Thirty years ago, Pony was on fire. The brand, founded in 1972, was on the feet of Pele, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Reggie Jackson, among others. But as Nike ,adidas and Reebok rose up, Pony fell behind the times and for decades has been bought out over and over and over again, with revivals failing every time.
Every owner of the brand relied on the past, while signing either old-timers or stunt act spokesman. Just look at the list of people that have pitched Pony since 2000: Chris Mihm, Ricky Davis, Julius Hodge, James Toney, Bob McAdoo, Spud Webb, Pete Rose and adult films starts from Vivid.
But things are changing, mostly because the people in charge of the brand now--Infinity Associates out of San Francisco--are turnaround specialists who know that banking on the past is not good enough in this business environment. So if Pony can ever be the next Puma, Infiniti--which bought Converse out of bankruptcy, turned it around and sold it to Nike--will give it the best chance.
They'll likely start with a modern-day superstar. Something no previous manager of Pony has ever had. Sources are telling CNBC that New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss, who just signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Pats this week, is close to signing a deal that will make him the face of their football franchise.
Moss was one of the very first endorsers of Nike's Jordan brand, but hasn't been with them for at least two years. Since his deal with the Jordan brand has ended, Moss seems to start each year in negotiations and therefore has covered up the logo on the brand of shoe he is wearing with tape to start both the 2005 and 2006 season.
This year was the first year Moss rotated brands seemingly making game time decisions to wear either Nike or Reeboks and showing the logos. For example, Moss wore Nike shoes during the Super Bowl and Reebok shoes for the AFC championship game. He was being shopped to brands like Under Armour and Pony, though Moss didn't lace up in either of these brands this past season.
Their advertising campaigns are clever, taking shots at their competitors--Nike, adidas and Under Armour--and throwing a Pony twist at the end. But it's ultimately going to come down to having cool, functional products in a very tough space. The new Pony will start that journey in a couple weeks as it releases shoes in performance, play and vintage categories.
If the Moss deal is consummated, it will provide Pony with instant flash and a controversial edge. The best part of it will be that the folks at Infiniti understand that signing No. 81 isn't enough if they ever want to flip this thing like they flipped Chuck Taylors.
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