In the NBA, shoes are just as big a part of the appeal as the game in some circles. Superstars and up-and-comers alike have shoe deals across the world and the most popular players can build entire empires behind their shoes. The NFL, however, is different. Even the most popular players aren’t putting out shoes like LeBron James or Steph Curry. There are shoe deals, but they are less lucrative and not as part of the game. Because of this disparity, many wonder why NFL players don’t get the types of deals that NBA players get.
The NFL’s weird rules
The NFL does have a deal with Nike that it recently extended through 2028. Up until very recently, the league required players to wear cleats that adhered to their strict code and they could not be overly decorated.
Compare this to the NBA, where players will wear some wild colors and strange designs, and one begins to realize why the NFL’s shoes won’t pop out. Many feel these rules are boring and outdated.
The league has relaxed these rules, but players are still limited in the way they can express themselves through their shoewear. Although Nike owns the rights to the jerseys and sideline apparel worn by players and staff. Players must wear one of three brands, however: Nike, Under Armour, or Adidas. Compare this to the NBA, where dozens of shoe companies big and small are allowed, and another layer unfolds.
The NFL’s strict guidelines make sense to a certain degree. While the NBA shoes need to be able to keep the players’ feet secure, NFL cleats must withstand the force of the contact-heavy sport and in some positions, the ability to kick the ball.
Players can express themselves in pre-game gear as long as it is from one of the supported brands, but they cannot do so politically, and it cannot have an unsanctioned logo.
Why don’t NFL shoes sell
NFL cleats are more functional than NBA shoes. They are specially designed to work with the grass field and work within the concept of an NFL game, but nobody is going to wear NFL cleats as a fashion statement, and signature shoes for NFL players aren’t going to hold the same weight as those actually worn by NBA players.
Basketball shoes, on the other hand, are made with basketball in mind, but they can be worn anywhere. People who keep up with fashion will know that basketball shoes are a staple of many different genres of clothing.
When Michael Jordan first debuted his shoe, the NBA had strict guidelines like the NFL does. Jordan was fined for wearing the shoes, but Nike agreed to pay the bill. Eventually, the NBA saw the way that shoes could be incorporated in a way that benefitted all parties involved, and the player-endorsed shoe became a bigger staple than it was before.
People will pay hundreds of dollars, if not more because they are fashionable items that do not need to be worn by athletes. The NFL might be the most popular sport in America, but it is not the fashion trendsetter that basketball is.
Notable NFL shoe deals
Odell Beckham recently signed the most lucrative shoe deal in NFL history at $5 million a year. This is a far cry from the billion-dollar Jordan brand and the large lifetime deal that LeBron James has.
Beckham having the deal shouldn’t surprise sports fans. Beckham operates as a star in the way many NBA players do, with individual feats of athleticism that catch the eye much like a monster dunk.
Tom Brady has a shoe deal, but it’s for UGG slippers that are worn for comfort around the house. Brady publicly swears by his love of UGG, so the match is made in heaven.
The most recent NFL shoe deal to garner attention had to do with Colin Kaepernick. While Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job in the NFL, his shoe deal made waves with a Nike shoe deal that included a campaign that focused on players who represented something bigger than sports. Sneakerheads may want to look out for these ones, as they may sell better than most NFL-affiliated shoes do.
The NFL will never catch up with the NBA when it comes to shoes. NFL players will have closets full of basketball shoes, but NBA players likely don’t own a pair of football cleats.
Despite this, there is a market for football players as nearly every high school has a team and college sports are huge, as well. In the meantime, football will have to settle for being the most popular sport in America.