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Carl Banks and GIII Sports’ Plan to Revive Starter

Former NFL linebacker Carl Banks and GIII Sports have laid the bricks of a solid business strategy to revitalize the iconic Starter brand. 

John Collins

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After a successful career as an All-Pro linebacker in the NFL, former New York Giants great Carl Banks continues to be a hard-hitter in the sports industry — only now it’s in the sports apparel and licensing space.

Banks, the president of GIII Sports, actually got his start as a businessman early, originally getting involved in the sports apparel realm while he was still active in the game.

“Long story short, the NFL and NBA gave me a license to do big and tall suede-only leather jackets while I was still playing in the league. After I proved myself and that I could help define a market — as nobody was really doing leather sports jackets at that time — they wanted me to expand and make it a real business,” Banks recalled.

That led to Banks getting the rights for all regular sizes and outerwear categories. Through more growth and success, he came to the realization that he could actually scale his business, inspiring the creation of the current company GIII Sports. Positioned as a leading sports apparel manufacturer and licensee, GIII Sports currently produces licensed apparel for the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, and NCAA, and has “redefined the sports license apparel industry,” as the company website states.

“This is just what I’m passionate about; wanting to create products that capture the spirit of sports and that team energy in a fashionable, trendy way,” Banks said.

What started as a small licensing deal for with the NFL and NBA for leather jackets laid the foundation for Banks and GIII Sports to emerge as the industry leaders they are today. Crucial to that success has been the company’s emphasis on making sure all of their products stay true to their mission of being “fashion first.”

“We’re fashion-athletic; and notice the fashion first,” Banks mentioned. GIII sets itself apart by using a combination of creative designs, high-quality fabrics, and a rapt attention to detail that enables the consistent production of trendy, fashionable apparel.

“We’re different in that we focus on producing merchandise that sports fans can wear in everyday life while still representing their favorite players, teams, and leagues,” Banks explained. “It’s sport gear, but in a fashionable way.”

Big things are continuing to happen for Banks and the company, especially with his work reviving the quintessential Starter brand.

“Our Starter gear is now the official apparel for the Alliance of American Football League,” Banks said, “bringing the traditional brand back to the sidelines where it belongs.”

Started in 1971 by David Beckerman, the Starter brand hit it big in the ’80s and ’90s, earning annual revenues that reached as high as $400 million. Musicians, athletes, and celebrities flocked to its classic jackets, and the gear became a fixture in the sports merchandise industry and the larger fashion culture.

Yet things got rough toward the end of the ’90s, and after Major League Baseball’s strike in 1994 and the NHL lockout, Starter found itself in troubled waters. Without games actually being played, it was much more difficult for the company to bill itself as the “authentic apparel” of leagues that people weren’t actually seeing.

By 1999, Starter had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, detailing over $120 million in losses owed to creditors. At that point, the company changed hands a number of times, and became much more focused on simple athletic wear, like compression shirts and socks, which is a far cry from the satin jackets and officials licensed merchandise that had made Starter such an iconic brand.

Now, Banks is working to get Starter back to the lofty status it had once held, rolling out a number of interesting initiatives centered around GIII Sports’ Starter brand revival. There are going to be special tie-ins for Thursday Night Football and the NFL’s London Games, as well as the launch of an official women’s line — all of which Banks is incredibly excited about.

GIII Sports’ success speaks to Banks’ ability to take lessons learned from his time in the National Football League off the field, and implement them in the sports business industry. 

A Communication major from the University of Southern California, with eclectic experience in the sports, business, and the entertainment industry, John Collins is the baseball writer at Front Office Sports. An avid sports fan and highly opinionated writer, John is of the firm belief that Bull Durham is far superior to Field of Dreams and looks forward to you telling him otherwise. Reach out: John@frntofficesport.com any time!

Fashion

Mizzen+Main Looks to Continue Sports Push With Murray, Mickelson

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Photo credit: Mizzen+Main

As a growing company, Mizzen+Main is quick and nimble, which are good attributes for a retailer that works with athletes.

Case in point: This week the apparel company launched a $44, 44-hour sale to celebrate Phil Mickelson’s 44th PGA Tour victory last weekend at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Mickelson is a partner athlete of Mizzen+Main, which makes performance menswear, including button-down dress shirts, pullovers, henleys and t-shirts. 

Mizzen+Main CMO Stephanie Swingle said similar promotions could be right around the corner.

“Stay tuned. We try to be ready, and as a smaller company we can be reactive,” Swingle said. “We’re always coming up with exciting ideas.”

Mizzen+Main also got a nice boost this week when Kyler Murray made his long-anticipated announcement he’d focus on a football career. Murray is also an athlete partner of Mizzen+Main.

READ MORE: Swet Tailor Success Buoyed By Modern Athlete’s Fashion Preferences

“As with any brand partnership, relevance helps and we are lucky to have partnered with him at this exciting part of his career,”  Swingle said.

The established Mickelson and upstart Murray provide Mizzen+Main a great diversity in athlete representation, a mixture Swingle said is important to the brand as it broke tradition when the company launched an all-new product designed for a modern consumer.

“Mizzen+Main is by far the most comfortable dress shirt I’ve ever worn,” Murray said. “The shirts stretch when you move, and you don’t have to worry about wrinkles or showing any sweat. They are really changing the game in what to wear when you want to look good and feel good at the same time.”

The brand was started in 2012 when founder and CEO Kevin Lavelle was interning in Washington, D.C. and saw a guy running into a meeting, dress shirt drenched in sweat. The hustle showed it was an important meeting, but also left him looking less than dapper.

“Kevin knew performance fabrics powered the world’s best athletes, so why not pull that into traditional items?” Swingle said. “He wore it home one day and his wife didn’t realize he was wearing a prototype. That’s when he knew he had something to start a business.”

The brand then grew organically for the next several years and eventually partnered with Houston Texan JJ Watt, who was already a fan of the brand.

“Anytime you tell a customer about a new product, you need to have credibility of someone they respect and look up to,” Swingle said. “At scale, it’s wonderful to have an athlete.”

Once the shirts hit the market, athletes were among the first consumers to grab them off the shelves. Swingle said there are more than 1,000 professional athletes wearing the shirts. She said they reach players in a variety of ways, including a VIP Athlete Coordinator who manages athlete outreach and knows a lot of players are fans as they do notice recognizable names come across Shopify.

The athlete coordinator also goes to events, like MLB Spring Training, golf events and other major sporting events throughout the year to sell directly to the athletes.

It’s at those events and on social media channels that Mizzen+Main representatives can see the athlete grassroots marketing in action.

READ MORE: Puma Plants Flag in Hoops World With Full All-Star Calendar

“We love to tap into some of the conversations they have with each other,” Swingle said. “We see the impact directly at Spring Training when one athlete brings in another and talks about how it’s their favorite dress shirt.

“That really helps us have that organic spread and as a brand, that feels amazing.”

This year, the brand further expanded its product line with items like polo shirts and pullovers and wants to continue to spread the word “that we are the best damn dress shirt,” Swingle said.

Right now, Swingle said the official endorsement focus will be on Mickelson and Murray, but the more than 1,000 other professional athletes will remain a core focus while building out Mizzen+Main’s customer base.

“Our products are very comfortable and low maintenance for a great lifestyle,” Swingle said. “Athletes are great way to showcase the brand as a natural way to break through and deliver credibility and show how products aren’t just designed for the golf course but the office.”

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Nike’s Focus is on Fitness with New Yoga Line

With its newest yoga collection, Nike’s focus is on fitness and function.

Front Office Sports

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Image via Nike

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

Yoga is a big business.

According to The Good Body, there are over 6,000 yoga studios nationwide and 36 million people who practice Yoga in the U.S. alone. Expanding that out internationally, The Good Body believes there are 300 million people who do yoga around the world. 

In the U.S. alone, Americans spend $16 billion on yoga classes, clothing, equipment, and accessories each year.

Given that number, it’s easy to see why a brand like Nike would be diving deeper into the yoga market.

After releasing a new apparel collection created specifically for yoga, including its first-ever men’s yoga line, we caught up with Josh Benedek, Media Relations Director for Nike, to see what this move means and how they are positioning themselves in a crowded market.

On yoga as a fitness tool…


”Our goal is to offer innovative products and services for the entire spectrum of training activities, from high intensity to lower impact, to enable all athletes to achieve their ambitions. We have historically had a significant portfolio of offerings for a higher impact workout, from the iconic Nike Metcon footwear to Nike Pro apparel, and are excited to offer new mindfully designed silhouettes for the yoga athlete to help them reach a new level of athletic performance and mental strength through their practice.”



On use of athletes and influencers…


”We used NFL linebacker Khalil Mack, Track & Field athlete Christian Coleman, NBA players Kevin Love and Channing Frye, skateboarder Korahn Gayle and some of our male Nike Master Trainers in the creative to launch the line. We will continue to use our trainers and athletes to promote the line throughout the year and beyond.”

The focus is on fitness, not athleisure…
”There’s a secret workout weapon that many competitive athletes have in their sport-performance arsenal: yoga. We designed this collection to celebrate the athleticism of yoga, with a clean, distraction-free aesthetic that offers comfort, versatility, support and ease of mobility during common yoga poses and flows. Nike believes yoga can help you reach another level of athletic performance and mental strength, so it is more functional.”

READ MORE: Nike Turns App Into Store With First SNKRS Pop-Up in Atlanta

The focus is on fitness, not athleisure…


“There’s a secret workout weapon that many competitive athletes have in their sport-performance arsenal: yoga. We designed this collection to celebrate the athleticism of yoga, with a clean, distraction-free aesthetic that offers comfort, versatility, support and ease of mobility during common yoga poses and flows. Nike believes yoga can help you reach another level of athletic performance and mental strength, so it is more functional.”

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

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New NBA Sneaker Rule Opens Up a Rainbow of Opportunities

Experts weigh in on the buzz around the NBA’s announcement that players can now sport sneakers of any color, for any game this season.

Bailey Knecht

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The NBA — known for its bright lights, highlight-reel plays, and big personalities — has added another vibrant aspect to its Hollywood-like culture. The league has relaxed its sneaker policy and will allow players to wear shoes in the color of their choice for any games in the upcoming season.  

“It’s been nothing but positive [reactions] from players, to people within industry, to fans and sneakerheads,” said Matt Halfhill, founder of Nice Kicks. “I think this is a great thing.”

“All the brands are already working on loud and crazy, colorful stuff,” added Nick DePaula, NBA feature writer at ESPN and creative director at Nice Kicks. DePaula was the first to break the news, which spurred immediate reactions from players and fans on social media.

The news quickly spurred comparisons to other professional leagues, where players are considered to have less freedom.

“Immediately after I tweeted the story, the biggest line of feedback was people making fun of the NFL and tagging NFL players to point out the league’s approach and how they allow different expressions in their shoes on the field and court,” DePaula said. “We’ve seen the NBA in terms of how they treat social issues and encourage players to take stances. Obviously, sneakers are a less impactful part of that, but it’s definitely one element in terms of allowing players to be creative and expressive.”

In years’ past, black, white or team colors were the mandate, save for a number of “theme games” per season, during which players could break out their colorful kicks. Now, players have total power when it comes to colorways.

“Sneakers are one of the few items that these elite players have that average Joes can have. Sneakers are a way to connect to these players, and for a lot of people, there’s a really deep personal story.” – Matt Halfhill, founder of Nice Kicks.

“Equipment managers provide season-long schedules of uniforms, and in the past, they’ve coordinated sneaker schedules with big games,” DePaula said. “Now, it’s going to next level where if, for example, Mike Conley from the Grizzlies plays in Cleveland, he can wear Ohio State tribute sneakers.”

That ability to show off their personality on the court is particularly important for NBA players, according to Victoria Jacobi, who works in brand consulting and athlete relations.

“Especially in the basketball world, even those guys who don’t have a sneaker deal and their own design, it kind of gives them a platform to showcase their fashion style,” she said. “They can send a message on the court…On that level, it’s become its own phenomenon, and it’s getting more important now. The NBA gives you that platform to pick and choose and do your own thing.”

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Sneakers also give fans the opportunity to show off their own style and relate to players; the entire sneakerhead phenomenon is fueled by fans’ desire to feel a connection to the players, according to Halfhill.

“Sneakers are one of the few items that these elite players have that average Joes can have,” Halfhill said. “I guess they both have iPhones, but other than that, their watches, cars, and closets are not the same as ours — except the sneakers. Sneakers are a way to connect to these players, and for a lot of people, there’s a really deep personal story.”

For the media — particularly sneaker blogs and popular outlets like Nice Kicks — the rule change opens up a whole new world of opportunities when it comes to sneaker coverage.

“There might be that much more interest across the board, across all media, because of the nightly interest,” DePaula said, pointing to the extensive coverage that LeBron James received last season as he debuted 51 unique versions of his LeBron 15 shoes. “There was so much interest in real time and on Instagram.”

SEE MORE: Zach Harper on the NBA, Soup, and Finding His Professional Way

“What players wear on the court has always been big part of Nice Kicks, especially with our Kicks on Court column, which tracks what NBA players are wearing,” Halfhill added. “As we started gaining visibility, NBA guys were hitting us up directly, and they first got in touch with us over sneakers. There became an internal competition on who wore the greatest shoes, and Kicks on Court is still one of our biggest columns. The sneakerhead culture was underground, and now it’s mainstream.”

The new policy also creates endless opportunities for vibrant PEs, particularly for players that may not play for teams with traditionally popular colors.

“I think this whole color restriction lift will be helpful for smaller market guys and guys that Nike may not work as much with their colorways, like Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Russell Westbrook,” DePaula said. “The Milwaukee Bucks and OKC, historically, their colors aren’t particularly good sellers in terms of colorways. That could be something that helps them out, and also for smaller markets like Orlando and teams like that.”

SEE MORE: WNBA Teams Find Success Through Creative Partnerships

Jacobi pointed to a number of players in small markets who could benefit from more opportunities for multi-colored shoes, especially those who are known for their flashy sense of style like Westbrook and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns.

“It doesn’t matter where they are, these guys are adopting this fashion culture,” she said. “They travel enough and see enough of the world to apply it wherever they want.”

DePaula also mentioned that, although most eyes may be on Nike, which was worn by about 68 percent of the league in 2017-18, the policy change also gives brands like Adidas, Under Armour and Puma an opportunity to thrive. Those organizations each outfitted less than 20 percent of the NBA’s players last season, but they all have the chance to make waves with the new creative freedom.

Given all the buzz around the announcement, it’s clear that sneakers represent a lot more than just some leather and rubber stitched together. They have the power to communicate messages that are much greater than basketball, and it’s safe to assume those messages will be even bigger and brighter this season.

“This is where the personality is going to live,” Halfhill said. “I think sneakers are a great canvas. You can tell a lot of stories through colors and materials, and make a lot of statements. When you lace up a certain shoe, there’s a statement being made.”

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