Sports and Fashion : An Examination
Sports and fashion, at a distance, seem incompatible. But the sports industry depends as much on aspiration and it has come to define fashion and both share the ability to communicate a brand through visual language. Athletes score goals, win trophies while consumers believe fashion as having “better” things and being prettier or thinner. And the audience often wish to be the athlete or model perhaps to chase an idealized masculinity or femininity. The details of an outfit or the team they support are all reflective of a certain lifestyle and personality. Major collaborations between the industries have cemented athleisure wear in fashion allowing athletes to engage in building a brand outside of a career with a fairly short lifespan.
Nike and Michael Jordan : Air Jordans
The first and most significant partnership was between Michael Jordan and Nike in 1984. Jordan, a hyped rookie, and Nike made the first Air Jordans in red, white and black despite NBA rules only allowing white sneakers. Nike fined Jordan $5,000 each instance he wore the sneaker during games due to uniform violations.
Nike capitalized on Jordan’s popularity and made a profit of $126 million in the first year alone. The Air Jordans became a shoe of the masses and a pseudo protest piece after Nike released an advertisement stating, “… the NBA threw [the Air Jordans] out of the game. Fortunately, they can’t stop you from wearing them.” Suddenly, it transcended wealth or race and was a shoe that everyone from sneaker heads to teenage girls could and would wear. Jordan created a brand that started because of basketball but now transcended it with more than 33 Air Jordan releases. The latest iteration was a collaboration with Dior – a limited capsule collection called Air Dior that cost more than $10,000.
How Fashion Benefits the Athlete
Today, the ways athletes engage with fashion brands varies. They range from releasing exclusive collections to perfecting outfits on game day that will surely receive press. In 2022, Christian Pulisic of Chelsea FC released a collection with PUMA meant to, “inspire the next generation of American soccer players.” Pulisic, often referred to as the American wonderkid, is branded as an underdog and can capitalize on it through his fanbase of aspiring soccer players who long to make it in Europe. Known for his eccentric game day wardrobe , Bengals Quarterback Joe Burrow is hailed for his fashion choices by the media. The New York Times even named him as one of their ‘Most Stylish People’.
Burrow who announced he planned to live off endorsement money benefits from the media attention that leads to brand deals.
Consumers today are increasingly reliant on influencers due to the wide reach of social media. But social media influencers might not have the prestige or a solid fanbase for continuous profit that interests brands. Athletes are a perfect alternative with their likeness being a leveraging tool and career promising relevance and a consumer base.