When you think of athletes and signature shoe brands, your mind probably conjures up a variety of basketball stars who have produced signature sneaker lines. For decades, shoe manufacturers have clamored to woo the top athletes in basketball. Adidas, Rebook, and, of course, Nike have all signed stars on the court to lucrative shoe deals. Those mainstream sneaker brands have been a bit less enamored with baseball players. It makes sense when you think about it. After all, baseball players spend most of their time in cleats, which translates poorly into lifestyle sneakers. The lack of cross-over limits the potential for sales. Still, there have been plenty of players, over the years, who shoe manufacturers have courted. Some collaborations have been more successful than others.
Ken Griffey Jr. collaborated with Nike to produce a popular line of shoes
Ken Griffey Jr. burst onto the scene in the 1990s and wowed baseball fans. Not only was Griffey Jr. a phenom on the field, but a lifestyle story helped increase his popularity. Griffey Jr. and his father, Ken Griffey, played on the same team simultaneously. Griffey Jr. also brought a lot of personality to the baseball diamond, and that type of personality was marketable.
Nike saw the potential and jumped to partner with Griffey Jr. to shore up their cross-trainer offerings. The sneakers were bold and embodied everything the 1990s had to offer. Griffey designed it that way. In 2010 the former baseball star sat down with Sole Collector to discuss the creation of his line. He told the publication;
""At that time, I wanted to be different than everybody else. I think that was the one thing that I wanted. A big ol' Swoosh on there, too, and I wanted a strap. I think I was really adamant about the strap.""- Sole Collector
Nike is still producing the line. A new release of the Nike Air Griffey Max dropped in May. The colorway pays homage to Griffey Jr.'s time with the Cincinnati Reds.
Bryce Harper has a shoe deal with Under Armour
Several current MLB players are working with sneaker brands to craft signature shoes, but most recent deals have opted to focus on on-the-field performance. Bryce Harper has a lucrative deal with Under Armour. According to the Washington Post, Harper's Under Armour contract was believed to be the largest endorsement deal in MLB history when he signed the 10-year contract with the sports apparel company in 2016. The exact details of the agreement are unknown.
Harper's line with Under Armour may be lucrative, but the company has yet to invest in a lifestyle line associated with the Phillies outfielder. Since signing with Under Armour, Harper has released several types of cleats, batting gloves, and apparel. Harper and Under Armour have even released a turf shoe recently, but a true lifestyle offering has yet to appear. There is no word on whether a lifestyle brand is planned.
Shohei Ohtani joins other MLB athletes by signing with New Balance
Shohei Ohtani's teammate, Mike Trout, has a deal with Nike, and fans largely assumed Ohtani would eventually sign an agreement with the sneaker manufacturer, too. It wasn't meant to be. New Balance has spent the last few years quietly toiling away behind the scenes, building a brand that is steadily gaining fans. Now, New Balance is winning over MLB superstars.
In January 2023, Ohtani signed a sneaker deal with New Balance. According to Boardroom, Ohtani was brought in to build out the company's growing baseball division. In February, the famed outfielder and pitcher debuted the New Balance 574 cleats, the cleat version of the company's classic sneaker. No lifestyle shoes associated with Ohtani have been released yet, but it could happen.
Ohtani isn't the only MLB star who is working with New Balance. Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets also has a contract with the sneaker purveyor. He's often seen heading into Citi Field wearing fresh New Balance models. New Balance released a turf version of the Lindor 1 cleat in 2021.