Earlier this year Stephen Curry shocked everyone when he jumped ship on marketing giant NIKE to sign on with upstart Under Armour. It was a radical departure that shook up the sports marketing world and perplexed basketball fans, marketers, and shoe customers alike.
Conjecture flew about why Curry, a growing superstar, one on the NBA’s most popular players, and reigning MVP would opt out of a relationship with NIKE, the undisputed leader of the sports shoe world in favor of Under Armour, a scrappy up-and-coming, but much, much smaller brand.
It was rumored that the split between Curry and NIKE was due to Curry’s devout Christian faith and his desire to feature Bible verses on his signature shoes. Curry is one of the today’s most popular athletes. But, like Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin, among others, a lot of his popularity is tied to his unashamed Christianity. Rumors swirled that NIKE just wasn’t having all that.
Curry came forward however and squashed those rumors as being simply not true. With his typical gracious attitude, he explained that his religion had nothing to do with the deal, or lack of a deal. During an interview, Curry was asked directly about NIKE denying him the creative freedom to put scriptures on the shoes.
Curry stated that the conversation of even designing a shoe never happened with NIKE because Curry was not featured as one of their signature shoes. With Under Armour he was thrust to the forefront of their sneaker line with the Curry One’s, which is why he had a say in creating it.
What exactly DID happen?
According to recent reports by ESPN, it may have had much more to do with a botched job by NIKE in creating a working relationship and marketing deal with Curry.
In 2013, Curry’s contract with NIKE was up, and it was time to re-pitch him. According to Curry’s father Dell, the pitch meeting was a disaster on many levels. The NIKE representatives kept referring to Steph as “Steph-on.” Slides in the pitch featured Durant’s name instead of Curry’s. Dell told ESPN, he “stopped paying attention after that.” Although Curry is not known for being an overly-sensitive superstar, the treatment he received by NIKE’s pitch team was undeniably shabby and disrespectful.
In addition, Under Armour had a $4 million offer on the table, but NIKE stood firm at $2.5 million. And, a major concern of Curry’s was the chance to lead a NIKE basketball camp for youth ball players. NIKE did not have that as any kind of priority.
“Everything that makes (Curry) human and cuddly and an unlikely monster is anathema to NIKE. They like studs with tight haircuts and muscles,” said Sonny Vaccaro to ESPN, who worked with Nike in the early 90s. “He (Curry) was skinny, he was frail, he was all the things you weren’t supposed to be. He never got his due.”
It all added up to the feeling that NIKE was just not invested in Curry, didn’t take him seriously, and weren’t really prepared to back him fully.
How did Under Armour even get in on the deal?
Apparently Curry’s former teammate, Kent Bazemore, a non-guaranteed rookie trying to make the Golden State Warriors, made it happen. He himself was previously able to get a deal with Under Armour. Bazemore knew that Curry’s contract with NIKE was up and he pitched his teammate on the idea and Curry agreed to meet with Under Armour executives.
Reportedly, Under Armour was very receptive to Curry’s plans and interest in developing sneakers that featured Bible verses. They hit it off and a deal was signed. It has been a deal that has benefited both Curry and Under Armour significantly on many levels.
Last year Under Armour released the Curry One (shown below), which featured the tagline “Charged By Belief” and 4:13 on the tongue (referring to Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”)
The Curry Two features the slogan, “Iron Sharpens Iron” in reference to Proverbs 27:17 which reads, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
Sales are taking off.
Analysts say the Curry shoes have been selling very well at retail stores. Meanwhile, NIKE’s LeBron and Durant franchises have reportedly seen some softness, according to The NPD Group sports industry analyst Matt Powell. Morgan Stanley reported UA could potentially make $14 billion off of Curry.
NIKE reportedly owns 95.5% of the sneaker market with 74% of all the NBA signed to them. They make $20 billion annually off their NBA sneakers. And while Under Armour has a long way to go to catch them, their sneakers sales are up 350% thanks to Curry.
So, in the end, it appears as though Stephan Curry didn’t leave NIKE because of any disagreements over his Christianity. It looks like it had more to do with Under Armour’s willingness to embrace Curry’s faith, respect the man, and support his efforts.
And the rest is history.