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Big Sports Mean Big Money for Brands

As the world begins to open up, many consumers have been most eagerly awaiting the return of sports.

Leagues like the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) will close out their latest seasons this spring, and viewers are likely crossing their fingers that next season’s games will bear a closer resemblance to the events they’ve enjoyed in the past.

But after many long months spent in lockdown, shoppers are gunning to reprise their fandom, and brands are taking note.

MLB x Ralph Lauren

On Monday, Ralph Lauren announced a new partnership with MLB, launching three limited collections in partnership with three of baseball’s most well-loved teams.

The first capsule—which includes Polo shirts, satin jackets, fleece sweatshirts and New Era baseball caps for adults and kids—will feature the color ways and logos of the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, and St. Louis Cardinals, the brand said. Future collections will include merch repping the Boston Red Sox and others.

The line of goods was inspired by the designer’s own love of America’s favorite pastime, it added, noting that the billionaire fashion mogul idolized Yankees icons like Mickey Mantle. To honor the company’s 50th anniversary in 2018, Lauren was asked to throw the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium. A limited-edition Yankees x Ralph Lauren collection, which launched at the time, sold out instantly, it said.

The Americana-inspired label’s newest offering stays true to its heritage even as it exalts baseball’s best, blending Ralph Lauren color ways like navy and forest green with the teams’ own signature hues. Ralph Lauren has also designed team-themed Polo Bear shirts and sweatshirts, featuring the brand’s teddy bear mascot.

To kick off the collection’s release, Ralph Lauren has commissioned wallscapes and artist murals in the cities where the sports teams are located, and the company’s Airstream trailer will embark on a cross-country tour, offering ballpark-themed concessions at locales like Chicago’s Gallagher Way near legendary Wrigley Field.

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Available on RalphLauren.com and select brand-owned stores, as well as MLBShop.com, the MLB Flagship store in New York City, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and select specialty stores across the globe, the pieces range in price from $49.50 to $498. Two follow-up capsules are already slated for the fall and holiday seasons, the brand said.

Rawlings x Wolverine

As a 138-year-old outdoor footwear and workwear label, Wolverine is also betting on the baseball bug this spring, having announced a collaboration with heritage catcher’s mitt maker Rawlings.

To celebrate Father’s Day, the two American brands have teamed up to create the Rawlings x 1000 Mile collaboration boot, which honors baseball and the bonding moments it serves to create between fathers and families by updating a Wolverine favorite. Crafted with the same Chicago-tanned Horween leather used to make Rawlings baseball gloves, the 1000 Mile boots—made to withstand years of wear and tear—are designed to bend and stretch over time, conforming to the wearer’s foot for a perfect fit.

“The shared passion that both Wolverine and Rawlings have for high-quality craftsmanship and celebrating beloved American pastimes with families, fans, and players are at the heart of this collaboration,” Tom Kennedy, Wolverine’s global brand president, explained. “These limited-edition boots tell a story of timeless quality and durability just like your favorite glove, paying homage to the great game of baseball.”

“I love that these boots make it possible to bring that same nostalgia off the field and into everyday life,” he added.

The lace-up ankle boot silhouette features a red Rawlings tag on the tongue, numbering on the collar that mimics that found on the baseball glove, a red contrasting heel and stitching, and two pairs of laces that mirror those found in baseball gloves.

“We take pride in creating iconic Rawlings gloves that people of all ages create memories and forge bonds with,” Eric Reinsfelder, the company’s senior licensing director, said. “Our team is excited that we found a partnership in Wolverine that allows us to bring the same level of quality we guarantee in our gloves in the form of a premium boot that baseball lovers and players alike can enjoy.” The limited-edition boot, which retails for $400, will be available for purchase June 1 on Wolverine.com/Rawlings.

NBA x Hugo Boss

Basketball fans have a reason to tune into Hugo Boss‘ latest drop, as the all-American brand selected Golden State Warriors power forward and three-time league champion Draymond Green as the face of two NBA-themed apparel collections.

The spring line, which launched in February, featured Green along with a cast of other notables, like NBA G League forward Isaiah “Zay” Todd, Grammy-nominated rap artist Aminé, and jewelry designer Greg Yuna. The line includes co-branded products like long and short-sleeve hooded sweatshirts, crew neck sweatshirts, long and short-sleeve T-shirts, sweatpants and shorts bearing the NBA’s signature logo along with the emblems of its famed teams, including the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors.

“Partnering with the NBA and working with NBA star Draymond Green, offers us the ability to design regional and national relevant products for BOSS with the best teams and talent that basketball has to offer globally,” said Ingo Wilts, Hugo Boss’ chief brand officer.

Available in North and South America exclusively at Boss stores, Boss.com, NBAStore.com and across wholesalers like Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, the range retails for $88-$178. A second collection will launch in October, the brand said.

“Inspiring our customers with new and compelling stories that cater to their needs is our top priority,” Stephan Born, Boss’ Americas CEO and president, added. “This is why the collaboration with the NBA is a great opportunity for Boss to offer products that increase brand awareness and equity in the U.S. At the same time, it strengthens the important casualwear segment.”

Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler for Rhone

Menswear DTC Rhone has bought into the basketball craze as well, bringing on NBA star Jimmy Butler as an investor and business partner. The Miami Heat forward will serve as a creative collaborator, influencing the brand’s direction through a multi-year partnership.

According to Rhone, Butler will have a hand in the design and marketing of the brand’s forthcoming lines, and will help lead community outreach programs like a summer basketball clinic for underserved kids. The baller will also spearhead his own vertical within the brand’s existing assortment, and contribute to Rhone’s social channels including its content platform, The Pursuit.

“Rhone’s partnership with Jimmy is a first for the brand, and we are very excited to work with him on multiple facets of the company, as we push forward in our commitment to revolutionizing the menswear space,” Nate Checketts, the company’s CEO and co-founder, said in a statement. “Jimmy contributes a strong
perspective and is a natural fit for Rhone due to his entrepreneurial spirit, intense work-ethic, passion for the greater good, and comfortable cutting-edge aesthetic.”

Checketts added that the deal highlights a “new era of celebrity partnerships for brands” as Butler will not just be a recognizable face, but a force behind brand strategy.

“I’m thrilled to join Rhone not only as the face of the brand, but as a true business partner in high quality and thoughtfully-made performance apparel,” Butler added. “The opportunity to play an active role in the development of Rhone is something I’m passionate about and looking forward to accelerating the growth of an incredible company.”

NBA x Louis Vuitton, Take Two

Meanwhile, LVMH-owned luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton is doubling down on its collaborative partnership with the NBA, which launched in January last year. The relationship is slated to last three years, the brands said at the time.

The partnership kicked off with a Louis Vuitton-branded Larry O’Brien Trophy case that was gifted to the NBA Finals winners, the Los Angeles Lakers, in June, followed by a fall release of high-fashion gear that  included blazers, leather bomber jackets, cardigans, button-down shirts, sweaters, T-shirts, trousers, sweats, leather goods like travel bags, dop kits and backpacks.

The new pre-fall 2021 collection, slated to launch May 28, was also spearheaded by menswear artistic director and Off-White creative head Virgil Abloh, who called it an exploration of “our collective memories of the two cultural institutions”—Louis Vuitton and the NBA— “around the time of 1990s’ basketball mania.” According to the fashion house, the line celebrates the game and its diverse cast of charismatic characters.

Certain pieces, like a blouson, shorts, keepall adorned with sport-themed iconography, and a basketball produced by sporting goods company Wilson, were designed alongside Chicago-based streetwear designer Don Crawley. “[Don C] in my canon is the modern godfather of luxury of a new type, the fusion with the linage of sport,” Abloh wrote in an Instagram post.

According to Louis Vuitton, this second collection was designed to reflect players’ complete wardrobes, reflecting “the three dress modes of a basketball player: travel, game, and press conference.”

Casualwear defines the travel aesthetic, the brand said, taking shape through a relaxed blouson and trouser quilted with a classic Louis Vuitton floral motif, a hoodie with corresponding shorts, and a technical parka with performance trousers. On game days, the brand sees players in informal shirting and graphic shorts bearing the Louis Vuitton emblem in varsity-style lettering. For press conferences, Abloh and team infused formal suiting with a 1990s boxy sensibility, paired with a sleek overcoat. Meanwhile, an embellished bomber nods to the jackets frequently worn by players throughout the era.

The collection also features leather bags, like ball pouches and carriers, along with keepalls featuring grained leather that evokes the feeling of a basketball. Some styles even feature netting inspired by basketball hoops.