Brand GPS: The Next Steps for Under Armour and Stephen Curry

Giving Stephen Curry advice on what he should do next almost seems silly after the season he just had.

The silky shooter took home a regular season MVP award after powering the Golden State Warriors to a 67-15 record, and the winning kept going until there were no games left to play. With Curry leading the way, the Warriors climbed the mountaintop and disposed of foes like Anthony Davis, James Harden, and LeBron James on the way to a championship. If this isn’t what the peak looks like, we should all fear what comes next.

There’s one area of Curry’s life that still has room for upward maneuvering, however–the sneaker game. Under Armour believes they have the man who can turn their sneaker brand into a billion-dollar-plus operation, and they might just be on their way. Sales have risen 40 percent for the Maryland-based brand, in no small part thanks to Curry’s dominant season. Based on that momentum, more of the same from Curry on the court could push Under Armour toward their stated goal.

That’s step one regardless of what else they do–signature shoes don’t move if the pitchman selling them isn’t lighting up statsheets and highlight reels–but it can’t stop there. For Under Armour to truly assert themselves into the basketball sneaker marketplace, they have to find ways to leverage their cash cow beyond what we’ve already seen.

Under Armour has already shown they’re open to taking cues from firmly-established competitors, and that’s a good thing. If there’s anything sneakerheads have shown over the years, it’s that they’re not averse to paying top dollar for retros and re-releases of old favorites. In that same vein, ad-creators would do well to hit the same sweet spot as timeless classics.

Take for instance Under Armour’s “Charged By Belief” spot featuring Curry and Jamie Foxx.

There are obvious connections to draw between Foxx’s campaigning and Spike Lee’s spell as Mars Blackmon, hyping up Michael Jordan’s prowess while His Airness hooped in the background.

Ads like these serve a dual purpose. Curry continues to dazzle with his unprecedented shooting ability, but he doesn’t have to celebrate himself or toot his own horn. Instead, he retains the humility that is part of his charm. Highlighting Curry’s resistance to celebrating his accomplishments plays in his favor because it feels authentic to how Curry tends to carry himself.
If Curry and Under Armor want to continue taking giant leaps forward, however, injecting some personality is probably a route they’ll need to explore.

This isn’t to suggest that Curry should become cartoon-like and go against the image that he’s created to this point. But plenty of athletes before him have seen their endorsements and sales go through the roof by showcasing a different side of themselves.

Take Peyton Manning, for example. Known as an authoritarian playbook junkie who pulls the strings on offense, Manning’s spots on television show off a light-hearted side that contrasts his image on the field.

That duality comes across as refreshing when it comes from pro athletes, who otherwise are maniacal competitors for their full-time job. Curry doesn’t need to mimic comedic athletes like Manning or an NBA contemporary like Blake Griffin, but showcasing depth and variety of character is important for a lead spokesman.

It’s important to have that coincide with the same variety of product as well. Under Armour has pushed an array of colorways with the Curry One, which coincide with stories from Curry’s life and career. Nike has done this with their frontline stars to great success, leading to eye-popping colorways like the “DMV,” an homage to Kevin Durant’s hometown. It’s a nice personal touch and helps shoes appeal to as many people as possible. Having colors to match the gear or uniforms of potential buyers is always a good thing, and Under Armour should ensure their customers have maximum sneaker optionality.

Speaking of frontline stars, the last threshold Under Armour has to cross is locking down other big names who can stand next to (or across from) Curry as champions of the brand. Curry may be the man at the center of Under Armour’s ascension, but they need fitting co-stars to continue their rise. They swung and missed at luring Durant with a mega-deal in 2014, but those are the type of big fish Under Armour should be chasing. (Maybe No. 7 overall draft pick Emmanuel Mudiay will be that guy?)

If hoop heads are coming to check out new Curry releases–like the UA Curry One Low “Raiders” colorway dropping at Champs Sports this Friday–having strong brand alternatives is critical. Maybe you got a recommendation from a friend you trust on a pair of Curry kicks, but they don’t quite fit the way you’d like. Alternative star power goes a long way to retaining that sale within the Under Armour umbrella; when you’re up against competitors who can throw LeBron, Kobe, and KD at buyers, a strong supporting cast alongside Curry matters greatly.

Curry and Under Armour have proven they’re a force to be reckoned with on and off the court. Maintaining their current trajectory might be “good enough,” but with a few additions and a tinge of variety, Under Armour can put up a real fight against their entrenched competitors.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck