Stephen Curry has just entered rare territory for an athlete.
Like pro basketball legends Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan before him, the three-time NBA champion now has his own label: Curry Brand.
The venture is backed by Under Armour, the athletic giant that has sponsored him since 2013.
“This is an opportunity to put a true investment around the purpose that I’ve been living out since I’ve been in the league, to elevate the relationship I have with Under Armour and to make this as authentic to me as possible,” Curry told FN.
Under Armour president and CEO Patrik Frisk said the Curry Brand is an example of what the company wants to represent moving forward.
“It is a commercial endeavor in combination with a purpose-driven endeavor. That is the big differentiator with this brand,” Frisk said. “As Under Armour is moving and shifting from just being a product company to a purpose-led company, this idea matured and became more and more exciting. It is something unique in our industry.”
The executive compared Curry Brand to what it already has in place with Project Rock, the label of musclebound actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Although there are similarities, the differences lie within approach to community.
“We have a very clear, defined program for how to activate kids, in terms of building out places where they can play the game, in terms of programs where they can participate, in terms of training coaches,” Frisk said. “The consumer, when they buy a Curry Brand product, will know that part of the proceeds will go to helping out with these programs.”
Among the first Curry Brand community activations is a partnership with the Oakland Unified School District, which is aimed at encouraging kids to play sports and teaching them the benefits of participation. Curry said the program will support roughly 8,000 middle school students, and he hopes to create three safe spaces for kids to play this year. By 2025, the baller hopes that number reaches 25 courts and community centers.
Also, Curry has teamed up with Positive Coaching Alliance to provide professional development for youth sports coaches within the school district, as well as Oakland Parks, Recreation & Youth Development.
While the details of the projects have clearly been well thought out, Under Armour is investing in Curry Brand during a troubled time for the company. For example, it revealed in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing in September that it planned to cut 600 jobs from its global corporate workforce. And in June, UA ended its 15-year, $280 million sponsorship deal with the University of California that it signed in May 2016.
“I’m not running away from the fact that we have canceled a number of our engagements, from Major League Baseball to some of the schools or athletes we’ve had relationships with,” Frisk said. “Some of them were natural simply because the contractual agreements were running to an end and some we didn’t feel had the right place with Under Armour anymore.”
He continued, “In the case of Stephen, it’s the opposite. We’ve actually doubled down on this like we’re doubling down on other ones. We’re doing it with fewer and we’re doing it with bonds we believe matter for our brand going forward.”
Curry Brand, according to Frisk, represents Under Armour’s unwavering commitment to performance, one that some athletic insiders have criticized.
“Part of the work we did when I first came in was to truly understand where the opportunity for this brand was — would it remain athletic performance or were we going down the path of others, which was a more casual direction,” Frisk said. “Everything the consumer told us — and we talked to over 50,000 consumers around the world — was, ‘We know Under Armour as an athletic performance brand. That’s where your authenticity comes from.’”
He continued, “You have to be authentic if you want to live forever in this business, and all of the product that has made our competition the size they are has been legacy performance, whether it’s [a Nike] Air Force 1 or anything else. You’ve got to go for the core before you go to the more.”
Although Curry admitted he is a student of the game, his vision for Curry Brand isn’t a carbon copy of what’s been done before. “It’s not Jordan 2.0. It’s my version of a unique opportunity with Under Armour,” Curry told FN.
Part of what makes this imprint uniquely Curry is its product range. Where companies such as Ewing Athletics and Jordan Brand eventually ventured into other categories, Curry Brand will launch with several that are close to the Golden State Warrior.
“When it comes to golf and running and training, those are part of my life in an extreme way,” Curry said. “But you’ve got to be strategic about how you roll out these categories. You don’t want to just take a fire hose from out the gate, but we are planting our flag and saying this is what we want to do, this is where we’re going and there will be amazing moments throughout this first year.”
However, Curry did firmly state that the company would be basketball-led, referring to the sport as “a springboard for everything.”
His brand will deliver product across several categories — with apparel and accessories releasing Dec. 1 via Currybrand.com — with a sharp focus on basketball. Its first major launch will be the Curry 8, a court-ready basketball shoe that will debut on Dec. 11. “It’s the first true innovation story. It’s something I’ve never worn before,” Curry said. “It’s one of those experiences you have to put on your foot and find out [why it’s special]. It’s got technology and innovation that I’m excited for people to learn about.”