Puma—whose fashion cred has been lifted by Rihanna—now wants to score big in basketball with a little help from Jay-Z and two projected top NBA Draft picks. The brand has tapped the rapper to help shape its newly emboldened hoops marketing strategy. On Monday, Adam Petrick, global director of marketing and brand for Puma, referred to him as "president of basketball operations," according to multiple media reports. But on Tuesday Puma stated that Jay-Z's title is actually creative director and that Petrick had originally referred to him by an "informal designation."
As creative director, Jay-Z will be "overseeing creative strategy, creative marketing, and product design," Puma said in a statement. "Since 1973 the sport of basketball has transcended the court and Puma Basketball will blend the influences of performance, fashion, music and culture. Jay-Z is the perfect partner to help us re-enter the category."
Puma has also inked Deandre Ayton, the likely top pick in Thursday's NBA Draft, to an endorsement deal. Ayton's pact comes days after Puma locked down ex-Duke star Marvin Bagley III, who is expected to be taken among the first few picks in the draft.
The signings immediately make Puma a player in pro basketball, a sport it has sat out since striking a deal with Vince Carter in the late 1990s. Ayton, who played one year at the University of Arizona before declaring for the draft, announced the deal on Twitter.
ESPN reported the multimillion deal with Ayton is for four years and covers footwear and apparel. Last week, a reporter for The Athletic reported that Bagley's five-year deal is the largest rookie shoe deal since Kevin Durant signed with Nike in 2007. Ayton's deal will likely exceed that.
Matt Powell, a senior sports industry advisor for NPD Group, says the Puma deals are an anomaly. "We've seen a trend in the last decade or so of not giving out mega rookie contracts to players but rather giving them what in NBA terms would be a nominal amount of money—a couple million dollars—until they really prove themselves as both athletes on the court and spokespersons," he says.
But Puma clearly wants to assert itself in hoops after recently being seen as more of a trendy fashion brand, thanks in part to its 2014 deal with Rihanna. The NBA deals signal that Puma wants to burnish its performance credentials, Powell says.
Puma's lack of NBA presence was not a factor for Ayton and Bagley. Indeed, both players made it sound like a plus in interviews with Bleacher Report.
"You see a lot of guys going with what's normal," Bagley told the publication. But "I had a vision when I first decided to sign, which is that someone has to start it off and build it up where people would want to buy their stuff and wear the shoes." Added Ayton: "It's always good to start your own thing and try to be great in it."
Ayton, a native of the Bahamas, even suggested he wanted to try a collaboration with Rihanna, who is from Barbados. "I need to see Rihanna," he told Bleacher Report. "I need to talk to her for a little bit and do a little collab. But yeah, that's gonna be litty. That's gonna be real lit."
An earlier version of this story stated that Jay-Z's role would include selecting players for Puma endorsements, citing a report in Complex. A Puma spokeswoman on Tuesday said he will not be involved in selecting players and that decription was incorrectly communicated previously.