As Cleveland celebrated LeBron James last night, Nike rushed to capitalize on its lifetime endorsement deal with the star athlete by launching a new LeBron sneaker. However, while the historic victory puts the shoes in the spotlight, it may not be enough to drive sales.

For athletics companies, brand ambassadors like James have become one of the most sought-after investments. If the Golden State Warriors had won, it’s likely that Under Armour – which sponsors the other high-profile athlete in the championship, Stephen Curry – would have employed a similar strategy.

Brands like Nike and Under Armour pay top dollar for athletes’ endorsements because they have the power to dramatically boost engagement. Six of the ten most-viewed YouTube videos in L2’s Digital IQ Index: Activewear feature a celebrity or athlete. The ambassadors also play a crucial role on newer social platforms like Snapchat, where Under Armour used Curry to drive traffic to its Super Bowl campaign.

The trend has also taken shape across the pond. Most U.K. Activewear brand sites include a Sponsored Athletes & Celebrities section, according to L2’s Digital IQ Index: Activewear U.K. However, less than half of them capitalize on that content by linking from those site areas to product pages.

Guided selling investments

Nike and Under Armour are considerably more adept at closing the loop, demonstrating their digital acumen. Both brands earn the Genius title in L2’s study, with Nike taking the top spot and Under Armour tied for second.

However, while their investments in brand ambassadors generate impressive engagement, they have a more mixed record when it comes to driving sales. While the UA Curry One is Under Armour’s best-selling shoe, and Air Jordans continue to draw buyers, Nike’s LeBron sneakers have been “challenging” to sell. Cleveland fans might be enthusiastic about their hometown hero, but it’s up to Nike to convince them to buy his shoes.


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