x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Basketball shoe giants eye the UAE

Athletic footwear plays a significant role in sports marketing. As Michael Jordan rose to basketball prominence in the mid-1980s, so too did his signature basketball shoe.

Athletic footwear plays a significant role in sports marketing. As Michael Jordan rose to basketball prominence in the mid-1980s, so too did his signature basketball shoe. The Air Jordans, with their "jumpman" logo, became an international symbol for the game. Nike sponsored Jordan and made him one of the most recognisable athletes in the world. Thus began a veritable foot race, as shoe companies battled for the consumers' feet with all the zest of a cold-war arms race.

Shoe companies continue to throw around the big bucks that help drive the business of sport. Nike and Adidas are the twin pillars of global athletic footwear. In the spirit of following the money to know what is happening, if you want to find out where the future of basketball is heading, talk to the shoe companies. A few days ago, I had the chance to speak with the vice president of Adidas for global basketball, Lawrence Norman. More than almost anyone else in the world, Norman knows where the sport is heading. Abu Dhabi is in his sights.

"We have already talked about plans to do things in Abu Dhabi, but the plans fell through at the last minute. In the future, I look forward to doing something there. The Emirates is an interesting market. We already sell a great number of products there," said Norman. Of course, the whole world seems excited about doing business in Abu Dhabi. But when will Abu Dhabi care about basketball? "The potential for the sport in a country or region grows tremendously when one player from the country makes it to the NBA," said Norman. "As I have seen, nationalism is taken to a new level in the Middle East. If a player were to make it from a Middle Eastern country, the sport would grow ten-fold in that nation. This happened in Lebanon when Rony Seikaly entered the NBA in 1988 and I expect it to happen now in Israel with Omri Casspi being drafted this year."

To arrive at the day when basketball players are coming out of even the most unlikely countries, Adidas have invested heavily in youth basketball development internationally, including the forthcoming Adidas Nations event featuring the best teenage players from around the world. "It is our responsibility to build interest in the game around the world," said Norman. "We are involved in building the grassroots of the sport. Our goal is to create new ways for fans to experience and enjoy the sport."

Adidas, the official outfitter of the NBA, are in the business of hawking every sort of team apparel imaginable as well as their own line of shoes and clothing. Make no mistake, Adidas are not a charity. The company are as much involved in creating demand as supplying that demand. Investing in bringing new fans to the game is just good business. The region with the biggest potential for basketball, Adidas believe, is Asia. "Basketball is tremendously popular in China, and with more than 1.3 billion people, it is obviously a great market," said Norman. "Elsewhere in the region, the Philippines may have the most devoted fans of the game. They live and breath the sport more than any place on earth. If a Filipino makes it to the NBA, the sport will explode in the country."

But in the end, all of basketball's international inroads lead back to the US. Norman said: "In 2010, the big growth market for basketball will be the US. Unlike many other countries, in the US we have four major league sports competing for fans, but basketball's popularity is starting to climb." gdole@thenational.ae