- Under Armour announced on Monday the launch of its new Stephen Curry brand.
- The brand follows a similar playbook to the launch of Nike's Jordan brand in 1997.
- According to analysts, while the Curry brand might not be able to topple the enduring success of Jordan, the brand can still likely become a valuable asset for Under Armour by growing parallel to the company's namesake brand.
- "The Jordan-Nike dynamic creates a very interesting playbook for how to create, foster, support and develop a second brand," BMO analyst Simeon Siegel said. "Whether or not that plays out is a story that remains to be seen."
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Under Armour's move to launch a brand with Stephen Curry calls to mind a similar story that began at Nike in 1997: the launch of the Jordan line.
Nike first signed Michael Jordan in 1984, creating many classic sneaker silhouettes over the next 13 years, before the official rollout of "Brand Jordan."
Now, Under Armour appears to be looking to replicate that star-driven success with the launch of its Curry brand, following releases of the star point guard's own basketball shoe. The new line is set to launch on December 1, a move the company announced on Monday.
The Golden State Warriors star's line will kickoff with basketball and golf sneakers and apparel, with plans to eventually expand into women's and running shoes.
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"I think that there are obvious parallels to Jordan brand," said BMO analyst Simeon Siegel. "The question is whether Under Armour in an of itself will challenge the Jordan brand or challenge the Nike brand."
While the launch of the Curry brand appears to follow Nike's playbook with the Jordan brand, some analysts say it is unlikely that Under Armour will be able to mimic the success of the iconic line.
Nike's advantage is tough to shake
At the simplest level, Nike has the advantage of size. Nike's revenue for 2019 rose to $39.1 billion, with the Jordan brand accounting for $3.1 billion. By comparison, Under Armour's total revenue in 2019 was $5.3 billion.
Nike also leads in terms of popularity. The brand was recently named the favorite apparel brand among teens in Piper Sandler's biannual survey. On the other hand, Under Armour's image has tanked in recent years among millennial and Gen Z consumers, in part due to the brand's largely discounted presence at off-price chains.
NPD Group's senior industry adviser for sports Matt Powell also points out that sales in performance basketball have been declining over the last five years. In 2020 alone, sales in the category are down about 20%. While Retro Jordan sneakers are technically basketball shoes, teens and young adults have come to adopt them as lifestyle shoes.
Powell said that performance basketball shoes comprise just 3% of total US sneaker sales currently. This is the category that the Curry brand is zoning in on with plans to launch a signature basketball sneaker on December 11.
According to Ryan Drew, the general manager of the Curry Brand at Under Armour, the new line "will go beyond basketball" embracing a range of sports, such as golf and running, that correlate with Curry's diverse athletic journey.
However, Mimicking the Jordan brand's success in performance basketball will be no simple task. Curry left Nike for Under Armour back in 2013 and has been an important asset in reaching younger consumers. The point guard has been called the greatest shooter in NBA history.
Imitating the Jordan brand isn't Under Armour's ultimate goal, said Drew.
"Curry Brand is truly unique and 100% authentic to Stephen because it is driven by purpose — it's about doing good in everything that we do," he said. "And that's something that both Stephen and Under Armour believe people can get behind, now more than ever before. "
But while Curry's appeal with younger generations has been proven time and again, the 32-year-old's brand lacks longevity. As Powell put it, a large portion of Jordan's success is owed to the brand's reliance on its "retro" appeal that plays on nostalgia and a desire for old school collectibles.
It would be "tough for UA to replicate that success," Powell said.
Becoming a hit without toppling Jordan
Even if Curry doesn't overthrow Nike's Jordan brand, analysts agree that the brand still has the potential to bring in gains for the Baltimore-based company, which has fallen into a rut in the last couple of years. The company confirmed in November 2019 that it was under federal investigation over its accounting practices. After taking a hit to its business during the pandemic, Under Armour laid off 600 employees and cut short its $280 million deal with UCLA in June.
According to Siegel, the launch of the Curry brand, which will help facilitate sports programs to encourage young athletes, can help pick Under Armour back up. To the BMO analyst, the Curry brand should not be viewed as Under Armour's attempt to rival the Jordan brand. But instead, as its own attempt to incubate a new brand with a slightly different audience that can grow parallel to the Under Armour brand.
"The Jordan-Nike dynamic creates a very interesting playbook for how to create, foster, support and develop a second brand," he said. "Whether or not that plays out is a story that remains to be seen."
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