How Steph Curry Is Helping Under Armour Catch Up With Nike in the Basketball Biz

“William Shakespeare said that all the world’s a stage and men and women are merely players, but Mr. Shakespeare never met Stephen Curry,” Oscar winner Jamie Foxx heralded in the 2015 ad launching the first signature shoe for the NBA player. “You’ve got to find the person with a new story to tell, the person who is in the gym every damn day taking shot after shot.”

The executives at Under Armour did more than find just any person.

In fact, they found a superstar whose marketability and playmaking skills could help the Baltimore-based company’s basketball business rival the success of Nike’s Jordan Brand.

Under Armour Curry 2.5 Stephen Curry
The tonal blue and gold Under Armour Curry 2.5.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Under Armour

Case in point: Footwear revenues at Under Armour rose 57 percent in 2015 to $678 million, attributed largely to new running sneakers and, of course, the buzzy popularity of Curry’s basketball kicks. More recent, in the first quarter of 2016, the company’s footwear revenues surged 64 percent to $264 million.

“We’ve been getting a lot of expansion across our entire footwear business because of what’s happening with Steph,” said Peter Ruppe, SVP of footwear and acting GM for Under Armour’s basketball product. “We’re gaining ground in the running market, gaining in outdoor, even within training. The No. 1 growth driver in the past quarter was the Steph product, and because of that we’re seeing the halo effect.”

After initially entering the basketball shoe business in 2010 with a small collection called Micro G — Brandon Jennings, then a rising young talent with the Milwaukee Bucks, served as the face of the initiative — Under Armour launched the Curry One in New York City during the NBA All-Star weekend in February 2015. Soon after, the company followed with various franchise installments, such as the Curry One low, a string of limited-edition MVP and holiday colorways, and the Curry Two.

Steph Curry Under Armour
CREDIT: Courtesy of Under Armour.

Most recently, Under Armour unveiled the Curry 2.5, a shoe the Golden State Warriors sharpshooter began wearing on the court just before the playoffs began. That style, inspired by Curry’s precise movements and focus under pressure, is expected to hit retail May 28 for $135. It also takes artistic cues from the Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco and Oak- land, the Warriors’ home city. What’s more, the Curry Three will debut in time for the 2016-17 NBA season.

To fuel consumer excitement, the athletic firm has smartly capitalized on Curry’s charm, showmanship and likability. Since launching his signature line, Under Armour took Curry on a five-day, five-city marketing tour throughout Asia, unleashed TV ads and in recent weeks announced it would release a three-second spot for every 3-pointer he makes in this year’s playoffs.

Curry, who scored more 3-pointers in a season (402) than any other NBA player while leading the Warriors to a history-making 73-9 record in the 2015-16 season, said he was immediately drawn to Under Armour after first meeting with founder Kevin Plank and other executives in 2013.

Under Armour Curry 2.5 Stephen Curry
The black and gold colorway of the Under Armour Curry 2.5.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Under Armour

“They came to the pitch meeting and talked about what they saw in me as a player and my potential going forward,” said Curry, formerly a Nike guy. “There were also lots of similarities between Under Armour and me and our backgrounds of being underdogs, inspiring to be great and defying the odds. [I saw] the room for growth [at this company], and I wanted to be a part of that and have a huge impact in building a basketball brand and a business that will be successful.”

So far, he has. According to one analyst, the partnership, which helped Under Armour nab Footwear News’ Brand of the Year in 2015, could be worth as much as $14 billion. Ruppe, who joined the company in January 2015 after 26 years at Nike, said product designers are already working on the future generations of Curry sneakers. It’s a process, he said, that will include adding more innovation and sophistication to the young basketball business.

“So my apologies to Mr. Shakespeare,” Foxx said in the 2015 Peter Berg-directed launch ad, “because onto the stage of mere players enters the baby-faced assassin, and he’s about to write his own story.”

Under Armour Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry in Under Armour’s latest marketing campaign, “Rule Yourself.”
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

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