Is Stephen Curry Shoe Salesman The Next Michael Jordan?

People looking for the next Michael Jordan, who won six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and is regarded as the best NBA player of all time, have generally gone with the just-retired Kobe Bryant and the still dominant LeBron James.

But off the court, the search for the next Jordan in the business world of basketball shoes is Stephen Curry, at least according to Under Armour, which lured Curry away from Nike in 2013 to sign a shoe deal, then last year extend the alliance through 2024.

Under Armour has so much faith in Curry that it launched its first signature line around him in 2015 with major multimedia marketing. The investment has proven to be worthy.

According to the Baltimore-based company, footwear sales rose 64.2% during the first quarter of 2016 to $264 million (versus $161 million in the prior year's period), "primarily reflecting the ongoing success of the Curry signature basketball line" and expanded running offerings.

That follows Q4 2015 figures which showed Under Armour's footwear sales had risen 95% to $167 million and that full-year footwear sales increased 57% to $678 million.

By comparison, sales for Nike footwear in the quarter that ended in February topped $2.4 billion in North America (up 16% versus the prior year) and more than $5 billion worldwide, according to the company.

According to a recent financial report from Morgan Stanley, if Curry remains healthy in the public eye on the court, he has the potential to "increase Under Armour's market cap by $14 billion," in effect doubling the company's value.

"Stephen Curry is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our brand for sales and awareness," Kevin Plank, CEO and founder for Under Armour, said during a financial conference call last week. That is not just in North America, but overseas. "We took Stephen to China last year and the response was amazing. The impact of Stephen for us in China has been phenomenal."

A major shoe brand putting its focus on one basketball player for growth is best exemplified by the relationship between Nike and Michael Jordan, which began in 1984 during Jordan's rookie year and in 1997 saw the launch of Jordan Brand. Jordan Brand accounted for some $3 billion in sales in 2015.

The billion-dollar figure is significant.

"We posted 30% increase in (net revenue) in the first quarter (to more than $1 billion), and that figure was no accident," said Plank. "Stephen wears No. 30 and he averaged 30 points a game this year."

Under Armour has been all in with Curry during the current NBA playoffs. Owing to the fact that Curry set an NBA record with 402 three-point shots this past season (breaking his own mark of 286 set last season), marketing during the current playoffs includes airing a three-second commercial each time Curry hits a three-point shot. That happened five times in the first game of the post-season, when Curry's Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets.

According to a report from Slice Intelligence, which tracks online sales and revenue, between January 2015-March 2016, Under Armour's Curry line was the fourth best-selling NBA-player endorsed shoe in the U.S., following Nike's Air Jordan (with more than 70% of online sales in the category), and Nike's Kobe Bryant and LeBron James lines.

"Under Armour's first major NBA endorsed player shoe line is still below Nike's lineup, but, like Steph himself, is getting increasingly popular," Slice Intelligence reported. "The shoe has been 170% more popular during the past six months compared to the previous half-year period." The top five markets for Curry are San Francisco-Oakland (where the Warriors are based), New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Chicago.

Multi-media marketing has supported the launch of each version of Curry's signature shoe and, according to Under Armour, will continue this year when the Curry 2.5 hits Foot Locker in late May and worldwide in July, followed by the Curry 3 this fall. The brand is building its Curry lifestyle apparel line to attract consumers beyond hoops and is also planning a return trip to China with Curry.

Still, Under Armour is not taking its success with Curry for granted. 

According to Morgan Stanley, "Kids who are buying his shoes probably want to purchase a little piece of Curry's greatness, no matter what brand he is associated with. They may not necessarily be buying his shoe because it is a UA shoe."

"Becoming a footwear brand is not something that happens overnight," said Plank. "We've been making shoes since 2003 and selling shoes since 2006, and we are proud to stand up and call ourselves a premium footwear brand. We are fortunate that we can combine powerful sales with a game-changing athlete. What Curry is doing now is amazing and what he could continue to do is amazing."

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