July 30, 2009: A year after the 2008 Olympics Beijing, which among other heated competitions saw adidas and Nike go toe-to-toe for greater control of the Chinese athletic footwear market, Nike is sending in another team of marketing forces. The company scheduled tours by three of its heaviest hitters that this week included stops by Kobe Bryant in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu; next week will see Jordan Brand division's Chris Paul visit Tianjin and Guangzhou; and later in August will feature stops by LeBron James in Beijing, Shenyang and Shanghai.
These tours coincide with Nike moving Marvin Chow, who for the past six years has been the company's highly successful marketing director in Korean and then Japan, to the same position in China. Nike also this month launched a global "W.N.I.K.E." campaign, via Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, including an Asia-Pacific leg. WNIKE features Charles Barkley and Gary Payton as DJ's "The Chilly Dog" and "The Glove Daddy" on a virtual 24-hour radio station that mixes R&B and hip-hop music with Nike commercials. WNIKE can be accessed via a dedicated mini-site on Nike's Web site, as well as a Web version for consumers in China. Support also includes print and TV spots (airing in China in English with Chinese subtitles) with Payton and Barkley bantering such things as, "Pull out your drawers, grab your balls and get some of that outdoor basketball casserole"and "Not half the day, but ALL day!"
In China, the stakes are high and getting higher. Sales of athletic footwear and apparel in China topped $6 billion in 2008 and are expected to double by 2012, according to Zou Marketing, Shanghai. Although that's 1/7 of the $42 billion athletic footwear and apparel sales in the U.S., according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Assn., Washington, D.C., sales in China have posted double-digit growth since 2000 while those in the U.S. range currently from flat to declining due to the current economic situation.
Prior to the 2008 Olympics, Nike was No. 1 in sales in the China market for more than three years. Adidas laid claim to the title after the Games, during which it was an official sponsor, citing sales figures that showed a 60% jump in sales there the first half of 2008. Nike topped $1 billion in sales in 2008 and stated in post-Olympic financial reports that China was now its second biggest market behind the U.S. However, Nike needs to re-energize its presence there. In June, the company reported that China, while still its fastest-growing region, saw sales rise only 6% in the previous quarter. Both Nike and adidas far outdistance Li-Ning, an athletic footwear and apparel company which is No. 1 in the category among Chinese companies. It was founded by and named after the former gymnastics star who won six medals, including three gold, at the 2004 Summer Games in Los Angeles (and who at the Beijing Games lit the flame during the opening ceremonies after "running" up the side of Beijing National Stadium).
According to the NBA, Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers' No 24 is the best selling NBA jersey in China, even topping jersey sales of national hero and Houston Rockets' star Yao Ming. Bryant's China visit was part of a six-stop tour of Asia to reach young basketball players, dubbed "Nike Champion Returns - Kobe Training Camp." Bryant also was the guest of honor at a charity banquet in Beijing to boost his recently launched Kobe Bryant China Fund, which seeks to raise money for education, sports and culture programs for children from both China and the U.S.
Paul’s China Tour the first week of August includes Tianjin (Aug. 2) and Guangzhou (Aug. 3-4), during which time he will "meet with fans in China, teach talented Chinese youth techniques to improve their basketball skills and demonstrate the importance of giving back to the community," according to Jordan Brand. Paul will launch his signature Jordan CP3.II China Edition shoe in China on Aug. 3 (the shoe will also be available exclusively at House of Hoops in the U.S., MSRP $135). “I'm looking forward to being in China again and getting a chance to see firsthand how young point guards handle their skills on the court," Paul who was a teammate of Bryant and James (as well as new Jordan Brand convert Dwyane Wade) on the gold medal 2008 U.S. men's Olympic squad, said in a statement. "I understand these young players from all over China are very talented and will be joining me in Tianjin and Guangzhou to demonstrate their skills,”
James' World Tour, which will target young up-and-coming hoops players, supports the launch of his next signature performance shoe, the Nike Air Max LeBron VII. The tour hits Chicago (Aug. 11), Washington, D.C. (Aug. 13) and Akron (Aug. 21) before moving to Beijing (Aug. 24), Shenyang (Aug. 26), and Shanghai (Aug. 28) in China; with subsequent dates in Paris (Sept 1-3), London (Sept. 4-5), New York (Sept. 20) and Los Angeles (Sept. 26). The tour will also be a promotional push for the upcoming Lionsgate film, More Than a Game, which shows James as an adolescence both on and off the court with his teammates from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. The film is scheduled for release in October.
"[I want] kids all around the world to learn that they can achieve their dreams and goals through hard workand perseverance, not just in basketball but in whatever they decide to do in life,” James said in a statement. “We can all give back and make a difference in many different ways, which I hope to convey and lead by example.”
And leading by example is what Nike and its Jordan Brand also want, especially if Bryant, Paul and James can lead consumers in China into stores to buy the shoes that the stars are wearing.