“Nike Effect” Working, Shares Sit Just Below All-Time High

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Nike’s (NKE) transformation from wholesaler to mobile-first DTC retailers has been successful (+16% YoY in ’17 vs. overall corporate growth +6% YoY) and the company’s market cap ($118.84 billion) continues to rise as a result, despite recent C-level turnover. Dubbed the “Nike Effect” by CEO Mark Parker, the revamped strategy has NKE focusing on just 40 retailers while prioritizing its direct to consumer sales channels (think: storefronts, nike.com, Nike app, SNKRs app). Nike uses the data collected from its 100 million “members” to create a more personalized/rewarding shopping experience on those channels and to identify underserved demographic groups (think: females). Wedbush analyst Cristopher Svezia recently wrote that he expects Nike’s DTC sales to “push overall sales into positive territory in fiscal 2019.”

Howie Long-Short: Nike decision to control the means of distribution has helped the company alter its image with “sneakerheads”, which soured when the company began to overproduce its most desirable lines (i.e. Jordan). The lack of buzz surrounding the brand contributed to the loss of market share it experienced in 2017 (-1.6% to 32.9%). While limited edition drops make up a small portion of Nike sales (+/- 5%), the enthusiasm generated by the company’s most engaged consumers helps the perception of the brand and leads to mainstream consumer sales.

The “Nike Effect” has been validated by a “significant reversal of trend in North America”, growth in DTC sales and improved international sales (+24% YOY in China, +19% in Middle East and Africa) as the company beat analyst expectations (revenue + 7% to $8.98 billion) in fiscal Q3 ‘18.Shares closed at $71.31 on Tuesday, just below their all-time $72.19.

Unfortunately, Nike’s old brick and mortar partners (think: FL, FINL) have struggled to replace the revenue Nike product generated. FINL reported same store sales declined -7.9% in Q4 ’17, while FL reported same store sales were down -3.7% during that same period. FL will report Q1 ’18 financials on Friday 5.25.

Fan Marino: Limited edition Nike sneakers (including Jordans) are distributed through Nike’s SNKRs app (separate from NIKE app), a digital platform that gamifies (including a virtual queue) the shopping experience for company’s most wanted products. On June 23rd, SNKRs will have one of this summer’s most highly anticipated sneaker drops, the Travis Scott “Cactus Jack” Air Jordan 4. While the shoes will retail for $225, the current asking price on GOAT is $2,015; so, unless you have a lot of cash to burn, make sure to download the app, have your credit card information stored and be ready for the alert at 10a on 6.23.

Fun Fact: Prior to being acquired by NKE (in ’16) and rebranded as SNKRs, the community building and shopping app was named “Virgin Mega” and backed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. Financial terms of that deal were not disclosed.

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Puma Joining Wearables Sector, Sued by Nike for Patent Infringement

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Puma SE has announced it will be joining the wearables sector, signing a 10-year global licensing partnership with Fossil Group. The 2 companies will collaborate to bring Puma branded watches and smartwatches to market by the end of 2019. Fossil Group (FOSL) will design, manufacture and distribute the sport-focused line of watches, as it does for several high-end fashion labels (see: Diesel, Michael Kors). It is expected that the Fossil x Puma line will run on Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) software.

Howie Long-Short: Puma SE is a subsidiary of Kering, trading over-the-counter under the symbol PMMAF. The German athletic footwear and apparel brand reported net profit rose +36% YoY (to $82.5 million) in Q1 ’18, with sales increasing double-digits across all product categories and markets (+15.6% in U.S.). China/Asia experienced “exceptionally high growth” (+35%), while the running, training and sportstyle categories grew the fastest. In early April, with currency adjusted sales +21% YoY, PMMAF slightly increased FY18 guidance (from +10% to +10%-12%).

Puma SE’s cautious approach to entering the wearables sector (with a licensing partnership, as opposed to building their own technology) is a wise one. Both Nike and Adidas have already tried and failed, only to later sign partnerships with Fitbit (Nike) and Apple (Adidas) respectively. There’s no reason to believe Puma would have had a different result.

On a separate note, Nike is suing Puma, accusing the competitor of patent infringement in federal court. Nike alleges the unauthorized use of “Flyknit, Air and cleat assembly technologies”, related to Puma’s Ignite, The Jamming and evoSpeed SL FG products. NKE is seeking a permanent injunction and has asked that damages be awarded. Puma plans to dispute the charges and has no intention of stopping production in the interim.

Fan Marino: In other Puma news, the company announced it will become the official kit sponsor of AC Milan for the 2018-2019 season; and the official kit sponsor of Sao Paulo Palmeiras (Brazil) for the 2019 season. Those clubs join Borussia Dortmund (BORUF), Arsenal FC and the National Football Associations of Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Czech Republic and Senegal in the Puma football portfolio.

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Kyrie Only Signature Basketball Sneaker to Grow Sales in 2017, No Adidas Stars in Top 5

Kyrie

According to the NPD Group, LeBron James had the top-selling signature basketball sneaker line of 2017, as Nike continued its domination of the $1 billion performance shoe market. 73.5% of all basketball sneakers sold in 2017 were made by Nike, with that figure ballooning to 81.3% if you count pairs sold by corporate subsidiary Jordan Brand (7.8%). Kyrie Irving (Nike) had the 2nd best-selling shoe, for the 2nd year in a row; with Kevin Durant (Nike), Stephen Curry (Under Armour) and Michael Jordan (Jordan Brand) rounding out the Top 5. It should be noted that Irving was the only player on the list to grow sales YoY, as performance basketball shoe sales have declined -13% from their 2015 peak ($1.3 billion).

Howie Long-Short: Nike controls the performance basketball sneaker game, but it’s sports leisure and retro that is in fashion; which explains why Adidas (see: Stan Smith, NMD, Superstar) shares are +17.5% YTD, while Nike trails behind at +6.9%. Adidas (ADDYY) just reported Q1 ’18 revenue grew 10% YoY, with North American sales up +21% YoY; for comparison purposes, NKE sales declined -6%, UAA was flat during the 1st 3 months of the year.

It’s worth pointing out that Adidas did not have a signature basketball performance shoe among 2017’s best sellers, despite having MVP front-runner James Harden on the payroll. Derrick Rose (post injury) and Damian Lillard are 2 other guys that fail to move the needle for the company.

Fan Marino: Curry falling from 3rd in ’16 to 4th in ’17 is disappointing, if not unsurprising, news for Under Armour; which overestimated consumer demand for the Curry 4. In wake of the disappointing release, UAA performance basketball shoe sales dipped -39% in 2017. The company now controls just 12.1% of the market.

While Jordan hasn’t laced up in 15 years, the AJ32 technically counts as his signature shoe. Retro AJ models aren’t counted in signature basketball sneaker sales figures, but if they were, Jordan would be running away with 1st place. The retro market did $3 billion in 2017 sales, 3x performance; and Jordan Brand took in 65% of that revenue.

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Fanatics to Take on Nike, Adidas, Under Armour

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Aston Villa Football Club (AVFC) has announced that Fanatics, Inc. will replace Under Armour as the exclusive licensing rights holder for all club merchandise, in time for the 2018-2019 season; but, unlike traditional sports merchandising deals, the company logo will not adorn team gear. Instead, the online retailer of licensed sports apparel will negotiate separate pacts for various pieces of merchandise (think: match-day kit, practice gear, fan apparel) with multiple 3rd parties. The rising value of kit sponsorship deals for the world’s most prominent clubs and the resources required to turn a profit on those partnerships, have left second-tier clubs like Villa with little marketing attention, less merchandise to sell and inevitably depressed revenues; opening the door for a new entrant. With the deal, Villa becomes the first English club to adopt the manufacturing model used in North American sports; Fanatics will manage everything from production to point of sale (including the Villa Park store and e-commerce platforms).

Howie Long-Short: This deal is sensible from the Fanatics perspective because it requires minimal capital expenditure to enter the potentially lucrative English football market. Villa’s status as a second-tier club meant that Fanatics faced little competition for the rights; and the company already maintains production and warehousing facilities in the U.K., properties acquired in their $225 million acquisition of Majestic Athletic. It remains to be seen if the club can increase merchandise sales without a major sportswear label’s logo on their products (hint: they will be), but if successful, sponsorship rights will continue to rise as the traditional players (NKE, ADDYY) look to retain control over the apparel space. Much like cable television providers and sports broadcast rights, the current establishment can’t afford to lose their association with sports teams/leagues and still manage to hit their growth targets.

There are several ways to play Fanatics, as Bank of America (BAC), Alibaba Group Holdings (BABA) and Softbank (SFTBY) are all stakeholders. In September, Softbank invested $1 billion in to the company; bring its total valuation to $4.5 billion (or +/- 2x revenue). For comparison purposes, retailers Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) and Hibbett Sports, Inc. (HIBB) currently have market caps ($3.33 billion, $494 million); roughly half of what they generated in 2017 sales ($7.92 billion$973 million). Of course, Fanatics is far better positioned for long-term success, maintaining (among other advantages, like a DTC model) exclusive long-term licensing agreements with all the major U.S. sports leagues through at least 2030.

Fan Marino: The team’s match-day kit is going to be designed by Luke 1977, a Birmingham based (where the team plays) premium menswear brand. The company’s logo will replace Unibet on the new design. For what it’s worth, Luke 1977 was named the ’10 Young Fashion Brand of the Year, beating out Diesel, Fred Perry and Firetrap in the process.

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Nike Acquires AI Start-Up to Power “Consumer Direct Offense”

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For the 2nd time this month, Nike (NKE) has acquired a company capable of “advancing (its) capabilities in computer vision and artificial intelligence”. The technology developed by NKE’s latest purchase, Invertex, will power the company’s “consumer direct offense.” Invertex specializes in mass customization, developing 3D body scanning software that will “create the most compelling Nike consumer experience”; both in store and online. News of the purchase comes just 3 weeks after the company announced it had acquired Zodiac; a consumer data analytics firm capable of improving customer acquisition, reducing churn and enhancing the accuracy of sales forecasts. Financial terms were not disclosed on either deal.

Howie Long-Short: NKE’s desire for a “consumer direct offense” led to the formation of Nike Direct, a corporate restructuring focused on the 12 markets expected to generate 80% of corporate growth through 2020 (when it hopes to do $50 billion in sales); New York, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Barcelona, Seoul and Milan. While $50 billion remains a pie in the sky figure, the company did report a “significant reversal of trend in North America”, growth in DTC sales and improved international sales (+24% YOY in China, +19% in Middle East and Africa) as it beat analyst expectations (revenue + 7% to $8.98 billion) in fiscal Q3 ‘18.

Fan Marino: In a surprising development, the University of Washington spurned Nike following expiration of a 20-year pact, signing a 10-year, $118 million deal with Adidas; one of the 10 most lucrative apparel contracts in college athletics. The timing of the Zodiac and Invertex acquisitions give off the appearance that NKE is choosing R&D over marketing, but NKE likely made a conscious decision to pass on Washington once the deal’s total value passed $88 million; the amount they’ll pay rival (and Nike founder Phil Knight’s alma mater) Oregon, over the next 11 years.

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Nike to Remain NFL On-Field Apparel Supplier Through ‘28

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Nike has signed an 8-year extension to remain the NFL’s game-day uniform and on-field apparel supplier. The company will also continue to issue cleats and gloves to players who maintain individual endorsement deals with the brand. As part of the long-term agreement (’21-’28 seasons), Nike has agreed to participate in “several programs; including youth and player initiatives.” Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Fan Marino: It’s safe to assume the deal’s value at least matches the $1 billion commitment (over 8 years) Nike (NKE) made to the NBA in June of 2015. While NKE has the NFL and NBA under long-term contracts, Under Armour (UAA) landed MLB’s uniform contract with a 10-year commitment (no terms disclosed) in December 2016; replacing Majestic Athletic. Adidas (ADDYY) has contracts in place with both the NHL (7 years, estimated $490 million) and MLS (6 years, $700 million) through ‘24.

Howie Long-Short: The 10-year deal that MLB signed with Under Armour (UAA) was supposed to begin in 2020, but Fanatics’ May ‘17 acquisition of VF Corp’s (VFC) Licensed Sports Group (which included Majestic Athletic) expedited the timeline. Fanatics’ $225 million acquisition means that UAA and Fanatics fan gear will now be available in time for the MLB 2018 season (including the postseason dugout collection) and Under Armour uniforms will be on-field for Opening Day 2019.

As for NKE, CEO Mark Parker stated the company was experiencing a “significant reversal” in North America following a 3rd quarter where they effectively “tightened distribution” (see: Jordan brand), “accelerated innovation” (see: Russell Westbrook signature line, Justin Timberlake Super Bowl edition) and increased digital sales double digits.

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Top Nike Execs Forced Out Following #MeToo Complaints

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Nike CEO Mark Parker announced earlier this week that Trevor Edwards, thought to Parker’s heir apparent, would be resigning as brand President. Though the company did not cite specifics as to why Edwards was stepping down and “no direct allegations” have been made against him, an internal memo noted that the company would be investigating “reports of behavior occurring within our organization that do not reflect our core values of inclusivity, respect and empowerment”. According to a WSJ report, Edwards and another senior executive (Jayme Martin, who also has since been forced out) engaged in demeaning behavior towards female employees; while their underlings bullied colleagues without repercussion. Intending to communicate some leadership stability, Parker announced he’ll remain in his current role until at least 2020.

Howie Long-Short: NKE reported Q3 ’18 fiscal results after the close on Thursday. A “significant reversal of trend in North America” (attributed to React cushioning technology), growth in DTC sales (i.e. increase in gross margins) and international sales (+24% YOY in China, +19% in Middle East and Africa) highlighted a report that beat analyst expectations (revenue + 7% to $8.98 billion). Shares were up 6% in after-hours trading (as of 9:30p EST). It should be pointed out the timing of Edwards and Martin’s departures coincides with the company’s decision to increase its investment in women’s footwear and apparel.

Fan Marino: Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway became the “first signature shoe athlete” to become a head coach, taking over the job at his alma mater the University of Memphis; a fact that was not lost on Memphis head football coach Mike Norvell, who showed up at practice this week wearing a pair of blue Air Foamposite Ones in Royal. Penny has a storied relationship with Nike (see: lil’ Penny), but this hire is about winning games not retro sneakers and Hardaway can coach; he built East Memphis into a H.S. powerhouse (3 straight state titles). Now he may have his first big recruit, a 4-star named Alex Lomax. Lomax, who’s played for Hardaway since middle school, has been released from his commitment to Wichita State and is expected to sign with the Tigers. James Wiseman (a 6’11 Center), the #1 overall recruit in the Class of ’19, also played for Hardaway in both high school and on the grassroots level and is expected to consider playing for Memphis.

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Puma Re-Entering Basketball Business After 17-Year Hiatus

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Puma (PMMAF) has announced that after a 17-year hiatus, it will be re-entering the basketball business. The brand, which generates the bulk of its sales from soccer and running related products in Europe, sees “substantial upside” to building a basketball vertical within the U.S. PMMAF will also aggressively target Greater China (known for its appreciation of the sport), expecting the region to become its most lucrative market by ’22. The marketing strategy will focus on the “culture around the game”, using “culturally relevant” athletes and entertainers (as they’ve done successfully with Rihanna) to market the new product line. It must be noted that despite Puma and ADDYY’s optimism, the U.S. basketball sneaker business remains “challenged”; Foot Locker (FL) reported Q4 ‘17 comparable store sales down “high single digits” YOY for the category.

Howie Long-Short: Puma (PMMAF) wants to increase profitability, so entering a Chinese market that generates the highest profit margins in the world on sporting goods is logical. The stated goal is to lift operating profit from 5.6% in ’17 to 10% by ’22, reasonable when you consider Adidas (ADDYY) and Nike (NKE) reported profit margins of 9.8% and 13.8% respectively in 2017 (ADDYY also just raised its target to 11.5% by ’20). The announcement was made at a capital markets day where the company also announced it expects currency-adjusted consolidated net sales to grow 10% annually until 2022, plans to increase DTC sales from 23% of sales to 30% of sales (over the medium term) and a proposed dividend of 25%-35% of consolidated net earnings to begin in ’19; resulting in share prices closing +5.73% (to $504.87) on Wednesday. It should be noted that back in January, Puma’s parent company Kering S.A. (PPRUY) announced it would be spinning off the brand to focus on its high-margin luxury businesses; shares are up 32% since.

Fan Marino: The game of basketball has changed since Puma last occupied the space, most dramatically as it relates to volume 3-point shooting (see: Steph Curry, Trey Young). USA Basketball is doing what it can to prevent the next generation of basketball stars from standing on (or 5 feet behind) the 3-point line. New rules eliminate 3-point FGs for players under the age of 11, to promote shooting from a “developmentally appropriate distance”; and provide for smaller basketballs and lower baskets for younger kids. The implementation of a shot clock for grades 9-12, was the most controversial rule change enacted.

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Sneaker Companies Offering “Blank Checks” to AAU Programs Run by Parents of Star Players

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The Oregonian released a piece worth reading, detailing how sneaker companies skirt NCAA regulations by sponsoring grassroots teams run by the family members of top prospects. Sponsors are permitted to provide shoes, uniforms and cash for under-funded travel to teams; but, the story describes a system where Nike, Adidas and Under Armour are targeting the family members of star prospects who control their own programs, offering a “blank check” for their allegiance. The cash being pocketed by the family (it’s alleged Josh Jackson’s mom gets $10,000 mo.) equates to a “direct endorsement” of the player, an “extra benefit” that theoretically would make a prospect ineligible under NCAA guidelines. Of course, the sneaker companies are writing these checks, are doing so for good reason; an analysis of 2017 NBA first round picks indicated that most players signed professional shoe deals with the company who sponsored their grassroots team(s).

Howie Long-Short: Basketball sneaker sales have fallen off a cliff in the last 24 months, down 26% to $950 million. Nike (NKE) controls 80% of the market, with Under Armour (UAA) in a distant 2nd place (12.1%). Adidas (ADDYY) accounted for less than 5% of all U.S. basketball sneaker sales in ’17; but, Mark King, the President of Adidas Group North America, has said the brand will “focus on improving its basketball products this year.”

Fan Marino: The NCAA has never investigated the Bagley case, but the circumstances appear to be particularly questionable. In 2008, the Bagley’s filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy; claiming a household income of $44,000. Four years later, shortly after Nike sponsored the Phoenix Phamily (the team Bagley III played on, coached by Marvin Jr.), the Bagley’s moved into a California home estimated to be worth between $750,000-$1.5 million; with rent in the area ranging from $2,500-$7,500/mo. The elder Bagley readily acknowledge he was using Nike money to “make ends meet.” That’s not great news for Duke fans. In 2010, Renardo Sidney (Mississippi State) was declared ineligible after it was found his family received “preferential treatment” from Reebok. It was later announced Reebok had signed Sidney’s father to a $20,000/year consulting agreement. Duke is headed to the Sweet 16, but their appearance very well may be vacated at a later date.

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Adidas Increases 2020 Profitability Outlook, Announces Share Buyback Plan

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Adidas (ADDYY) released its Q4 ’17 earnings report and while the company missed analysts’ revenue expectations, it reported top line growth (+16% YOY) and bottom line growth (+32% YOY) that left CEO Kasper Rorsted “extremely happy with the results.” The company expects to continue growing sales (+10%) and profits (+13%-17%) in 2018, albeit at a slower rate. On Wednesday’s earnings call, Rorsted also announced that the company had raised its 2020 profitability outlook to 11.5% and announced a plan to buyback $3.72 billion worth of shares (+/- 9%) by ’21; news that sent ADDYY’s share price up +9.4% ($116.80) by the days’ close.

Howie Long-Short: Adidas sales were up 35% YOY in fiscal 2017, enabling the company to surpass Jordan Brand in U.S. sneaker sales (and Under Armour in apparel sales). ADDYY now holds the #2 spot in the category behind NKE. How did that happen? As UAA and NKE focused on basketball sneakers (-20% in ’17), ADDYY built a pipeline of desirable lifestyle sneakers (Superstar, NMD, Stan Smith). Simply put, they’re producing a quality product desired by the consumer.

Fan Marino: Fun fact: Adidas sold 1 million pairs of sneakers in 2017 that were constructed from plastic found in the ocean. The Ultraboosts, each reusing 11 plastic bottles, were created in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans (an environmental organization).

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