Wednesday was a big day in the sneaker world. Nike announced its Spring 2016 Air Jordan lineup nearly a year in advance, a rare move for the company, which threw sneaker fans into a frenzy. And it also gave Sneaker News, which calls itself the “CNN for kicks” plenty of fodder for stories.
“It was absolutely an all-hands-on-deck kind of day for us,” said Sneaker News editor-in-chief Yu-ming Wu, who founded the site in 2006. “The site blew up.” The site’s post about the Air Jordan 2 and Air Jordan 12 got 22,000 visits and was shared over 1000 times.
Sneaker News may fly under the radar of casual sneaker wearers, but for hardcore sneaker fans, it’s a must-read. Besides new sneaker announcements, the site’s coverage includes office tours, retrospectives, and in-depth looks at big-name releases. It has made for a successful formula. The site gets 4 million unique visitors and 30 million pageviews a month, according to Google Analytics. And at 3.5 million followers, its Instagram presence is similarly sizable — bigger, even, than Nike’s official Jordan’s account.
Like its rivals KicksonFire and Sole Collector, Sneaker News is one the many websites, Instagram accounts and YouTube channels aimed at the growing community of sneakerheads, people who, Wu says, not only buy sneakers on a regular basis but also collect them and treat them as art. It’s a small audience, dominated by male teens, but one that has had a significant influence on the industry. Sneaker sales in the U.S. were a $22 billion business in 2013, a 30 percent climb from 2004, according to The NPD Group. Sneakerheads represented 5 percent of that, or $1.1 billion.
Much of that growth is thanks to the Web, which has made it easier for sneakerheads to connect with each other, keep up with new releases and even swap shoes via eBay. “They want to know what’s new, what’s controversial and what’s affecting trends on the business side,” said Matt Powell, sports industry analyst at The NPD Group.
The growth of that hardcore fan base has opened up opportunities for sites like Sneaker News, which are aimed at not only keeping fans abreast of new announcements, but also keeping them constantly updated on when things go on sale. A quarter of the traffic to Sneaker News goes to its sneaker-release calendar, which, Wu says, readers check as often as once an hour.
It’s a familiar formula these days. While the likes of BuzzFeed and Vox Media aim for scaled audiences with broad fare, sites like Sneaker News (and, in the watch space, Hodinkee) are going deeper on specific beats in an effort to own smaller, more passionate audiences.
“From the beginning, the idea was to make something that operates 24 hours a day. Whenever something is coming in, we want to have something to say and publish it immediately,” Wu said. Overall, the site’s five-person editorial team publishes 35 to 50 stories a week.
Sneaker News has managed to convert its fan base into an attractive platform for advertisers, which are eager to get in front of the site’s audience of young males. In addition to campaigns from Mountain Dew, ESPN and the U.S. Army that the site is running currently, Sneaker News has also worked with McDonald’s and, obviously, a long list of sneaker brands.
“When we first started this, a lot of people said, ‘You’re starting a website all about sneakers? Good luck with that’,” Wu said. “Now, we have the advertisers’ attention.”
Photo: Sneaker News/Instagram