Cavs' Jones Signs with Chinese Shoe Company
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Brand name sports apparel including celebrity-endorsed shoes are hugely popular with basketball fans in China. Nike and Adidas are aggressively working to capture that exploding market. To fight back, China's largest sportswear company signed its own NBA player. However, he spends more time on the bench than on the court.
From member station WCPN, Mhari Saito reports.
MHARI SAITO, reporting:
Cleveland Cavaliers player, Damon Jones is no basketball star. But even so, the 29-year-old guard has signed a major shoe deal. Standing outside his locker room, he shoes off the brand new Li-Ning sneakers he hopes will carry him to international fame.
Mr. DAMON JONES (Guard, Cleveland Cavaliers): They made this logo for me. The D is here and then you've got the J, and then you've got the one and the nine in Chinese.
SAITO: For the first time in the NBA, a player will be promoting shoes on the court that can't be bought in this country. Damon Jones says he'll bring the 15-year-old Li-Ning brand enough street cred to take on Nike and Adidas in the Chinese market.
Mr. JONES: Hopefully, with my personality and the way that I play the game of basketball, that it's going to take the Chinese market, kind of move them up in the standings into the race.
SAITO: Jones came to the Cleveland Cavaliers last year touted as one of the best three-point shooters in the league. But he's only just emerging from a major slump, and isn't even a starting player on the team. Ernest Kim is an influential basketball shoe writer; known in the industry as Professor K. he says Ni-Ling is trying to piggyback on Nike's multi-million dollar promotion of Jones's teammate, super star Labron James.
Mr. ERNEST KIM (Shoe Writer): A lot of the Cavaliers' game, if not all of them, is broadcast in China because of Labron's popularity. So I think it's really a matter of trying to get exposure through Labron into that market.
SAITO: Nike sent Labron James on a tour of China last summer to promote his shoes. Reebok promotes China's richest and most popular athlete, Yao Ming, and his basketball shoe. Sneaker company Li-Ning won't release the details of its deal with Damon Jones, but the Cavs' player will have billboards, TV ads and statues of himself in Li-Ning's 2500 stores. Able Wu is Li-Ning's vice president of brand marketing.
Mr. ABEL WU (Vice President, Li-Ning): Basketball is fast growing and also is the best sport liked by the young people. And our target consumers is young people, so we have to do very well in the basketball category.
SAITO: Marquee basketball shoes are selling in China at almost the same price as they are here. John Shanley is an analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group. He says some popular shoe lines are selling out in hours.
Mr. JOHN SHANLEY (analyst, Susquehanna Financial Group): The Chinese consumer consumption level of athletic products seems to be almost inexhaustible, which kind of defies gravity in many respects; just simply because consumers have no hesitancy to spend what would seem to be a month's salary on a pair of athletic footwear.
SAITO: And the Li-Ning deal shows that Chinese companies are willing to spend serious cash on advertising. That's turning a lot of heads in the U.S. sports industry. Jones's agent, Mark Termini, says the initial reaction from many of his colleagues was surprise.
Mr. MARK TERMINI (Agent for Damon Jones): It is our business to know what's going in the sports marketing side of things so that you can best position your players and obtain some of these opportunities. So, people are becoming educated about Li-Ning and want to know more, because potentially it could provide opportunities for other players and other business people.
SAITO: League officials are reportedly negotiating to have the Cleveland Cavaliers play the Houston Rockets in China next season; that would for the first time put Reebok's Yao Ming, Nike's Labron James and Li-Ning's Damon Jones on China's center court.
for NPR News, I'm Mhari Saito in Cleveland.
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