Puma presents unconventional sneaker strategy as NBA stages match in Paris
This weekend, Paris is rocking to the rhythm of the fashion week. And, the NBA. For the second time in its history, the U.S. professional basketball league is staging a regular season fixture in the French capital, and has set up an NBA house at the Aérogare des Invalides, which will host a plethora of events until January 22. On Thursday, the Chicago Bulls will play the Detroit Pistons in front of a capacity crowd at the Paris-Bercy multisport arena, in one of the year’s top basketball events in France.
The NBA, which has opened a flagship store in the Saint-Michel district in Paris, is keen to spark a major buzz in Europe around the game, and so does Nike, world number-one in basketball with its eponymous brand and with its Jordan brand. Nike, a partner of the Paris fixture, has designed a collection in the liveries of the two NBA franchises involved.
The NBA’s Paris match isn't just an event of Europe-wide resonance for basketball fans. It is also an opportunity for other industry players to make their voices heard. Puma, for example, held a day-long event on January 18, at its temporary Puma house in the Maison du Danemark building on the Champs Élysées. It was the opportunity to present Puma’s latest models, including a new football/basketball crossover edition of the Rise Nitro model in orange and blue; the same colours of the latest version of the Future Ultimate football boots worn by Neymar Jr, the Brazilian star of Paris Saint-Germain.
In addition to the presentation, Puma organised a forum on its product development process for sneakers, featuring Jeff Gately, senior product manager basketball shoes at Puma, who answered questions from influencer and basketball buff Rookicks; from Gino Delmas, a fashion journalist at sports daily L’Équipe; and Gaylor Curier, a professional basketball player for French club Cholet.
Puma re-entered the basketball segment in 2018, and still lags far behind the market leaders.
“We broke into the market by taking a very small share, in a startup spirit,” said Gately. “We work like a small team, constantly discussing products and consumer needs. This allows us to do things that are very different from what is usually regarded as the way to develop a basketball shoe. We are still far from the leaders but we are moving forward, prompted by the desire to reach the top one day,” he added.
Gately said that Puma's U.S.-based product development team is working both with other Puma designers, who are developing products for other sports, like football, trying to tap specific technologies, but also with top athletes. An approach that has enabled Puma to create unique designs for the shoes co-created with NBA player LaMelo Ball. Collaborating with a top NBA star has quickly turned into a showcase for the German sport equipment manufacturer.
“In our meetings, LaMelo comes up with many ideas for colourways and materials,” said Gately. “We’re keen to develop high-performance shoes that have a strong lifestyle potential. Sometimes, certain materials don’t satisfy our technical requirements. We do not compromise on the performance aspect. And sometimes we have to say no, as we did for example to silver or chrome designs,” he added.
Major industry brands drop dozens of new models every year, but Puma seems to want to approach the market in a different way. It has an aggressive pricing policy, with the recent Rise Nitro model the highest price-point at €130, and isn’t currently challenging competitors that sometimes price shoes at around €200.
“This doesn’t mean we’ll never do it,” said Gately. “But our strategy doesn’t rely on launching 30 models in the year and blanketing shop walls. Our approach is to work on a dozen products in depth, focusing on introducing new technologies and styles that will enable us to respond to the market and surprise consumers. We prefer to have fewer products that consumers understand perfectly,” he added.
Building on the success of the model developed with LaMelo Ball, Puma seems to be gradually justifying its basketball come-back. The brand is also benefiting from the strong momentum of its lifestyle range, gradually introducing its products in directional fashion stores and winning over new customers outside basketball courts.
Puma reported a global revenue of €6.2 billion for the first nine months of fiscal 2022, and is expected to reach record sales levels for the entire year, with record profitability results too. The German group will publish its annual results on March 1.
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