NBA Courting Female Fans With High Heels

By:Christina Settimi, Forbes Staff

The men of the NBA have never shied away from making fashion statements. There have been Daisy Duke-style shorts, shants (the baggy hybrid of shorts and pants), Pat Riley Armani suits, Air Jordans, Dennis Rodman tattoos, piercings, and hair dyes, and Allen Iverson sideways caps and corn rows. This season the Urkel-meets-Brooklyn-hipster costume is making headlines, best exemplified by the colorful wire framed glasses sans lenses worn by the Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, and the big boy fishy, teddy bear and umbrella-themed polo shirts worn by the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook.
But the latest trend the NBA is hoping to bank on is a new offering for its female fans: high heels.Yesterday the league announced its license agreement with Orlando-based shoe designer Herstar for a line of heels that includes two designs available for all 30 teams.  One is a 6-inch crystal beaded version currently retailing for $275, the other a 4-inch microsuede version retailing for $99.Yes, 6-inch and 4-inch heels.
The founder and CEO of Herstar, Holly Joffrion, can explain. Frustrated when nothing came of her online search for a pair of  sport high heels to wear to an Orlando Magic game she was attending with her husband, the shoe designer had the vision of making her own team-themed pair. She worked on some prototype images with various teams’ logos and then last September the 25-year old posted a few on her website to gauge fan interest.  Within three days, without any marketing or promotion, while the league was on the verge of its lockout, she found she was not the only one searching for such shoes. She had over 100 requests for her prototypes.
Fortunately Joffrion already had her manufacturer and distributor lined up, as she had already been in the shoe business for five years.  But the next hurdle was the NBA license agreement application.  Without it she was unable to make or sell the shoes.  So for three months she and her husband, who has a background in finance, hustled to get the paperwork done.
By the time she presented her application to the NBA in February, Herstar’s back orders were in the hundreds, still without the company engaging in any marketing or advertising, outside of Facebook and Pinterest postings. It was more than enough to make up for the lack of 3-year sales figures the league requested on the merchandise. Additionally, by that point Joffrion had been so overwhelmed by requests for something higher than the 3-inch pair she had online, that she first added the 4-inch heels to the mix and later when asked for even higher, offered the 6-inch version. (For the record, Herstar will customize to lower lengths.)
Yesterday after the NBA’s press release, Herstar’s sales jumped 400 percent on daily volume; traffic for the company’s website, where the shoes are primarily sold, jumped from a typical 4,000 daily hits to 35,000 hits. In total the company has sold enough pairs of heels to cover the initial $30,000 upfront license fee the NBA required and is already profitable. Current customers include the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and Daniel Orton, while the top three sales markets are the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It’s a good start to the company’s 3-year exclusive women’s dress shoe deal with the league. As part of it, Joffrion has a minimum sales goal to meet each year (an amount both the league and company declined to publicly comment about), and then for everything over that the company earns, she pays the league a percentage of sales – 12 percent to start and then a possible escalating amount over the contract life.
Vicky Picca, the NBA’s senior vice president of licensing and business affairs, said the league and more importantly its 25 million female NBA fans in the US couldn’t be happier.
“Our female business has tripled over the last 5 years and what our fans were saying is that they no longer wanted a pink version of a male product,” said Picca. “This appeals to our savvy female consumer.”
Next up for Herstar, which currently includes Joffrion, her husband and 8 sales representatives, are the other leagues and colleges. The WNBA seems like a natural progression and so far 6 teams have expressed an interest in getting the ball rolling. An NFL license is in pending status. It was a logical pursuit considering the hundreds of requests from fans including some from NFL cheerleaders. The company has also filed an application with The Collegiate Licensing Company to get the logos of the top 20 NCAA  football programs in the country.
While it seems other leagues would easily fall into place, Joffrion has met some resistance. One league has expressed concern with  Herstar’s tagline: How Chicks Do Sports.
But Joffrion is undaunted by the criticism. A former high school quarterback (she went to an all girls school in Florida), she supports women’s pursuit of sporting equality. But she has numbers from every league to show fans want these. So the way she sees it, if she’s not going to compete on the court or field, she’s going to compete off of it, in the business of sport. Score one for her.

-Christina Settimi, Forbes Staff

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