BY BEN STOCKTON
In 2014, Snoop Dogg signed on with Adidas Football to merge pop culture with cleats. Their approach was entirely based on the question, why aren’t cleats cool? Why don’t players have all of their gear match up like in basketball? Football players have style. Let’s give them an avenue to express it on the field.
The success of the football branch, indications that Nike’s baseball dominance may be fading, and the emergence of both New Balance and Under Armour as major players in baseball opened up an opportunity for Adidas to pounce on the baseball market. Adidas’ recruiters immediately went after the hottest commodity on the market, speed. Moving in sync with their design team, Adidas signed players like Billy Hamilton, Josh Harrison, Carlos Gomez, Lorenzo Cain, Ben Revere, and Michael Taylor in addition to super prospect Kris Bryant. Those seven had a combined 680 SBs, had been worth 117.1 baserunning runs, and an astounding 230.7 defensive runs for their careers through 2015, according to Fangraphs. Speed creates highlights in a way no other tool can. Leaping catches in the gaps, stolen base after stolen base, these dynamic players captivate the imagination and make scouts drool.
In 2014, Adidas created the Afterburner alongside the Energy Boost Icon. The Icon was clearly the flagship model, with Adidas signature Boost Technology (more on that here). But nearly everyone wearing Adidas cleats was rocking with the Afterburner. This first generation of Afterburners was rather bland compared to today’s standards, but at the time it was one of the most striking cleats on the market. It lacked a midsole and featured aggressive horizontal stripes. It wasn’t until the Afterburner 2.0 came onto the scene that Adidas really stole the show.
For the 2015 College World Series, Adidas made its move debuting the Afterburner 2 in unprecedented gold and team colors. In a brilliant display of marketing, they paired their new stunner with a comic themed campaign on social media throughout the CWS. Their ads brought the cleats to life and Adidas took off.
Following the CWS, leading up to the pennant race in 2015, a pack of Mascot themed Afterburners debuted. Featuring live action images of the various mascots of their MLB players, as well as a smattering of popular high school and college mascots, this pack was unprecedented in baseball. Among these mascots were a Pirate for Josh Harrison, a Marlin, a bulldog, a lion, a black panther, a bear, a cheetah, an eagle, and a tiger.
Adidas has also managed to establish tradition as well over the past few years by releasing a Jackie Robinson Day collection. The mixed material Energy Boost Icons, apparel and jerseys all bring very important awareness to the most historically significant baseball figure ever. In addition, it can’t be overlooked that many of Adidas’ signed players are African-American or Latino and wouldn’t have a place in the MLB without Robinson’s actions.
In the offseason, they signed Carlos Correa, a superstar in the making, solidifying the swagger the brand had built with its diverse collection of athletes. Adidas began featuring the 2015 Rookies of the Year, Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant. Of course we now know Bryant and the Cubs became World Champs, but more on that later. At the time, signing Carlos Correa looked to be the biggest move by any brand at the time. The signing allowed the company to position itself at the level of Nike and Under Armour with superstars of their own. Seen in Yeezy’s and Tubulars just as often as cleats, adidas pushed the boundaries of a cleat deal with Correa and Bryant.
At Nike and Under Armour, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper (their signature guys respectively) feature exclusively in baseball campaigns where they punish baseballs in BP or leap at the wall to make rehearsed catches. Occasionally, Harper would appear in a training ad, lifting or simply looking like he had a bucket of water dumped on him. Bryant stuck with this motif more than Correa, but both infielders showed their casual sides. They appear in numerous ads in sweats and Tubulars and Adidas Pro Models.
Throughout the 2016 season, Adidas increasingly focused on Bryant and the Cubs as a powerhouse, especially since Correa’s Astros were failing to repeat 2015’s magic. At the 2015 All-Star Game festivities, Adidas debuted its Dipped Collection. The Dipped Collection consists of an endless rainbow of solid color cleats, from maroon to mint to black, to gold. These cleats make a bold statement.
The Three-Stripes followed up their ballsy move with an even more aggressive merger between Originals and Baseball in the Xeno pack. The Afterburner 3.0 and Energy Boost Icon 2.0 receive a subtle matte black finish, with Xeno accents that are both reflective and iridescent. The Xeno technology had originally been created for Basketball and Originals, but smoothly made the transition to baseball.
As the pennant race heated up in August and September, “#[email protected]& Curses” alongside pictures of Bryant in the batting cages with a goat swirled around the internet and billboards. In many ways, Adidas’ rise to excellence parallels the Cubs. Both signed tremendously athletic young talent and ascended quickly. Given some creative leeway, one could even argue “#[email protected]& Curses” was aimed partially at Adidas’ underdog status in baseball and to the immense challenge of competing against Nike and Under Armour. We should all hope Adidas thrives on this challenge, as more competition will force Nike, Under Armour, New Balance, and others to step up their game.