By Khalid Salaam
I hate to do a locale name drop (Lang!) but earlier this week I spent time at Converse’s Athlete Summit in San Juan, PR. These summits are a chance to get everyone who works for Converse together at one time in order to discuss ways to make the brand better, how to grow in the marketplace and how to keep putting out quality stuff. Yes the weather was amazing and since this was my first visit to this island nation, you can imagine that I was amped up to be in Puerto Rico.
I flew JetBlue and had heard so many good things about the airline that my expectations were higher than when I usually fly. Gotta say though that the flight was excellent and the TV choices were amazing. It was like I traveled with Time Warner Cable or something. I ended up watching the in-flight movie offer of ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”, which I have to say wow. As in wow that movie sucks. But whatever, when I’m 25,000 miles above the ground I’ll watch damn near anything (well maybe not “The Hills”). Upon landing I was given access to the Puerto Rican tradition of clapping when the plane lands. Ben says this is a combination of people being happy that they are in P.R as we’ll as elation that the plane actually landed. I didn’t quite get it at first but after 2 seconds I joined in (there was a lot of peer pressure to clap plus I was happy to land too) and I clapped enthusiastically on the way back to NY too.
On the cab ride to the hotel I passed by a cockfighting stadium, which totally blew me away. Yes I know that the sport (word to Steph Marbury) exists there but I didn’t know it was so out in the open. In big letters on the side on what looked like a mini-Madison Square Garden it read “COCKFIGHTING”. Yes I was excited and weirdly tempted to check it out. Once at the hotel I caught up with Converse media relations head Molly Carter and her assistant Paul Jackiewicz (You guys do things the right way. Much thanks and appreciation) who informed me that the Sunday evening events would commence with a beachside BBQ. Cool. I went back to my hotel in hopes of catching some NFL highlights when I was pleasantly surprised to see my beloved Eagles (EAGLES!!) on TV in San Juan. The fact that they lost the game matters little to me in the big picture btw.
At the BBQ I met several incredibly cool Converse designers, marketing people, promotions, etc. We cut it up regarding the state of the shoe game, the mentality and motivations of designers, who will win the East and the undeniable fact that the nighttime breeze in PR is amazing. Most of the Converse endorsers were there as well—Wade, Nelson, Haslem, Korver and Hinrich. I talked to one of Kirk Hinrich’s childhood friends who explained to me that Kirk has always been pretty reserved and just a regular guy regardless of the NBA stardom. It was an amazing night except for the DJ, who couldn’t get his playlist to match the mood of the night at all. I was tempted to give him my ipod.
The next day Converse set up shop at a middle school and Wade and Jameer Nelson passed out shoes to the kids and gave them a pro-education speech. Later I asked them both if they thought that their speech’s resonated with the kids or if they were happy just to get free shoes. They all gave good answers but you’ll have to cop issue 113 to read them. I also saw a lot of new Converse shoes and was pretty impressed by one of their new basketball shoes (the Hops) and by Dwade’s new shoe campaign. Not sure how much detail I can give away about it but trust me that it will definitely touch people and help push his popularity even higher than what it is now.
All in all a productive trip and one in which it seems pretty obvious that Converse is no longer happy just being in the shoe game. Looks like they are reloading for something bigger.