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Li Ning Seeks to Revive Brand With NBA Superstar Dwyane Wade

Li Ning Seeks to Revive Brand With NBA Superstar Dwyane Wade
An employee adjusts a window display at a Li Ning Co. Ltd. store in Beijing. Photographer: Keith Bedford/Bloomberg

Li Ning Co., the Chinese sportswear company that posted an annual loss last year, is seeking to boost its brand image in China by recruiting American basketball superstar Dwyane Wade.

“Li Ning’s products will be better known by consumers after cooperation with Wade,” company founder and Executive Chairman Li Ning said at a briefing in Beijing yesterday.

Wade, whose Miami Heat team won an NBA championship for a second year, is helping to design shoes and clothing for Li Ning. The company has 5.4 percent of China’s sportswear market, according to data from Euromonitor International, lagging Nike Inc. and Adidas AG, which have 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

The play of Chinese-American Jeremy Lin and former Houston Rockets star Yao Ming and two decades of National Basketball Association broadcasts have bolstered basketball’s popularity in China, fueling viewership, apparel sales and demand for players like Wade to endorse products in the world’s biggest market for cars, phones and computers.

Li Ning, the largest China-based sportswear company by revenue, reported a 1.98 billion yuan ($323 million) loss in 2012, its first since going public in 2004.

The manufacturer and retailer has hired executives from Nike, Dell Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. to help move to a more “retail oriented” business model from wholesale, after saying on Jan. 25 it would raise as much as HK$1.87 billion ($241 million) in a sale of convertible securities to fund the effort.

Wade, who attended yesterday’s event in Beijing, opened his speech in Mandarin by remarking on his return to China. The basketball player has 3.4 million followers on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

Wade “really speaks to Chinese basketball fans,” said Kim Jin-Goon, vice chairman of Li Ning.

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