Klutch Sports founder Rich Paul made headlines in December 2021 when he collaborated with New Balance on a footwear and apparel collection, highlighted by a new-look 550 shoe. At the time, a sportswear giant teaming up with the head of a sports talent agency was unprecedented.
The partnership, however, was a natural one for Paul.
“Being an agent is at the bottom of my list, it’s not at the top. I’m not just an agent chasing commissions. I’m a creative at heart,” Paul told FN. “I wanted to build a business that was totally separate from the representation side, no different than when Mark Zuckerberg bought Instagram or when Jeff Bezos bought Whole Foods. No one’s trying to put a limit on them.”
He continued, “I’m an innovator. I have the ability to do a number of things. I understand culture more than most agents.”
This understanding of culture has come through on his latest venture, Klutch Athletics by New Balance, a sportswear brand created to support athlete needs throughout their entire athletic journey, from the youth level to the pros.
Klutch Athletics by New Balance currently has product in the market, including training apparel designed with both style and function in mind. The looks are delivered in gray tones that are synonymous with New Balance, which are paired with hits of green, a nod to where young athletes first fell in love with their field of play.
Paul and New Balance revealed the first run of Klutch Athletics apparel late last week at a pop-up shop in Kansas City, Mo., which was also the home to the 2023 NFL Draft.
The first drop can be shopped now via Newbalance.com and ranges in price from $25 to $210.
“Whenever you’re launching a partnership or a sub brand, you want to solve for consumer needs that actually exist. We are taking an athlete-first approach, integrating community, sport and culture to create a training apparel brand that connects with the athlete through a modern lens,” New Balance chief marketing officer and SVP of merchandising Chris Davis told FN. “This category has not been innovated or evolved in the last 20 years. That’s the impetus behind why this was created, and we’re going to stay laser focused on that athlete and building toward that consumer need.”
Paul brought the idea of Klutch Athletics to New Balance in 2020 when Chicago hosted the NBA All-Star Game. However, the trust between the two began in 2018 when New Balance brought on then-emerging basketball star Darius Bazley—a Klutch Sports client—as a paid intern as the brand was preparing to reenter the sport.
“From there, each side has over-delivered on every partnership,” Davis said. “As a result, we wanted to take it to the next level, do something more disruptive and consumer facing. There are very few brands within our industry that have a high aptitude for calculated risk taking. New Balance and Klutch are certainly two of those.”
Although the brand is young, Paul said the response has been overwhelmingly positive—and also a bit surprising.
“Oddly enough, we’re getting a lot of calls directly from the athletes that we don’t represent, that Klutch Sports Group does not represent, which is great,” Paul explained. “It’s been all positive from that perspective.”
Delivering quality and compelling product is imperative, however Klutch Athletics by New Balance is also bringing much-needed Black ownership to an industry long dominated by white males.
Although this is important, Paul, who has long been a successful entrepreneur, believes it is too soon to tell what impact Klutch Athletics will have on the greater sportswear landscape.
“There’s a cool performance, sportswear brand with functionality added to the marketplace, but we can’t say what it means in its entirety because we’re just getting started. When we look back three or five years from now, and you see the impact that it has had, that will tell us the story then,” Paul said.
However, for NFL star Chase Young—the first Klutch Athletics by New Balance ambassador—the gravity of the opportunity is not lost on him. (Aside from his role as ambassador, Young has also been represented by Klutch Sports since entering the league in 2020.)
“Rich Paul is a Black man in this business, and I’ve trusted him with my career, so this was a no brainer for me,” Young said. “I’m blessed to be the face of any brand, and it’s my job to empower the next generation, to lead by example and show who is next that if you work hard one day this can be you.”
Aside from his association with Paul, Young said the move to New Balance was a natural one.
“I grew up on New Balance. In [Washington] D.C. where I grew up, it’s real big down there. Before any Jordan or any Nike, New Balance was the shoe that I wore growing up,” Young said, stating the 993 is his all-time favorite sneaker and his current go-to is the 1906. “It was a big part of my family and my community. You go around the neighborhood and the first few of choice is New Balance, so me being affiliated with New Balance is real big for my community.”
He continued, “And Klutch Athletics, the style is real fresh, and we share the same morals. Both of those together, that’s real big. With Klutch Athletics and New Balance, I feel that my voice has actually been heard.”
Now aligned with New Balance, Young—the brand’s first football athlete—will work with its design team on cleats for the sport, which will debut in 2024. Although he was sparse on details about the cleat, Young said he was confident New Balance will make a splash when it enters the sport.
“I’m the first brand ambassador for football, but I don’t really look at it as a lack of experience. I look at it as an open door, something that can be real big,” Young said.
Looking ahead, Davis is confident Klutch Athletics for New Balance will be a leader in sportswear.
“We are in the incubation phase right now, but our goal is to be a leader in the sportswear category, connecting with the young basketball and football player all over the country, both in men’s and women’s,” Davis said. “You’ll see activations focusing on female athletes, on male athletes, and we’re taking an aggressive stance on forward design, branding and athlete acquisition.”
Paul added, “Today, we have a few products. Eighteen months from now, we will look a lot different, but we won’t change our authenticity and our approach. We will stay authentic to who we are, staying in the lane of sportswear. We’re not going to go outside of that, we’re trying to elevate within this space.”