Beyoncé is entering a sneaker market increasingly driven by pop stars

Singer, super-celebrity, and athleisure mogul Beyoncé.
Singer, super-celebrity, and athleisure mogul Beyoncé.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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Adidas and Beyoncé are partnering up.

The German brand and musician announced a new collaboration that will include signature footwear and apparel, as well as the relaunch of Ivy Park, Beyoncé’s athleisure label, under the Adidas brand. Last year, Beyoncé bought out the stake of her previous partner on the line, Arcadia Group, after its chairman, Philip Green, came under investigation for sexual harassment.

The deal adds another pop star to Adidas’ roster alongside rapper Kanye West, and it’s reasonable to believe Beyoncé is more likely to bring the company more of the sort of success it’s had with West than any sports star could.

The sneaker business has changed a good deal since the days when basketball legend Michael Jordan changed the market. As a form of everyday footwear, athletic shoes are more popular than ever, which also means they have less need than ever to be specialized for sports. In the US, for example, sales of performance basketball shoes have been down for years.

What matters to shoppers are qualities such as a shoe’s looks, comfort, and whether it’s in fashion. “I’ve said many, many times that our consumer is driven by cool,” Foot Locker CEO Dick Johnson said on a call with investors last year. Artists such as Beyoncé and West play a key role in helping to dictate what’s cool. It’s one reason Puma teamed up with singer Rihanna on a sneaker line, which also proved successful.

These celebrity collaborations tend to be more effective at creating hype than driving sales, since the products are usually released in limited quantities. Even so, Matt Powell, vice president and sports industry analyst for research firm NPD Group, believes Adidas’ partnership with Beyoncé should prove valuable. It could, for instance, help it make inroads with women, who have been historically underserved by sports brands.

“If you look at fashion apparel versus athletic apparel, or fashion footwear versus athletic footwear, the women’s portion of the fashion businesses are much larger than the men’s portion,” Powell explains. “When we move over to look at athletic, the men’s piece is much bigger than the women’s piece.” Adidas’s new partnership with Beyoncé could boost the women’s side of that equation. “When Puma signed Rihanna, their women’s business turned around, and I’m sure that Beyoncé is going to have a positive impact on Adidas as well, even if it’s not hugely commercial in terms of real dollars sold,” Powell says.

Adidas may have a strategy in mind to tap the commercial potential of the collaboration as well, though. For years Adidas only released small quantities of new styles in the Yeezy line it has with West, maintaining the scarcity that keeps them desirable. But recently it has scaled up the distribution of older styles, allowing it to cash in on those while keeping new releases limited. So far at least, it’s worked. NPD, which tracks sneaker sales for most of the US wholesale market, recently reported that the Yeezy Boost 350 v2 ranked among the top 10 sneakers in sales in 2018. It was the only Adidas shoe to make the list, which didn’t include any performance sneakers or signature shoes from current pro athletes.