By Barry Janoff
December 17, 2012: LeBron James may be an official rep of Nike, but Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade is getting the upper hand in the footwear category.
Wade, who recently switched marketing alliances from Nike division Jordan Brand to Li-Ning, is helping the China-based company to make inroads in the U.S. via a new deal with the Heat.
Li-Ning is now an official partner of the defending NBA champs, effective immediately. According to the company, the partnership is part of a comprehensive marketing program to support Way of Wade Dynasty, a new athletic footwear and apparel collection that Li-Ning recently launched with Wade.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The alliance was unveiled at an event attended by company founder Li Ning and Wade, among others.
Under terms of the alliance, Li-Ning will have signage in the Heat home venue, AmericanAirlines Arena, and "other advertising assets" on such Miami Heat outlets as Heat.com and the team's TV broadcasts on Sun Sports.
Li-Ning hinted that its products, including Wade branded merchandise, may be sold at AmericanAirlines Arena in 2013.
Li Ning is a businessman and former gymnast who won six medals, three of them gold, during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Other NBA endorsers include Evan Turner (Philadelphia 76ers) and Baron Davis (New York Knicks).
Although adidas is the official apparel supplier for the NBA, Nike owns the majority of feet, with signature shoes from players that include James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Endorsers also include Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook. Jordan Brand endorsers include Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Joe Johnson, Ray Allen and namesake Michael Jordan.
When Wade signed with the company in October, they said the two-time NBA champion would serve in an official capacity as chief brand officer and would be responsible for guiding the creative direction of all Wade products. That includes "spearhead[ing] the global marketing strategies and initiatives aimed to build brand awareness in the United States and China," the company said at the time.
The company anticipates signing more athletes to its roster.
"We are very excited to be the latest all-star to join the roster of the Miami Heat and help support the team's journey to another NBA championship," Brian Cupps, director of brand initiatives for basketball for Li-Ning, said in a statement. "The Heat offer an amazing platform on which to engage with fans who will love our upcoming Wade merchandise."
According to Eric Woolworth, president of The Heat Group's business operations, "The Li-Ning brand represents both style and substance and is therefore a welcome addition to the Miami Heat family of partners. We're eager to help introduce Li-Ning to Heat fans everywhere, and we are confident their new collection of Wade merchandise will have a very broad appeal."
Photo: Bob Metelus/Li-Ning