Under Armour and Stephen Curry Look to Attack Nike's Basketball Dominance

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Just like the 27-year old player who will take to the hardwood Thursday night for the start of the NBA Finals, Under Armour's (UA) Curry One brand is quickly growing up.

The maturation on the court of Golden State Warriors basketball team's point guard Stephen Curry, nicknamed the "Babyfaced Assassin", and his signature athleticwear brand could lead to slam-dunk sales for Under Armour in its bid to steal market share from long-time champ Nike  (NKE) and its Jordan brand.

"It's just the start," Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank told TheStreet at the launch of the Curry One sneaker on Feb. 12 regarding his plans for the brand.

Since the Curry One sneaker launched in February in two color variations, Under Armour has introduced a signature apparel line this past spring and several more sneaker color choices.

Under Armour has also complemented its Curry One sneakers with brightly-colored performance socks, as well as assorted t-shirts with catchphrases associated with Curry, such as "unguardable" and "beyond the arc."

An Under Armour spokesman declined to confirm future sneaker release dates via email, but did point out that a low-top version of the Curry One will debut this summer. Meanwhile, says the spokesman, Under Armour will "continue to build on its signature apparel line in coming years."

That could mean anything from Under Armour offering lightweight North Face-like jackets emblazoned with the "SC " logo, or perhaps a series of casual low-top sneakers in the mold of recent introductions from Nike's Jordan brand.

Expanding the number of items under the Curry One brand is something Under Armour clearly has in its sites to reach some lofty sales goals. The company's basketball business has been hovering around $100 million in annual sales prior to the release of the Curry One sneakers.

Plank has gone on record as saying Under Armour wants to build a billion-dollar basketball business.

Through the years, Nike has built a stable of top athletes to promote the Jordan brand's pricey sneakers and apparel, ranging from NBA star Lebron James to former New York Yankees great Derek Jeter.  

Under Armour, however, has shown a willingness to take risks on emerging sports talent, such as Curry and young golf phenom Jordan Spieth.  And it has also sought to price its star-backed products more cheaply than Nike. For example, a pair of Nike Kobe Bryant sneakers can fetch well north of $200, while the Curry One's were launched at $130. 



So far, evidence suggests the Curry One could have a broader impact on sales from Under Armour's footwear business, and maybe even related apparel. "In addition to the heat being generated in basketball by the Curry One, our SpeedForm Gemini running shoe at $130 continued to collect great reviews in check at retail," said Plank on an April 21 earnings call.

The potential to expand the Curry One brand is being seen at one key sneaker retailer. "We have some things in discussion with Under Armour regarding vendor space," said Foot Locker CEO Dick Johnson at an investor event in April. That boils down to the possibility of Curry One shops opening within Foot Locker locations in the near future.

First-quarter footwear sales for Under Armour increased 41% to $161 million, with footwear now representing 20% of Under Armour's total business.  According to execs at Foot Locker, "Steph Curry's product came in and blew it out" during the first quarter.

Footwear sales for Under Armour could quicken in the second quarter if the Golden State Warriors win the NBA Championship, which would thrust Curry and his neon colored sneakers even more into the limelight.

Despite Under Armour's early success with its Curry One sneakers, it's still facing an uphill battle against Nike when it comes to basketball-related apparel and footwear.

Nike remained the leading player in sportswear overall in 2014 with a 21% retail value share, according to Euromonitor. And in the global basketball sneaker market, which is valued at $55 billion according to industry research firm SportsOneSource, Nike holds a commanding 97% market share.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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