Saquon Barkley entering new stratosphere with bar-raising Nike line – New York Post

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Saquon Barkley wants everyone who wears his Nike sneakers to know what it is like to walk in his shoes.

The preliminary concept of simulated concrete on the Giants star’s forthcoming shoe isn’t meant just to create flash.

It is a tribute to a different name he almost was given. Reminiscent of the streets and playgrounds where he was born in The Bronx. Symbolic of his path returning to New York as a Pennsylvania-raised, Penn State-bred star built for the sports and pop culture cross-section available as the face of the Giants.

“I’m a person that didn’t come from much financially, but I worked my a– off to get where I want to be,” Barkley told The Post in a recent interview. “I’m going to continue to do that. That’s what I want not just my shoe, but my whole life, to represent.”

Nike tore up its original contract and retroactively re-signed Barkley in October for four years in the neighborhood of $25 million, a source said. Exclusively negotiated by Ken Katz and Robert O’Shea Jr. of Gold Point Partners, it is the second-largest amount ever guaranteed to a football player — Odell Beckham Jr. reportedly received $29 million over five years in 2017 — but the largest on a renegotiation while under contract.

Barkley invited The Post to a New York hotel for a behind-the-scenes look at the partnership with his biggest sponsor. Later that same night, he was the only NFL player sharing the company of top Nike executives at a fashion show where he originally was scheduled to meet an idol, until Kobe Bryant died 10 days earlier.

After back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons to begin his NFL career, Barkley, 23, already populates television commercials. He is entering another stratosphere mostly reserved for icons — the launch of his own apparel and footwear line — just as his prime begins, without an artificial marketing lift from a Super Bowl ring, MVP or viral one-handed catch.

“I keep the main thing the main thing — football and trying to be the best I can be to bring a championship to this city,” Barkley said. “But the same way I’m trying to learn to be a better player, I’m trying to learn to become a better businessman. This game is going to be taken away. For me, it could be at 30, 32, 33. It’s a short time I have with football, and I’m going to take advantage of it.”


Barkley speaks with reverence about all the greats: Barry Sanders … Bob Iger … Travis Scott.

It’s not just Hall of Fame running backs who pique his interest. Iger — the Walt Disney Company executive chairman who oversaw the acquisitions of Pixar Animation Studios and Marvel Entertainment — has become a mentor, and their conversations were on Barkley’s mind when he selected his product line’s superhero-inspired ‘S’ logo from 25 finalists.

Saquon Barkley Giants Nike
Saquon Barkley merchandise

“I could’ve gone with a logo of me jumping over someone, or with my initials,” Barkley said. “What’s the most successful business in the world? Disney. They attract kids. I wanted the logo to be all about kids.”

Barkley’s Nike shoe, which is planned for release in 2021 after the coronavirus slowed the consumer market, will be a fresh take on the 1980s Bo Jackson line. Researching the legends of Jackson’s athleticism reminded Barkley of a “mythical creature.”

Barkley and Katz recruited Scott — a musician and one of the hottest names in sneaker design — for a collaboration with a 12-person team to turn a training shoe into a lifestyle shoe.

“Sa came prepared with two inspirations of how the shoe would look,” Bilal “Bizzy” Joseph, Scott’s business partner, said. “People ask how we do this or that. What stood out with Sa is he had the courage and smarts to see if we could help him on the creative side — and to realize … in the long run it would work out for him.”

The debut release of 30,000 shirts, sweatshirts and hats from the Saquon Barkley Collection on Nov. 8 sold out online within 15 minutes, a source said. Barkley wore a shirt with his face on it arriving at MetLife Stadium on a game day but first cleared it with other Giants co-captains to make sure it didn’t send an I-above-team mixed message.

“You could tell Saquon was uncomfortable,” former Giant Michael Thomas, vice president of the NFL Players Association, said. “I encouraged him: ‘Don’t feel like it’s arrogant self-promotion. You’ve earned it. You are inspiring kids who want to wear a shirt with your face. In our careers, we’ve got to strike while the iron is hot. You are a brand. Build it!’ ”


Barkley was loud and clear in the recent video montage of NFL stars that prompted commissioner Roger Goodell to condemn racism and police brutality. He spoke without fear of backlash from Nike, which built an ad campaign around Colin Kaepernick long after his kneeling protests likely cost him a spot in the league.

“If I’m going to say something, I’m going to do research and think on it. I’m not going to go off emotion,” Barkley said. “To have a team like Nike behind me means everything. I know the topic now is police brutality and George Floyd, but Nike does a great job outside of that, too, in my community efforts. They are willing to hear your vision.”

Barkley’s Nike contract includes sales and on-field performance incentives that make it possible to reset the top of the market, according to a source who has seen the deal. Terms include:

* A 5-percent merchandise royalty rate, twice the industry standard;

* Ownership of all his created intellectual property, a safeguard against a feud such as the one NBA star Kahwi Leonard waged;

* The right to purchase merchandise at cost and sell with profits directly to the soon-to-be-launched Michael Ann & Saquon Barkley Hope Foundation;

* Annual financial and creative support for charitable endeavors, including building a new field for a Bronx high school football team;

* Permission to work with another company previously off limits to Nike clients on developing and wearing alternate branded product;

* Collaboration rights (typically not granted) with Scott, Drake, Virgil Abloh’s Off-White collection and other design artists under the Nike umbrella.

Saquon Barkley Giants Nike
Saquon Barkley@LaBrechtMedia

“I just appreciate greatness,” Barkley said. “No matter if it’s sports, the music industry, business or politics. There are similar characteristics why everyone is successful. When Travis is talking about his music, you see how his brain is operating. It’s how my brain operates when I talk about a football play.”

Nike declined comment for this story, but others who know Barkley in this space say he is determined to make his brand stand out from the crowd.

“It’s about leveraging his youthfulness and fresh perspective as kind of the new face of the NFL,” a sneaker industry source said. “There are running backs that have power and finesse, not a lot have both.

“Dynamic players with the market of New York and the personality is always a success. If the athlete is the one coming up with the insights, that comes off as authentic to the consumer and ultimately makes them excited about being a part of it.”


Cheers erupted louder than normal in the Penn State football meeting room: The free gear players receive at every bowl game had a special twist for the 2019 Cotton Bowl because it all came from Barkley’s collection.

One important contractual negotiating point for Barkley was setting up his alma mater with access to Nike exclusives. Penn State — one of Nike’s first football partners in 1993 — can use it as a recruiting tool.

“It’s a blessing to be able to be that figure for Penn State,” Barkley said.

Two years ago, coach James Franklin told everyone he knew at Nike: Don’t let Barkley go to the competition.

“As Saquon continues to grow and his brand continues to grow with Nike, this is going to explode, not only because he has a great partner but because Saquon is so universally respected,” Franklin said. “He is high production, low maintenance — what everybody wants in any employee in any industry.”

Saquon Barkley Giants Nike
James Franklin and his family wearing Saquon Barkley gearJames Franklin

Franklin met Barkley as an unheralded recruit in 2014. Five years later, he was standing in the snow on the sideline at MetLife Stadium with his wife and two daughters, all wearing Barkley-logoed sweatshirts and hats.

It made Franklin think back to real-life conversations with Barkley over picking the right NFL agent, or walking in the house to find his wife on the phone with Barkley discussing first-time home-purchasing obstacles.

“He has always been a guy that’s very curious in a lot of different areas,” Franklin said. “Once you have Saquon’s trust, Saquon is going to ask you 1,000 questions and go 1,000 miles per hour in that direction.

“Saquon is going to be highly successful. Right now, a big part of that is football, but he’s got so much talent that he could’ve done this without football.”


Like more than 5.6 million others, Barkley watched “The Last Dance” documentary.

Barkley’s ears perked up hearing how Michael Jordan, who wished to sign with Adidas out of college, revolutionized Nike by selling $126 million of Air Jordans during his 1984 rookie season. Barkley’s first pair of Jordans came as a toddler — his parents splurged for the “Breds” — and he dressed his baby daughter in the same model 20 years later.

Barkley doesn’t need to match Jordan’s astronomical numbers to change shoe sales in his sport.

There is a “helmet” stereotype in sports marketing: Football players can’t sell a lifestyle brand like their basketball or soccer counterparts because it is a team-driven sport where faces are hidden.

Barkley wants to smash through the ceiling. One step at a time.

“Shoe is definitely the goal for every athlete,” the industry source said. “When you are on the field, shoes are the only thing you can give your personal touch to. Everything else is uniformed and given by the team. You want to have your own shoe to be like, ‘This is who I am.’ ”

Who is Barkley? Think back to the concrete design.

Saquon Barkley Giants Nike
Saquon Barkley doing a pushup in front of Bo Jackson photoLu Alvarado

If his father had final say, Saquon would have been named Tupac Makavelli. As is, Barkley’s salute to the late rapper is to bring to life Tupac ‘Makavelli’ Shakur’s poetry collection “The Rose That Grew from Concrete.”

“It’s a reflection of my life and a lot of lives, especially black people from New York City and places of poverty,” Barkley said. “I am very fortunate to live my dream. I want that design in there to resemble a rose can grow from concrete. No matter your circumstances, if you have the right mindset and are passionate, anything is possible.”

Including someone else eventually eclipsing anything Barkley accomplishes.

“If I come across a kid who says he wants to be the next me, I give them the advice my father gave me,” Barkley said. “If I strive to be the next Barry Sanders or Bo Jackson, I’m putting a cap on my potential. Why not try to be better? Never try to be the next Saquon Barkley. Be the best version of yourself.”

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