Less than three months after announcing he was leaving Under Armour for Nike, Dave Dombrow — the mastermind behind some of Under Armour’s hottest-selling shoes, including Stephen Curry’s signature shoe line — is making a U-turn.
“It’s surprising,” Sterne Agee CRT analyst Sam Poser told Footwear News. “Maybe he wants to be a bigger fish in a small pond; maybe Under Armour offered him a better deal. I think he is a talented guy — I like him, so I think it’s good for Under Armour that he’s back.”
Dombrow, who actually worked with Nike earlier in his career and also spent time at Puma, was expected to sit out for a year due to a non-compete clause before starting his new role with Nike in 2017.
But before the ink could dry on that supposed contract, insiders suggest Under Armour likely made a power bid to recapture Dombrow’s talent — offering him the newly created role of chief design officer. (Dombrow will return to Under Armour on Aug. 1 to begin his new position.)
Canaccord Genuity Inc. analyst Camilo Lyon said Dombrow’s flip-flop is tremendously telling for both Nike and Under Armour.
“This matters to the extent that [it proves] Under Armour’s ability to capture, retain and recapture talent,” Lyon said. “It [shows] their commitment to the [footwear] category and that they’re not willing to let the momentum slow. It also speaks to some of the hurdles that Nike [is facing].”
Lyon also posits that Under Armour’s announcement of Dombrow’s return could be a strategic one — to offset several high-profile executive departures the firm has announced with news of an equally high-profile return. Meanwhile, there may be a lot more talent-poaching happening behind the scenes.
“We don’t see all of the talent that is leaving Nike to go to Under Armour. I think Under Armour is hiring Nike talent hand over fist,” Lyon said.
Slowing interest in basketball shoes has been a hot topic over the past year, and longtime basketball-shoe leader Nike has been on the receiving end of a hefty amount of pressure to reinvigorate the category with fresh product. At the same time, with the help of two-time NBA MVP Curry, Under Armour has emerged as a formidable force in basketball.
Nike’s initial bid to nab Dombrow, Lyon suggests, was likely an attempt to reboot its basketball business.
“It was either one of two things: Nike’s intent to have new talent come in and help them on the basketball side, specifically signature [basketball], given its troubles; or Nike’s attempt to stall out the design talent at Under Armour, specifically on the Stephen Curry signature shoe line,” Lyon said.
Since Dombrow wasn’t due to start with Nike until 2017, Lyon theorizes that he would have been working on 2018 basketball shoe releases — meaning his change of heart could impact some of Nike’s product cycles.
And while Nike still has its share of top-notch design talent on the roster to get the job done, as Under Armour and Adidas accelerate their efforts to snap up market share, “Nike’s talent is definitely being courted,” Lyon said.