Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

They Just Did It


I’ve been to some parties. I’ve been to the Playboy, Maxim and Penthouse Super Bowl parties and I’ve judged the Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest. That being said, it’s hard to convince me to go to some of these things. I’ve had every type of mini eggroll and pig in a blanket. But there was no chance I wasn’t going to Sunday night’s Nike party in New York City for the 25th anniversary of the Air Force 1 -- a shoe that since 1982 has been one of Nike’s best selling iterations.

The shame in it all was that Nike could only invite some 500 people. I wish all of the shoe lover world could have been there. So let me try to paint the best picture possible to do it justice until MTV broadcasts their 30-minute show on it in January.

Influencers who got the invitation were encouraged to wear their best pair of Air Force 1’s. So upon walking in, guests were encouraged to step on a platform where photographers took polaroids and digital pictures of their shoes. They were then handed a subway token that they would give to models in white jumpsuits that had touch pads with 100 of the best Air Force 1 models. All of those were on display in clear plastic bubbles that surrounded the room, along with 940 other pairs, some of which were one-of-a-kind or launched in extremely limited quantities -- gathered from Nike archives and key collectors.

Upon entering the main floor, partygoers were blessed with a bevy of appetizing items - including hot dogs and eggrolls of course, but also lobster meat on a cracker, fried chicken and some nice dessert options later in the night - the mini black and white cookies being the best option.

Music was not surprisingly also a theme of the night. Nike assembled Kanye West, NaS, Rakim and KRS-ONE to create an original track that was performed live, the only time it ever will be performed in front of a crowd, though an iTunes version is coming. Nike also had DJ’s spinning on a stage with an awesome old school basketball hoop with no net above them.

Throughout the night, I had a chance to talk to some of the key players.

It was the first time I met Nike President and CEO Mark Parker in person. I’m not sure there’s anyone who knows the Nike business better than Parker, which is always good when he’s the chief executive. It’s ridiculous that Nike ever looked outside the organization to begin with, and I’m not surprised that their last CEO, outsider Bill Perez, only lasted about a year in Beaverton.

If everyone on Wall Street met Parker, Nike’s stock would be way over $100. It’s close to hitting that number now, which would be a first in company history. I loved the fact that Parker was mingling with the crowd and was still there when I ducked out some time around 1:20 in the morning.

I also talked with Bruce Kilgore, the man who designed the Air Force 1’s. He’s a very shy guy who is extremely humble. He told me there wasn’t much discussion in the early days - just to build a basketball performance shoe. And the shoe he’s most proud of designing  -- he says that since 1979 he’s likely designed less than 50 shoes that made it to the market -- was the sock racer. It came out in 1985, the year before Kilgore designed the Air Jordan II. It was kind of the predecessor to Nike’s FREE technology that came out 20 years later.

The big celebrities to hit the party included NBA stars Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace (who showed up in a Pistons warmup -- who wears their own gear to a party?), Nate Robinson, Quentin Richardson, Eddy Curry and Patrick Ewing.

Three of the six players who were part of Nike’s original Air Force 1 team -- Bobby Jones, Calvin Natt and Jamaal Wilkes -- also made an appearance. Spike Lee and Queen Latifah also showed up.

Towards the end of the night, I voted for an Air Force 1 called the Originator, which was the original test shoe given to colleges who were considering outfitting their teams with the shoe. The party public, however, voted the Stash "Nozzle" Air Force 1 (pictured, left) the best AF1 of all time.

Now let’s get to the details about the Air Force 1 and the Air Force 25. This year, consumers and collectors will see a new Air Force 1 thanks to the fact that Nike brought in some of the greatest Italian shoe designers to make the shoe more luxurious and durable than ever before. Nike is even taking the shoe to new heights -- with anaconda and crocodile versions available for $2,000.

The Air Force 25 will be the first Air Force 1 shoe with visible air. It will launch in January. Details are sketchy but some have told us to expect the launch date to be, appropriately, January 25. We’re also hearing that some Nike basketball players will soon to be wearing Air Force 25 shoes on the court. Consumers also will be happy that - although it won’t be right away - Air Force 1’s will finally hit the NikeID store. Up until now, the only place people could design their own model of the shoe was to go to 255 Elizabeth Street - Nike’s invite-only store in New York City.

I didn’t really find out much on these Nike buying Puma rumors. They took secured $1 billion in credit and many have speculated that they would buy the shoe company.

I’d advocate Nike to take that money and buy New Era, the cap company. The synergies between Nike and New Era are amazing. The hip hop, urban market creates all the buzz in both business and about 5 percent of Sunday night’s crowd were of course wearing blinged out New Era baseball caps. Nike’s last attempt to have a significant presence in the hat world was in 1992 when it acquired Sports Specialties Corp., a licensed distributor of headwear, for $70 million. The company might have been one of the first to capitalize off sports hats, but they certainly didn’t do much to keep their name in the game.

The Rise of Mixed Martial Arts:

Mixed martial arts has been gaining some traction for years. And I’m well aware that UFC’s Spike TV reality show The Ultimate Fighter has drawn in the coveted 18-to-34-year-old male more than some baseball and NBA games. But the sport is on my radar more than ever before because last month the newest entry, the International Fight League, went public. There haven’t been many sports organizations -- the United States Basketball League is really the only one that comes to mind -- that have hit the market and that’s why it’s so interesting to watch.

Keep an eye on IFLI, which is on my sports stocks to watch on this page. On Friday, the stock soared from around $4 to $5.35, and today, thanks in part to the feature on 60 Minutes, the stock was up more than 50 percent to $8.50, as of 11 a.m. E.T. Based on the 34.5 million shares of stock, the market value of the IFL would be $293 million. Dana White, who bought UFC with two other men for $2 million in 2000 when it was in bankruptcy, speculated on 60 Minutes that his brand could be worth $1 billion. Given the sport’s popularity, we’ll watch out to see whose buying shares and who might want to make an offer to White.

By the way, we should mention that last week, a group launched a site called, meant to be a social networking site for the mixed martial arts community. The site is in its infancy, but reportedly receives 2 million unique vistors a month.

Questions?  Comments?