Whenever you discuss baseball, Shohei Ohtani is a major name that comes up. He’s one of the most unique and talented athletes to ever set foot on a major league baseball field, and with that praise, a clothing deal was sure to come up at some point. However, it may come as a slight surprise that Nike, the No. 1 outfitter of on-field apparel for the MLB, wasn’t the one to sign Ohtani to a deal. Instead, New Balance was the company that swooped in and picked up the star Japanese player.
While this may seem like a minor blip in baseball news for fans, it’s even bigger news for Nike. Throughout the history of baseball, Nike has signed countless stars in baseball to lucrative contracts like Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr. Those deals have naturally resulted in their footwear and apparel being worn even more amongst baseball fans, and the company set their focus on domination of the sportswear industry by securing a $1 billion contract to have their swoosh on MLB uniforms. If you thought that you were seeing too much of that Nike swoosh, think again.
In the history of sports, Nike has marketed itself as the brand of the game’s top talent. For basketball, you have arguably the two top players of all time in Michael Jordan and LeBron James representing Nike. For football, they also have a uniform deal and popular players like Odell Beckham Jr. There’s also golf with Tiger Woods and tennis with Serena Williams. I could go on and on about how Nike has continued to see opportunities for growth in sports and has taken advantage of them. Baseball is no different from any of the sports that the company has targeted.
So, it’s quite puzzling that the popular clothing brand didn’t try even harder to sign a player who’s already established himself as one of the faces of baseball. They’ve already got players like Mike Trout signed and over 500 more MLB players along with him, but to lose out on a guy like Ohtani is a pretty big loss for Nike. Even though players like Trout may be huge representation for them in baseball, there are many reasons why Ohtani may have been even more valuable from a financial standpoint for Nike.
From a global perspective, everyone knows the Ohtani name, proving its value. He was so popular when he played in Japan that he was limited in off-the-field activities with teammates. By not signing Ohtani to a deal, Nike loses the chance for huge growth potential in areas where they could be stronger around the world, especially in Japan, where plenty would flock to Nike for some Ohtani merchandise.
New Balance, a company that’s already huge in the United States, now has the potential to become even bigger and take a slice of the pie from Nike in other countries. In baseball alone, the brand has become incredibly popular, inking players like Francisco Lindor and younger players with big potential like Michael Harris II. If New Balance continues to pick up its pace through the sports world, that could spell big losses for Nike, both inside and outside of baseball.
As his game continues to grow and as he potentially has the chance to leave the Angels for a better team, Ohtani’s popularity will continue to grow. Is he still going to have that Nike swoosh on his uniform whether he’s up to bat or on the pitcher’s mound? Yes, but jerseys are just one aspect where Nike can make real money off Ohtani. New Balance is still going to grab money from shoes, apparel and more as the Japanese superstar continues to impress on the diamond.
What does Nike do from here? It now means they have to push hard for Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, who’s coming off an MVP season and has secured a lucrative contract to stay with the Bronx Bombers. Judge has already shown interest in the company with a few games of him wearing their shoes, and if the Oregon-based outfitter doesn’t want to lose further money from other companies, they have to focus on inking Judge. It’s an obvious opportunity to regain their image of resigning stars along with a perfect opportunity to pair Judge with Trout as the faces of their baseball brand.
Because baseball players don’t sell sneakers. Neither do football, soccer or tennis players. Basketball/Hip Hop drives sneaker culture, that’s where Nike invests.