At one point in time, tennis shoes were sold with endorsements from actual tennis stars—and in 1973 Adidas did exactly that by signing the world’s top-ranked tennis athlete, Stan Smith—now, 45 years later, Adidas and Smith have signed a lifetime deal it calls a “perpetual, legacy partnership.”
The news of the lifetime partnership comes after the release of Smith’s memoir, Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe, which was published in August. The book celebrates the evolution of the popular sneaker and its influence on global culture, while giving a sardonic nod to the fact that the shoe, itself, has likely surpassed the endorser in fame and relevance over the years.
According to an ESPN interview, the tennis legend was largely unaware of his status as a footwear icon until the early 2000s, when hip-hop artists, like Jay-Z, began to reference his shoe in their works. Smith, who was being paid a flat fee for his likeness, renegotiated the deal to include royalties in 2005. In 2014, after a two-year hiatus and a relaunch, Adidas revealed that the Stan Smith was the all-time best-selling shoe for the company.
“A celebration of both a tennis icon and the ultimate classic white leather sneaker, the partnership represents a commitment to support the ongoing development of Adidas products bearing the Stan Smith name and image in perpetuity,” Adidas said in a statement.
Adidas Originals, a heritage line within Adidas that champions retro styles and continues to use the classic three-leafed “Trefoil” logo, currently handles the Stan Smith line and brokered the lifetime appointment with Smith. In 2017, Adidas reported that its Originals divisions saw double-digit sales growth, although 2018 has seen that growth normalize. Torben Schumacher, the general manager of Adidas Originals, acknowledged just how important Smith and the shoe have been for the brand.
“The Stan Smith is one of our most iconic and recognizable classic white leather sneaker styles,” Schumacher said. “Its timeless design has transcended across generations. The sneaker has been an integral part of the Originals history and will continue to leave have a lasting impact in the years to come.”
To commemorate the relationship between Adidas Originals and Smith, the shoemaker released a limited-edition sneaker drop earlier in December called “Stan Forever” that came with messages rendered in Smith’s handwriting and a golden-threaded “Stan Smith” decal to differentiate itself from the minimalist classic.
Originals have become an important factor in Adidas’ business plan in recent years. Adidas Originals opened flagship stores in New York in 2016 and Chicago in 2017. With retro and chunky sneakers consistently winning in the casual and lifestyle footwear sectors, Adidas stands to benefit from the trend, especially considering it was the driving force behind many popular retro styles, like the Stan Smith, when they were new styles.
Typically, lifetime deals for athletes occur during the prime of their careers and the height of their interest-driving power—see the NBA’s Lebron James’ and soccer superstar Christiano Ronaldo’s lifetime contracts with Nike. Brands have had less interest in athletic endorsements in recent years as performance apparel has given way to athleisure and lifestyle options. However, when signing stars the likes of James and Ronaldo, locking them down for life can have a large effect when it comes to brand prestige.
This is likely the thinking behind Smith’s deal, although his prestige is inextricably linked to the overwhelming popularity of the vintage silhouette that comes along with it. Still, Smith is not the only retired star whose name is being co-opted to endorse an old-fashioned style. Fila also inked a lifetime deal with retired NBA legend Grant Hill this October to help revive the brand’s retro sneakers.