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Demand for Retro Styles Boost Basketball Footwear Sales 21%

Basketball stars might be large in stature, but the sport’s footwear sales were even bigger last year. The NPD Group reported that basketball footwear sales were up 21 percent, a notable increase in an athletic footwear market that was down 4 percent overall from April 2013 to April 2014.

Specifically, the global information company said basketball performance footwear sales grew by 12 percent from $1.63 billion to $1.83 billion. Sales for basketball-inspired footwear–product that shifted from performance to lifestyle, also known as “classics”–was up 9 percent from $1.34 billion to $1.45 billion. Overall, NPD Group said the dollar share of basketball-related footwear accounted for a quarter of all athletic footwear combined.

The top-performing basketball footwear brands based on dollar share were Air Jordan, Nike, Adidas and Reebok, the latter which shifted the direction of its performance program in 2013 to focus solely on retro-inspired styles.

In terms of design, nostalgia ruled on and off the court in 2013. From Fila to Ewing Athletics, Matt Halfhill, founder and publisher of, said it is a good time for brands and styles that came onto the scene in the ’90s. “There were so many great storylines in the NBA this season from an exciting playoffs and finale to the sport growing globally. I think we’ll look back in a decade and compare the season closely to the sport’s heyday in the ’90s,” he said.

Fila vice president of footwear design and advanced concepts Mark Eggert agreed: “That is where most of our juice is coming from, and I think the demand for that decade of basketball footwear is part of a broader ’90s revival happening in fashion.”

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Fila has reaped the benefits of having an extensive basketball archive. Eggert said the buzz around Fila’s retro lifestyle packages started last year with the reintroduction of the Stackhouse, a basketball performance shoe Fila launched with player Jerry Stackhouse in 1995. The company has more ’90s-era relaunches in the pipeline for 2014.

With the resurgence of retro models, Colin Brickley, Asics lifestyle sales and marketing manager, said there was no better time to dust off the brand’s Isiah Thomas GEL-Spotlyte. The shoe from 1992 was reissued this year. “We had an overwhelming amount of requests to bring back the GEL-Spotlyte as it was one of the first mid-top basketball models and Isiah had a ton of input on the design and development of the shoe,” Brickley explained, adding that the lightweight model was an anomaly as most of the basketball shoes of that era were heavy and overbuilt. “I think that is why the sneaker-heads gravitated towards it,” he noted.

On the performance end, Marshal Cohen, NPD Group chief industry analyst, named the colors, styles, innovation and launches in basketball footwear this year the reason for its high level of growth. “The basketball segment is capitalizing on brand and star power performance, which is working to its advantage. On top of that, all of these features put together add greater appeal and diversify basketball footwear’s place in the market. Consumers, whether shoe enthusiasts or not, are drawn to the product launches and styles, which are driving basketball footwear sales today,” Cohen said.

The NPD Group revealed that the three fasting growing U.S. footwear markets during the same period were Atlanta, Philadelphia and Dallas. Large cities, home to exclusive sneaker boutiques, national chains and athletic specialty stores continue to be major markets for the basketball category, however, televised events like the 2014 NBA Draft, which drew more than three million viewers making it the most-watched NBA Draft since 1995, is helping to widen the sport’s audience.

“The strength of the basketball shoe market in large cities is undeniable, but it’s not only consumers in the larger urban markets that are buying into this craze. Consumers are reaching out from all corners of the U.S. to get in on the action. This category has universal appeal across the country,” Cohen stated.

In regards to the next big thing, Brickley quipped that Asics’ Spring ’15 catalog could be mistaken as one from the early ’90s. “You even see high fashion brands like Givenchy and Comme des Garçons relying heavily on ’90s design cues and color schemes,” he explained.

Halfhill warned that basketball trends are just as cyclical as fashion trends–and that the basketball community likes to keep people guessing. “We’ve seen styles come back that were once considered too expensive to reproduce, or didn’t have enough appeal, but that is all changing,” he said.

On a court overrun with throwback basketball styles, a team of 2014 performance launches from Air Jordan, Nike and Adidas might be the rebound that keeps the footwear category in the game. After all, as Halfhill put it: “One big problem brands need to consider is that they are running out of heritage product. You can only reintroduce a shoe so many times.”