Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Top Chinese Athletic Brand Signs NBA's Evan Turner


For years, we've been talking about the importance of American sports brands, including shoe companies like Nike , getting into China. We haven't talked as much about Chinese shoe companies getting into this country.

That's about to change. CNBC has exclusively learned that Li-Ning, China's top athletic brand, has signed Evan Turner, the No. 2 pick in this year's NBA Draft to a multi-year deal that will make him the face of the brand.

Evan Turner of Ohio State stands with NBA Commisioner David Stern after being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers second overall at Madison Square Garden on June 24, 2010 in New York City.
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Why is this a potentially game changer?

Because the Chinese shoe brands — not willing to compete with the Nikes and adidases of the world — haven't been willing to pay for top talent to endorse their shoes. Instead, they have waited until some of the league's veterans were willing to go to them.

Li-Ning has previously signed Shaq and Baron Davis. Peak signed Jason Kidd and Shane Battier. Anta signed Kevin Garnett and Steve Francis.

But all these players were on their second, third, even fourth shoe deals by then, diminishing the power of the signing.

Turner starts with Li-Ning and that makes a big difference. Turner will wear Li-Ning for his rookie season and will immediately appear in the company's marketing. He will have his own signature shoe and apparel, which will be available globally, in his second year with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Li-Ning established a base for its US business in Portland, Ore., where it also has its flagship store. In order for the deal to really work out, Turner obviously has to be a star and the Li-Ning brand  has to gain traction with consumers and retailers.

What makes this even more intriguing is that Turner's agent is David Falk, who of course is responsible for establishing the greatest marketing deal of all time, Michael Jordan, Nike and the Air Jordan franchise.

Li-Ning was established the Chinese gymnast Li Ning in 1984. The company generated more than $1.2 billion in sales last year, which makes it bigger than Under Armour.

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