Chances are if you are a consumer of athletics shoes and you don’t know Li-Ning, you will at some point soon. Founded by the former Olympic Gymnast, the Chinese brand has been growing steadily every year since its inception, focusing largely in Asia. However the company has had “strategic collaborations” with the National Basketball Association, the Association of Tennis Professionals, the China University Basketball Association and the China University Football League. Among others, and has had endorsement deals with Baron Davis, Shaquille O’Neal and a handful of other NBA athletes in recent years.
However its boldest move to date came in the last few years, striking a partnership with Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat. What’s next for Li-Ning the brand, we caught up with Brian Cupps, Director of Brand Initiative for Basketball, to find out where the brand is going both in the U.S. and around the world.
Li-Ning has had some bold face endorsers…does it benefit the company from a marketing perspective more in China or in the U.S. at this point?
BC: To date, it has clearly been more beneficial for the China market. However, we see that changing with an athlete of the stature of Dwyane Wade. His impact will be felt globally from a marketing perspective and we’ll look to leverage that within each respective region.
Dwyane Wade’s deal talks about input in marketing and company business. How active will he be and in what aspects?
BC: Dwyane will be heavily involved in all aspects of helping to build this business. From design reviews of products to merchandising color stories to conceptualizing future creative direction for marketing campaigns, Dwyane has illustrated in a short period time that he has no interest in having the role of Chief Brand Officer solely in title.
How is this deal different than other partnerships the company has formed?
BC: The magnitude of this deal and having an athlete of Dwyane’s caliber make this very different than past endorsement deals. But if you go deeper, this is truly the first time we have found an athlete who we feel can be a true business partner. Both parties share a common vision for how they view themselves as brands and what their aspirations are for the future. The fact that we both provide each other with extensions to grow the overall businesses collectively is what is most exciting to all of us.
Shoe companies have traditionally done their biggest growth when investing at the grassroots level along with high level endorsements. What plans does the company have to break into high schools, colleges if any?
BC: This partnership is the first step in a multi-pronged approach to becoming a leading global basketball brand. We have plans to support this deal with additional efforts around the sport of basketball and those will be rolled out in the near future.
Why Dwyane Wade vs. other NBA players?
BC: Dwyane & Mr Li Ning share an extremely common roadmap for success which has led each of them to where they are today. The core values and vision the two men share became the point from which this partnership was born. From a consumer perspective, the research we conducted proved to us that Dwyane was the strongest NBA player who could help us elevate our brand in the hearts and minds of basketball consumers. The response to the prospect of us delivering Li Ning/Wade products to the marketplace was overwhelming. It made complete business sense to seek out a partnership with Dwyane.
Basketball is obviously the second largest sport on the planet behind soccer. Is this more a deal about bringing Li-Ning to the U.S. market or exposing Dwayne Wade more on a global scale jointly?
BC: The beauty of this partnership is that it provides both. The one thing we wanted Dwyane to take away from our pitch to him was what we refer to as the “China Paradox”: If you want to win China you have to be global. If you want to be global, you have to win China. We present Dwyane with a unique opportunity to elevate his brand in our home market of China. Dwyane presents us an athlete who immediately authenticates the Li Ning brand in the most mature marketplace in the world (the U.S.) giving us a platform from which to increase our brand awareness and build a viable and sustainable business.