Miguel A. Herguedas

Updated Thursday, February 29, 2024-14:13

  • Agassi and Nike A story of rebellion and darkness that changed tennis forever

  • Puma King The Spaniard who managed to bring Pelé and Maradona to an agreement

  • Indurain and Pinarello From steel and glue to the wind tunnel with La Espada

A little over a year ago,

Shohei Ohtani

left Asics to sign a sponsorship deal with New Balance, the details of which are barely known.

Neither its duration, nor its economic amount.

However, sector specialists assume that the major league baseball star, the highest-paid athlete in history, will receive an amount similar to what New Balance pays

Kawhi Leonard

, forward of the Clippers: five million euros annually.

An astronomical sum compared to those of other references of the brand, such as tennis player

Coco Gauff

, Arsenal winger

Bukayo Saka

or hurdler

Sydney McLaughlin

, double Olympic champion in Tokyo.

New Balance, a multinational with 5 billion euros in profits - more than double what it was a decade ago - is fighting fiercely today for its market share.

In fact, over the last five years, its marketing division has increased the budget by almost 40%.

However, the current situation represents a historical anomaly for New Balance, the company that for decades designed the best


shoes , leaving aside the idols of the sport.

The idiosyncrasy of New Balance, which allowed it to make its way against more powerful competitors, has been based on two pillars: pragmatism and quality.

"They have managed to compete with Nike or Adidas, despite selling sneakers at high prices, thanks to a promotional strategy based on demonstrating that they are technologically superior," explains

Kelly Cuesta

, brand image, marketing and communication specialist to this newspaper.

the European University.

This is the only way to explain why a brand with such a sober design and such a reduced color palette is so popular.

And only in this way can Jim Davis

' titanic effort

to build his empire be understood.

April 18, 1972 was a day of hope for athletics.

For the first time, after 76 years of prohibition, eight women were able to register for the Boston Marathon.

That Sunday, taking advantage of the media spotlight, Davis closed the purchase of a company with more than six decades of experience in the manufacturing of sports footwear for $100,000.

Although that amount must be multiplied by seven to adapt it to current standards, the truth is that New Balance was a humble company that handcrafted a hundred pairs a day.

A business designed by and for the American public.

From the former owners, Davis received a double mandate: he would preserve the width sizing of the shoes - his hallmark in the face of the competition - and he would keep that handful of highly qualified workers on the payroll.

He gladly accepted.

His objective was to preserve the legacy, although adapting it to the new demands of a clientele that is increasingly focused on





The designer of Starbucks

Shortly after getting down to work, the new owner granted full powers to

Terry Heckler

to undertake a comprehensive redesign.

At that time, the designer of the Starbucks coffee logo was considering the option of a name change, given that New Balance referred to the dawn of the brand, born in 1906 as a manufacturer of orthopedic insoles.

Heckler, however, opted for continuity, although he reduced the logo to an N that reminded many of Nike.

He didn't care at all.

His other precept was also not negotiable: each model had to be identified with a number.

In this way, perception would not fluctuate based on names and customers would decide in a more objective way.

"In this way, it communicates a sense of order and clarity in its offer, which can be attractive to consumers who seek simplicity and transparency in their purchasing decisions," explains Cuesta, a consultant and branding



Back in 1976, Heckler's N appeared for the first time in the

320 , chosen by

Runner's World


as the best


shoes of that year.

In 1982, that same publication would once again crown the


for its Lunaris Pillow technology, which absorbed the impact of footsteps.

Innovations and critical acclaim skyrocketed sales.

Not even the $50 price tag for the


, made of nylon and advertised as "lighter than air" - a clear allusion to Nike - deterred buyers.

In that crucial '82 came another leap into the void with the


, the first sneakers that exceeded $100.

"When you buy New Balance you know that you will get products that stand the test of time, both in quality and style. They have always managed to position themselves as a reliable, high-quality brand, which prioritizes the comfort and well-being of its customers over fashion or passing trends," analyzes Cuesta.

Jobs, with his 990, in a special issue of 'Time' (2011).

Despite its undoubted growth, at the end of the 80s, New Balance did not even reach 3% market share.

It is true that in stores it could compete on equal terms against adversaries such as the Adidas Oregon, the Nike Tailwind or the Saucony Jazz, but the running niche


longer seemed broad enough.

So we had to turn to basketball.

Davis could recruit

Charles Oakley


Dennis Rodman


ML Carr

, but the coup d'état would come with

James Worthy


After many discussions, his executives had convinced him to pay the Lakers forward a million dollars.

Starting in 1987 he would wear the 790, boots so resistant and elastic as to be advertised as



However, just three years later, Worthy was surprised in a Houston hotel by three plainclothes agents while he was soliciting the services of a prostitute.

It was the final straw for Davis, a guy with strong moral principles.

Fed up with whims and divisiveness, Davis launched the advertising campaign in 1992 that would earn him universal fame.


Endorsed by no one

positioned them as an authentic, product-focused brand. Over the years, it has helped them solidify their reputation as an innovative, quality brand, attracting consumers who value quality. originality, authenticity and excellence," Cuesta adds about that bet.

Which, according to another of their slogans, allows them to "dress top


in London and parents in Ohio."

Davis' strict work ethic is legend at Boston headquarters.

There they still tell an old story.

After being contacted by the White House, the boss was unable to return the call to the Oval Office because years ago he had prohibited his employees from using the telephone for these purposes.

Clinton, Obama and Trump

Davis always opted for efficiency and durability, for blue or gray sneakers that anyone would feel comfortable wearing, whether running the New York Marathon or buying a bag on Sixth Avenue.

That was the inheritance received by Arthur Hall

's family

and what he has instilled in his son


, current head of marketing.

For better or worse, New Balance remains a family business answerable to no board of directors.

That is why it has resisted relocation to Asian countries, limiting itself to its five factories in the United States and England.

Although it uses imported materials, the priority objective is to obtain the precious Made in USA label, granted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Patriotism continues to provide juicy benefits to a brand anchored in tradition and identified with the American white man.

Among others,

Bill Clinton , a



who even built a private facility around Pennsylvania Avenue to keep security costs at bay.

Barack Obama

also received some 990 customized ones before finding himself involved in a virulent controversy regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement (TTIP).

"With President-elect

Donald Trump

we believe things are going to move in the right direction," warned

Matt LeBretton

, a senior executive at New Balance.

Trump's populism opposed a free trade agreement allegedly harmful to Made in USA products.

In any case, a few hours later hundreds of New Balance sneakers were set on fire across the country as a sign of protest.

"There's a good reason it costs more than any other


shoe . It costs more because it offers more"

1500 advertising campaign

Much more digestible was the beatific aura of

Steve Jobs

, who kept about 990 in his closet for each day of the week.

After his death,


magazine dedicated a posthumous special to the Apple co-founder with a cover where only that model stood out among his spartan



The price of that model was still surpassed by the


, which in 1984 sold for almost 150 dollars (around 400 at today's exchange rate).

An exorbitant figure that deserved another unforgettable advertisement under the headline

Mortgage your house


"There's a good reason it costs more than any other


shoe . It costs more because it offers more."

According to several studies, they could withstand more than 1,600 kilometers without deteriorating.

In the world of showbiz (

Timothée Chalamet


Emily Ratajkowski


Kanye West


Pharrell Williams

...) today everyone pines for New Balance, the brand that until recently teenagers rejected as demodé;

Anyone who goes running daily knows by heart the canonical profile of the


, with its fantastic ENCAP cushioning;

Not to mention those professional athletes who in the late 80s recommended the use of the stylized 1500 because, as they said, they accelerated the injury recovery process.

"The most incredible thing about New Balance is their ability to transcend socioeconomic barriers. They always understood how to position their product before different customer segments, something difficult to achieve," Cuesta concludes.