Walk into Foot Locker to pick up some shoes and Li Ning isn’t there among the Nikes and Adidas. But the company is almost as big.
Li Ning is the biggest China-based shoe and athletic apparel company, a power player in a booming market. They had $1.2 billion in sales last year, which is no Nike but is bigger than known American brands such as Under Armour. Li Ning wants to get into the competitive American market.
To that end they have celebrity endorsers, like Shaquille O’Neal and Baron Davis. Both big names, but also both guys closer to the end of their careers than the start, not guys who move a lot of product.
Evan Turner could change that.
Turner, the No. 2 overall pick of the Philadelphia 76ers, has signed a deal with Li Ning, according to CNBC’s sports business reporter Darren Rovell. This is the first time the company has signed a young player on the rise.
Turner will wear Li-Ning for his rookie season and will immediately appear in the company’s marketing. He will have his own signature shoe and apparel, which will be available globally, in his second year with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Li-Ning established a base for its US business in Portland, Ore., where it also has its flagship store. In order for the deal to really work out, Turner obviously has to be a star and the Li-Ning brand has to gain traction with consumers and retailers.
What makes this even more intriguing is that Turner’s agent is David Falk, who of course is responsible for establishing the greatest marketing deal of all time, Michael Jordan, Nike and the Air Jordan franchise.
It’s a bit of a risk by both sides. But if Turner takes off, Li Ning gets a boost and everybody wins. Well, except Nike, but they have won plenty.