Puma Teams Up With Jay-Z to Establish a Basketball Presence

Posted June 19, 2018 4:55 p.m. EDT

Jay-Z has been named the creative director for Puma basketball, in the latest high-profile celebrity partnership for the German sportswear company.

Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, said in an interview Tuesday that Jay-Z, whose company Roc Nation has worked with Puma since 2013, would consult on product creation and marketing strategy. The rapper has been hired to help drive the company’s strategy as it returns to the basketball market after exiting nearly two decades ago.

A spokeswoman for Roc Nation declined a request for comment from Jay-Z.

Puma has had a strong year. Now the brand is looking to distinguish itself from competitors like Nike, which still dominates the sneaker marketplace, by elevating the importance of off-court style in its basketball shoes and apparel. In partnering with Jay-Z, Puma has signaled its commitment to a familiar strategy: letting big-name celebrities steer its brand.

In 2013, Solange Knowles (the rapper’s sister-in-law who was signed to Roc Nation at the time) was made an art director and creative consultant at Puma. The following year, Rihanna became the brand’s creative director. Two years later, the company boasted that the partnership had contributed to significant growth.

Since then, Puma has collaborated with a range of A-listers, including Kylie Jenner, Selena Gomez, The Weeknd and Cara Delevingne, as well as the rappers Big Sean, Nipsey Hussle and Yo Gotti.

Petrick said that Puma’s relationship with Rihanna helped the company understand how best to work with high-profile collaborators: Give them the ball and get out of the way.

“She was the one that kind of pioneered a lot of the ways we work,” he said. “It was so focused on her, what she wanted to do and listening to her. Her ideas were so strong.”

Jay-Z, who once owned a share of the Brooklyn Nets but whose primary domain is music, will play a similar role for the company.

Before announcing that it would resurrect its basketball division in March, Puma’s last basketball endorsement contract was with Vince Carter, in 1998, before his rookie season with the then-lowly Toronto Raptors. Puma’s basketball brand is most closely associated with Clyde Frazier, the former New York Knick who last played in 1979 and whose “Clyde” shoes with Puma were the first signature basketball sneakers.

As of August, Nike controlled about 50 percent of the U.S. athletic footwear market, while Adidas controlled 11 percent, according to the NPD Group. Nike had long boasted having both the best-selling and second best-selling athletic footwear brands, with its Nike and Jordan brands, but Adidas saw strong growth thanks to partnerships with Kanye West and James Harden. Now Adidas is in second place.

Puma is not just nibbling around the edges of basketball endorsement contracts. It has signed three players who could be among the top picks in Thursday’s NBA draft. Deandre Ayton is expected to be chosen in the top two, Marvin Bagley III in the top five, and Zhaire Smith might sneak into the bottom of the lottery.

According to The Athletic, Bagley’s deal will be the largest rookie shoe contract since Nike signed Kevin Durant for $60 million in 2007 in a seven-year agreement. He will likely earn more from his endorsement contract than he does from his NBA rookie contract.

One thing that may have attracted players to Puma is a higher chance of obtaining a signature shoe. While dozens of rookies sign endorsement contracts, only about 10 players — including LeBron James, Kevin Durant and James Harden — have signature shoes with either Nike or Adidas.

“I want to try to be the rookie coming in with his first signature shoe as early as possible,” Ayton told Bleacher Report.

While Ayton and Bagley in particular are promising players, Petrick emphasized that Puma was looking for more than just athletic talent in its partnerships.

“We’re looking for players who have something extra,” he said. “We are looking for players who have a sense of style, who feel comfortable and confident in their own style choices on and off the court. That’s the territory we’re trying to explore.”