DeVonta Smith Signs With Dick's to Front New Athleisure Brand

Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. has signed Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith to endorse its new line of men’s apparel, marking the first time the retailer has put an athlete behind its growing stable of private brands.

Smith, a wide receiver from Alabama who’s likely a first-round selection in next week’s National Football League draft, will be the face of VRST (pronounced “Virst”), an activewear label that debuted last month online and in 400 Dick’s locations. Smith will feature in VRST’s marketing, merchandising and represent the brand, which is targeted squarely at male customers of Lululemon Athletica Inc.’s athleisure gear.

DeVonta Smith Signs With Dick's to Front New Athleisure Brand

“You’ve seen athleisure take hold, and it continued to accelerate during the pandemic,” Ed Plummer, Dick’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview. “It becomes a natural space for us to enter.”

The move underscores Dick’s strategy to build on the success it has had during the pandemic—sales gained nearly 10% in 2020—and become more of a bona fide brand in its own right. Private brands, which accounted for 15% of Dick’s total revenue last year and delivered higher comparable-sales growth than the chain did overall, are a big piece of that effort. The move also comes as Nike Inc. and other big athletic brands push more sales through their own channels.

DeVonta Smith Signs With Dick's to Front New Athleisure Brand

Dick’s wants VRST to follow the same path as sister store brand Calia, which is backed by singer Carrie Underwood and is now the retailer’s second-largest women’s apparel brand after Nike. Profit margins on Dick’s own labels—which also include Field & Stream, Walter Hagen and DSG—are between 6 and 8 percentage points wider than what brands like Nike and Adidas AG deliver.

Signing Smith does not mean Dick’s is diving headlong into athlete endorsements, though, Plummer said. The company considered at least 20 athletes and other celebrities before settling on Smith, who can help lure younger customers to the chain through his 374,000 followers on Instagram, as well as through the company’s ties to community youth athletic leagues. Smith and his business partners, meanwhile, saw the appeal of having Smith’s face plastered all over the retailer’s properties.

“Being that one person in so many stores, that’s invaluable to an athlete,” said Dave Maryles, Smith’s marketing agent and a partner at Rubicon Talent.

Dick’s was one of the big retail winners during last year’s lockdowns as people loaded up on home fitness equipment, sweatpants and hoodies to wear while working from home, and outdoor gear like bikes, fishing rods and kayaks.

Now the retailer is poised to benefit from a resurgence in team sports as schools reopen and parents rush out to buy cleats and other gear for their kids. Sales of sporting goods rose 74% in March, government data showed, the industry’s best performance in more than 28 years. The company’s stock is up 50% this year.

As for Smith, the VRST line, which includes tees, hoodies, shorts and joggers priced between $30 and $120, appealed to him the first time he tried some on.

“It really came down to loving the gear,” Smith said via email.

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