Mar 2, 2021 - Sports

The cross-sport footwear evolution

Picture of sneakers placed on top of several baseballs

Francisco Lindor's new signature baseball cleat. Source: @NB_Baseball (Twitter)

The NBA's sneaker culture has helped drive a multi-billion dollar industry while simultaneously bringing players and fans closer than ever before.

What's happening: Some companies are putting in the work to find out if those same principles can apply to other sports.

  • Just Dishin, an online apparel store, produces "skins" to transform standard hockey skates into custom designs. They also worked with an artist to produce the Air Jordan 1 skate pictured below. It's not for sale, but gets people talking about what's possible.
  • New Balance made Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor just the third MLB player with a signature cleat (above), joining Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The effervescent superstar is among the select few players who could reach cross-cultural relevance a la Ken Griffey Jr., whose classic Swingman shoe is still making waves in 2021.
Picture of nike hockey skates
Courtesy @JustDishin (Twitter)

The backdrop: Since the Air Jordan debuted in 1984, NBA shoe deals have gone from rarity to something approaching ubiquity.

  • More recently, online marketplaces like StockX ($2.8 billion) and GOAT ($1.75 billion) have realized enormous valuations.
  • While that's hardly on the strength of basketball shoes alone, they still rule the roost when it comes to sport-specific footwear.

The big picture: The reason for this isn't hard to discern, as basketball — with its bevy of marketable stars — combines popularity (sport), visibility (athlete) and functionality (shoe) far better than its counterparts.

  • Football is insanely popular, but its athletes are hidden behind helmets; baseball players are visible, but rarely double as marketable; and hockey trails the other major sports in all three categories.
  • Plus, unlike basketball shoes, cleats and skates aren't useful in everyday life.

Go deeper: Air Jordan on ice? (The Athletic)

Go deeper