For decades, sports and fashion have been intimately intertwined, with clothing collaborations between franchises and labels epitomizing this connection. And while even small-market teams have managed to capitalize on fans’ eagerness to represent through markets like StockX, there are some markets – like New York and Los Angeles – that are so iconic that their collaborations tend to be far more experimental. Of course, some work and some, well, not so much.
In order to learn what exactly makes a quality collaboration, we interviewed StockX’s Senior Economist, Jesse Einhorn, to gauge his thoughts on the best and worst collaborations to date, emerging US sports markets, and how Canada’s Raptors representation compares to other fandoms.
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What makes New York’s sports culture so consistently rabid, regardless of team performance?
New York is hands down one of the most influential sports cities which has translated into the number of popular collabs and products from their metro teams – particularly the Nets, Knicks, and Yankees. The city is strongly devoted to its local franchises, but New York’s influence goes far beyond traditional sports fandom.
The New York Yankees logo for example has become an iconic global fashion staple beyond both the sports industry and New York itself. As uncovered in our February 2022 Big Facts Report, there are 177 active New York Yankees products on StockX – the highest number from any major sports team – which is a testament to the power of the team’s globally-recognized logo and colour scheme. New York has been at the centre of several major collaborations this year, including the NBA 75th Anniversary Brooklyn Nets Nike Dunks and the Supreme x New York Yankees Track Jacket. Even consumers in the Asian market have gravitated towards New York products with StockX buyers in Japan purchasing New York Knicks products at 13x the global average and South Korea buyers purchasing Brooklyn Nets products at 9x the global average.
But perhaps the most important factor driving New York teams’ fashion fandom is the brands that call the city home. Many of the biggest brands on StockX – from Kith to Supreme to Aimé Leon Dore – hail from New York City, and many of the founders and artists behind them are lifelong fans of New York teams. The authenticity of their fandom shows up in the products they release, and the history and storytelling behind their collaborations resonate deeply with regular consumers and fellow fans alike.
When it comes to labels like Kith and Supreme, what makes for a successful collaboration?
When you look at the most successful team collaborations, they all share a common ingredient: an authentic connection between the team and brand. Kith is a New York brand, and its founder, Ronnie Fieg, is a lifelong Knicks fan. When Kith announced their partnership with the Knicks – which included designing their City Edition jerseys last season – it wasn’t just a typical brand collaboration, but a tribute from fan to team. As such, it’s no surprise that the Kith x Knicks collab ranks as the most popular streetwear collaboration between a brand and sports franchise.
The same is true for Supreme, whose most popular team collab is with the Yankees. Like Kith, Supreme has an authentic, decades-long connection to the hometown Yankees. Their first official collaboration came in 2015, but long before that, Supreme was using the Yankees insignia in apparel designs.
This same dynamic applies to the Toronto Raptors as well. The Raptors have collaborated with several brands that trade on StockX, including Funko and BAPE. But their most successful collaboration by far is with Drake’s Toronto-based OVO brand. There are more than 20 different OVO x Raptors products that actively trade on StockX, making it one of the most popular and prolific team partnerships on our marketplace. Shared Canadian roots and Drake’s longtime Raptors fandom make for an authentic bond between brand, team, and product – and this authenticity resonates with customers.
Which company do you think would do exceptionally with a major league collaboration that hasn’t yet?
In the past few years, North Face has been one of the most prolific brands to work with and has produced wildly successful product collaborations with brands across the board, from Gucci to Supreme to KAWS. The brand has been able to break through the typical perception of an outdoors company so it would be very exciting to see them break into the major league space with a team collaboration.
Kanye West and KAWS are two of the most prolific and in-demand collaborators in both the fashion and collectables space: if either artist were to collaborate with a major league team, the products would almost certainly prove a massive hit on StockX. This is particularly true for Kanye West – a professed and dedicated Chicago Bulls fan. Given Ye’s existing relationship with Adidas, an official collaboration with an NBA team could be tricky. However, if Ye were to partner with the Bulls on an official sneaker or line of team merch, it would be immensely popular, both in his hometown of Chicago and around the world.
Based on both the study and your own experiences in the market, how does Canada’s Raptors fandom compare to rival NBA fanbases?
Canadians have always shown major love for the Toronto Raptors and the championship win in 2019 only strengthened that excitement. As the only Canadian team in the NBA, the loyalty for the Raptors has expanded beyond Toronto and created a dedicated fanbase across the country (and globe).
When you look at our dataset, the Raptors rank in the top 10 for both total product trades and total active products. Only six other major league teams rank in the top 10 for both. This is a testament to the strength of their fan loyalty, as well as the effectiveness of their collaboration strategy. Their OVO collab, in particular, is one of the most successful team x brand partnerships on our marketplace.
Aside from Nike’s NBA 75th Anniversary collection, what has led to the NBA’s superior global reach compared to the MLB and NFL?
For decades, basketball has been among the most dominant common themes uniting sneakers, streetwear, and current culture more broadly. Stars like Michael Jordan and Lebron James and fashion trendsetters like James Harden and Russell Westbrook have shown the major influence that basketball has beyond the world of sport. This influence in fashion and the current culture has contributed to an overall excitement for the NBA and its corresponding products.
Beyond its relevance culturally, part of the NBA’s global reach is simply a matter of representation. Both the NBA and MLB differ from the NFL in that there is a large number of non-US players. In the NBA and MLB, more than 20% of players are from outside the US, whereas in the NFL, the number is less than 5%.
When you look at the number of different countries represented, the NBA is in a league of its own. Major League Baseball includes player representation from 20 different countries; but the NBA boasts player representation from 38 different countries, despite having far fewer players on team rosters.
Many of the biggest stars in the NBA hail from outside the US, including MVP candidates like Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Luka Doncic (Slovenia), Joel Embiid (Cameroon), and Nikola Jokic (Serbia). The profile of these international players, combined with the diversity of countries and regions represented, has played a key role in driving the NBA’s global reach.