenue.
In order to support this concept, we should compare James’ data with his running-mate Kyrie Irving, who also played in the playoffs, but only managed to be healthy for 13 of those games. What we see though is that, even though he was injured and out of the spotlight for the finals in June, Kyrie still saw an uptick in shoe sales in June.
The first thing I thought? It’s a delayed growth, showing the fruits of success from one month in the following month. However, this doesn’t appear to be the case as both LeBron and Kyrie saw a drop in sales in July. To take this further, both Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant saw increased sales in June, even though neither of their teams made the playoffs. What could be the meaning of this?
We could go on and on listing the possible reasons as to why the consistent increase in June, but the only clear result from this analysis? The playoffs do not appear to directly correlate with shoe sale revenue.
The final discussion point to bring up regarding this data set is to consider the brand impact that each of these players benefit from. As it turned out, Nike was the only brand represented in our initial Dunking for Dollars study, primarily because they have such a strong foothold in the basketball community already. However, Adidas and Under Armor are both starting to eat away at Nike’s lead with signing impact players to shoe deals.
Why is it important to dissect the different major shoe brands when discussing this concept? Simply put, we are starting to see major movement within the competition of the brands, which is going to impact where players are going to be signing in the future. Once we understand which brand will be the predominant favorite with the players, we will be able to establish which brand is positioned best for the future.
To best analyze this, we need to start by displaying the sheer dominance that Nike has in this field. As of the end of 2014, Nike reported net revenue of $27.8 billion, compared to the $17.68 billion that Adidas reported and the $3.08 billion that Under Armour reported. That is a commanding lead over the other two brands, enough so that Nike has never really needed to worry about what their competition is doing.
However, if we dig a bit deeper into the numbers, we are starting to see a pretty amazing trend.
Under Armour has finally put their name on the NBA shoe deals map by signing the reigning league MVP and NBA Champion Steph Curry to a deal. This signing is not only perfect for Under Armour as they signed arguably the best and most popular player in the league right now, but also because Steph Curry almost perfectly falls in line with the Under Armour brand. Confused? Let me explain.
Under Armour has been growing, as a company, very steadily ever since their origin. Just as a snapshot, they have been growing by an average of 29.17% year over year earned revenue. In fact, since 2006, the lowest growth they have experienced from one year to the next is 18.09%, and they have never had a year of regression in their history.
On the other hand, Nike and Adidas have grown by an average of 8.22% and 3.21%, accordingly, over the same time period. They have each experienced regression as well during this snapshot. So, while both of these companies are much larger than Under Armour at this point, the trends are showing that Under Armour is quickly closing ground and can be considered the strongest of the bunch based on their year over year growth.
To be clear, I understand it is harder to grow by large numbers when companies like Nike and Adidas are multi-billion dollar companies while Under Armour was only a couple hundred million dollar company for much of this study. The main point of this is to show that there is a strong run taking place by Under Armour to compete with the historically dominant companies.
As I said, Steph Curry is the perfect player to pair with Under Armour, and the reason is that his career is on almost the exact same trajectory that Under Armour is on. Steph Curry has progressed every year throughout his career, seeing year over year improvements in his PER (player efficiency rating) and WS/48 (win shares per 48 minutes). Compare just that fact, that Curry has seen improvements every year he has played in the league in these two categories, with all time great players. Compare that to players like Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Michael Jordan, and you will notice that all of them have seen dips in these stats multiple times over their respective careers.
To take this further, Steph Curry’s current season (granted, the season is not over yet, so it is not a clean comparison yet) is arguably the greatest statistical year a player has put together. Compare his PER, TS% (true shooting percentage), and WS/48 with the same group of legendary players, and his numbers are better than all of their best seasons. Now that is impressive.
To make things even better, Steph Curry has already broken an NBA record for the most three pointers made over the course of the season, well before the season is over. He now owns the top three positions for three pointers made in a season, which makes his true shooting percentage much more impactful as he is shooting more shots from deep than any player in NBA history.
This is all intended to show that Steph Curry perfectly mirrors Under Armour’s growth, as both have seen year after year growth in their primary statistical categories while their competition have seen strong, yet fluctuating, numbers. Although both are relatively new into their respective careers, they are making such strong moves with their performances that it is arguable that they are more important in their fields right now than the mainstays.
Dunking for Dollars was born from the curiosity that we had as a team when we began noticing trends in sales data. What that led to was an in depth and detailed look into the statistical relevancy of NBA player performance in off the court earnings.
While everything we discussed in this blog post — from the size of a market audience to success of the team, to the brand that signed the player, truly has some level of impact on the revenue that a player sees, the strongest correlations that we were able to find are still connected to individual specific situations that take place in a player’s life. The connection between an increase in revenue and Kobe’s retirement is stronger than any of these sweeping connections that we investigated here.
As a final note, I want to extend a massive thanks to the members of my team at KicksUSA. Once I began looking into these very random but incredibly interesting trends, my team supported and assisted me with all of the research and made sure I had time throughout the day to put this all together. I could not have completed this without the immense support and amazing culture that KicksUSA has established.