The Solution to John Wall’s Sneaker Free Agency

The Solution to John Wall's Sneaker Free Agency

The story of John Wall’s sneakers becoming mainstream news has riled up some of the sneaker community and opened up the eyes of enthusiasts that may have wondered about John Wall and his deal with adidas. After Wall was spotted wearing a Kobes on court, Nick DePaula wrote a detailed piece about how the Washington Wizards point guard’s negotiations with adidas has come to halt. The story and enthusiast curiosity, has sparked a ton of conversation amongst the sneaker community over the last 36 hours.

In regards to the speculation as to Wall’s future, NDP noted that James Harden’s deal with adidas was a part of the problem. Wall was grandfathered in from his original Reebok deal worth $2.5 million a year plus incentives. Wall and his agents consider him to be on the level of Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, which I think we can all agree is not the case when it comes to selling shoes. On court performance, that might be debatable, but selling shoes has not been Wall’s strength so far. Harden’s rumored $200 million over 13 years, is significantly higher than Kyrie or Lillard, which adds up to the rumor that Wall wants $10 million a year. And of course, a signature sneaker needs to be a part of the mix.

John Wall in Air Jordan 4s

It’s no secret that Damian Lillard’s adidas deal had a lot to do with his character according to USA Today. He’s an admirable guy off the court and on social media. The same is said to be true about Kyrie Irving. Wall on the other hand, is somewhat of a wildcard due to his “gang related” antics, his “charitable work,” his complaints about All Star voting, and his lack of personality on social media compared to other NBA stars. Although with the latter, John Wall has been coming around in recent months and his recent holiday campaign has helped his appeal for potential deals.

There is a perfect solution for John Wall and his sneaker deal. It’s just not the old way of thinking we are accustomed to.

While most of us as consumers could care less about the strip club spending and gang-banging because it’s a part of the hip hop we consume, it still makes a deal with John Wall something executives will be hesitant about. Especially considering that Wall recently turned down a lucrative $7.5 million dollars a year from adidas. Meaning, he either just doesn’t want to wear adidas, or he really overvalues his impact on selling sneakers.

Another minor factor to consider is that Wall reportedly has a Sean John contract. Although this deal may or may not be ongoing, Sean John obviously has an expansive clothing line. It’s possible that the requirements of the Sean John contract could take away from the opportunities of Wall to be wearing apparel from one of the footwear companies. Apparel being a focal point for each and every brand in the coming years could make this “hiccup” of a conflict, that would normally never be a concern, a possible issue in the mind of potential new sponsors for Wall.

The return on investment when it comes to selling sneakers is very hit or miss, particularly when it comes to basketball shoes right now. Retros and lifestyle have become the style that mainstream society wants. Whether the trend is here to stay or not can be argued to death but the fact is, you just don’t see as many people wearing performance basketball shoes casually like you did years ago. There is a perfect solution for John Wall and his sneaker deal. It’s just not the old way of thinking we are accustomed to.

With Wall asking $10 million and more than likely killing any hope of a deal with adidas by rejecting the $7.5 million dollar deal. The Chinese brands like Li-Ning or Peak could afford the higher price but the return on investment is not likely to be there in overseas sales. Plus it’s hard to imagine Wall on a Starbury-like tour during the summer. You can look at either Jordan Brand or Under Armour as a possible next move for a deal with a competitive footwear brand. However, neither will work in the long run.

Wall is a fan of Jordans. We’ve seen him wear them regularly throughout his NCAA and NBA career both off court and on. But the truth is, he’s not going to help sell retros at this point. At least not in a capacity that would make financial sense for Jordan Brand to pay him anything more than a few million a season. And even that is a stretch.

Under Armour seems like a logical choice because of their Baltimore roots. Especially after how hard they pursued Kevin Durant. They’re willing to spend the money. They are in the right location. But they don’t have the resources to take on a new signature sneaker and it would take more time than it would be worth to prepare for a UA Wall signature shoe. Plus, they’re flying high with Curry right now and taking any energy away from that part of their business would be detrimental to the success of his signature line.

John Wall’s first signature with adidas became the focal point of a hilarious commercial in partnership with Foot Locker and that’s the basis for finding his niche in the crowded space of NBA sneaker contracts. No, the solution isn’t Wall’s Wings and Burgers. John Wall needs to sign a sneaker deal with Foot Locker, not with one of the brands. Before you dismiss the idea, let’s dig into it some.

There is no better buzz for an NBA player right now than wearing a different pair of shoes every game. You see it with P.J. Tucker this season. You’ve seen it with Gilbert Arenas in the past. And it’s the reason you see a top tier player like LeBron James wearing a different colorway, whether GR or PE, almost every game of the season. No matter who the player, once a player starts wearing a different shoe, it becomes a news story for hundreds of blogs the following morning. That’s a value that can’t compare to a traditional brand deal that has Wall wearing between 15-20 colorways total.

Retailers like Foot Locker or Finish Line have marketing budgets much smaller than brands like Jordan or adidas. So the idea of Foot Locker signing Wall to a $10 million dollar deal is out of the question. However, they can partner with brands on cooperative campaigns, which could alleviate some of the financial commitment. If the deal is setup properly, Foot Locker could partner with smaller brands like Stance or Jason Markk to bring some additional advertising budget to the table for campaigns, commercials, and in store promotions at locations like the upcoming Time Square Megastore. They could also partner with a non-athletic brand like Timberland and have a huge advantage over their competitors in the footwear retailer space.

Foot Locker Times Square Mega Store

As much as the brands know we as consumers are not walking billboards that wear one brand from head to toe, it is still presented to us in that way. While we can all understand why the brands want this, the reality is, regardless of what social channel or ad platform you’re talking about, it just isn’t efficient use of marketing dollars for a retailer with a huge product mix to sell through. Never once has anyone looked at a lay down/outfitgrid type of Instagram post with all Nike gear and gone and purchased the shoes, shirt, shorts, socks and backpack to match. It just doesn’t work that way. It could work if it were Foot Locker outfitgrid with say, some Nikes, Stance socks, Levi’s, a Herschel backpack and a Casio G-Shock. Most sneaker consumers would wear a similar combination of gear. The variety would allow Foot Locker to market apparel and accessories that have been a challenge for all footwear retailers to increase sales in. It would also allow them to sell more retro product, which has been a challenge in recent years.

The freedom to wear anything off of the Foot Locker wall would allow for some incredibly creative marketing opportunities that, with the right incentives, could even be fun for John Wall. He could wear Tech Fleece and Jordans one day, North Face and a pair of Nike Air Max Uptempos the next, and then follow it up with an adidas Originals hoodie and Ultra Boosts, elevating a wider product mix for Foot Locker and avoiding the feeling of being forced to wear one brand. Not to mention, the SMU exclusive colorways that could be made would have the sneaker media buzzing. A Wizards inspired colorway of a Jordan 4 retro, Nike Air Up, or an adidas KB8 would certainly attract the sneaker consumer and have the internet buzzing anytime Wall laced a pair of the Foot Locker exclusives up.

A photo posted by Foot Locker (@footlocker) on

The biggest hurdle in the idea of John Wall signing with Foot Locker is that most brands still have final say in how their retail partners market their products. Meaning, if Nike doesn’t like seeing Levi’s next to a pair of LeBron’s, the retailer has to change the plan. This is a huge reason that retailers have a hard time connecting to their consumers, and also why brands like Nike and adidas are consistently moving more towards a direct to consumer model. The truth is, a brand is, and should be, marketed differently than a retailer. But as the dynamics of the retail and e-commerce landscape shift, the amount a retailer depends on one brand will have to change in order to survive.

In theory, the deal would allow Foot Locker to market their product more efficiently, meaning more money to pay Wall and other athletes in the future. For the money side of the deal to work, it would need to be a smaller guaranteed amount than Wall is likely to be comfortable with. But stacked with a tremendous amount of backend incentives for things like sales of marketed product and on court performance incentives.

That said, a John Wall deal with Foot Locker would be incredibly challenging. It would need to be very thorough. It would cause some headaches and make for some uncomfortable conversations at first, but that’s what change always does. It makes those set in their ways uncomfortable. In this time where traditional signature sneakers simply don’t exist like they used to an athlete signing directly with a retailer would however, take the sneaker industry in a new direction for the future of signature sneakers, a future that I believe is inevitable.

Nick Engvall is a sneaker enthusiast with 10 years of experience in the footwear business. He has written for publications such as Complex, Sole Collector and Sneaker News. He's an avid San Francisco Giants fan, Allen Iverson fan, and owns way too many sneakers for his own good.