Add “basketball shoe” to the growing list of products being marketed with Barack Obama associations. The 44, named after the 44th president, is being launched as the marquee shoe for a new sports brand called Naturally Athletic Sports.
“The product speaks for itself,” says founder and chief executive Antonio Ferguson. “Just like Nike brought out Air Force 1’s in 1984, we’re introducing the company with one of the best shoes in the marketplace.”
Ferguson took a chance in August when he presented the shoe to the public at Magic, a marketing showcase for the fashion industry in Las Vegas. At the time, Barack Obama was just the Democratic nominee for president. Luckily for Ferguson, history has proven to be on his side, which means he hasn’t had to market 72-year-old John McCain’s viability as a basketball player.
Ferguson, an African-American and the sole financier of Naturally Athletic, claims to be the first minority owner of a major sports brand. He says that the Washington-based company has adopted Obama’s message of change.
“We’re trying to change the game in the way people think about retailing,” he says. “We’re putting the product in the hands of the consumer.”
Rather than launching from stores like Champs or Sports Authority, the 44 will first be sold through the company’s Web sites—44shoe.com and Naturallyathletic.com—on April 1. The sites, which he expects to be running in the next two weeks, will sell the first 100,000 sneakers at $44.09—more than $20 less than the expected retail price. Ferguson also wants his company to address social concerns such as childhood obesity. That’s why for every pair of the first 100,000 sold, Naturally Athletic will donate a pair to disadvantaged youth. The offer will last for 45 days after the shoe’s launch.
Aside from the 44, Naturally Athletic also has athletic apparel and another 50 pairs of sneakers in the works. Ferguson is exploring marketing the brand through breakfast cereals and in television shows. He’s also in talks with the Verizon Center to get some of the naming rights at Wizards games.
“We’re looking to make a big splash,” he says.
With a shoe tied to Barack Obama, anything is possible.