In 1985, when Nike Inc. gave Michael Jordan, a rising basketball star who had been drafted third overall by the Chicago Bulls in the previous year, his own signature line of sneakers, few could have imagined the transformative effect the move would have on athletic shoes.
The Air Jordan 1 — the most expensive basketball shoe on the market at the time, retailing for $65 — set a historical precedent for celeb-endorsed athletic footwear.
Fast-forward to 2015.
After the NBA’s newest rising star, Golden State Warriors’ point guard Stephen Curry, led the team to victory in the NBA Finals, Under Armour Inc. saw demand for the MVP’s signature shoe line soar.
The Curry One retails for $120 — almost double the price of Jordan’s original release but significantly less than Nike’s LeBron 12, which sports a price tag of around $200.
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Since the Warriors’ finals victory, the Curry One — particularly the editions released since the NBA Finals began, the MVP and the Father to Son — has been selling out left and right.
That level of demand, buoyed by the playoffs hype and Golden State’s ultimate victory, has doubled the shoe’s resell price across e-commerce platforms.
“Brands need athletes to perform at a high level in their products,” said Matt Powell, a sports-industry analyst at NPD Group. “This brings athletic creditability.”
No doubt, experts say, Curry’s victory bodes well for Under Armour, which also recently benefited from another of its sponsored athlete’s victories. Golfer Jordan Spieth won the U.S. Open on June 21 while wearing the athletic brand’s new golf cleat, the UA Drive One, which has sold out in record time, according to the company.
Under Armour has been quickly gaining market share and made waves last year when it outpaced Adidas AG to grab the No. 2 spot in the U.S. sportswear market.
But what does Spieth and Curry’s success mean for Under Armour in the long run?
Both Michael Jordan’s shoes and career stories are well-known. The NBA superstar led the Bulls to six NBA Championship titles and nabbed the NBA Finals MVP title six times. Jordan’s signature shoes went on to create a legacy of their own — their fame rivaling that of their world-renowned endorser.
Curry’s legacy, on the other hand, is still being built, and spiking interest in a mega-athlete’s signature footwear when his or her popularity and on-court success are at an all-time high might just be par for the course.
If Under Armour is to sustain that momentum, experts say, the quality of the product needs to be more important than the athlete endorsing it.
“Brands must keep executing great product in order to gain share,” Powell said. “The Curry One is a terrific shoe — Under Armour’s first ‘street shoe.’ But they must keep developing great product for the most demanding consumer.”
B. Riley & Co. analyst Jeff Van Sinderen agrees.
“At the end of the day, product is still number one,” said Van Sinderen. “You can have the best athletes in the world, but if the product is not strong, it won’t really matter.”
Regarding Nike’s endorsement success, Van Sinderen said the firm’s strategy for selecting and marketing top-notch athletes has certainly served them well over the years.
“Not everyone will prove to be a perfect pick, but they have a number of ‘marquis’ athletes to support the brand and that goes a long way,” Van Sinderen said of the firm whose other endorsements have included Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
As for the golf market and its celeb endorsers, Powell said he is not so optimistic about Spieth’s ability to bolster renewed interest in the sport.
“Golf lost the millennials a long time ago, so I don’t see any golfers having much of an impact with the core demographic of teen males,” Powell said.