A new marketing campaign by Under Armour that debuts Monday buries Stephen Curry's story as being the product of his father, with a chip on his shoulder because of his size. It seeks to rid him of his previous nicknames and focuses on one thing: The loss, or as it's called in the ad, the "missed championship." With a bunch of kids providing an assist, Curry seeks to "Make That Old."
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) October 24, 2016
Yes, Curry is no longer an underdog. His team coughing up a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, combined with the feel-good story of LeBron James delivering a championship to his hometown, has attached a negativity to Curry that's never been there before. Throw in Kevin Durant, which makes the Golden State Warriors the overwhelming favorites this coming season, and Curry's character is much more complex than it was before.
The marketing change also mirrors the change in the relationship between Under Armour and Curry. The past 18 months have been gravy for the two. A slow-moving shoe business, which took almost a decade to jump-start, got a huge boost when Nike passed on renewing Curry's deal for less than $4 million annually. Curry switched companies and, two MVPs and a title later, Under Armour finally found itself on the feet of kids in the coveted 8- to 18-year-old demographic.
Under Armour did its part, too. The endorsement model only worked because the product was finally up to par -- a long way from the Micro G model worn by Brandon Jennings.
Now that Curry has helped build an annual $200 million business, the pressure is on. One out of every four dollars Under Armour makes comes from shoes, and expectations are high for another great year. The money in Curry's deal rose this year, which likely makes him the fourth-highest earner in the shoe business behind Michael Jordan, James and Durant. Curry will make more from Under Armour this year than he will from the Warriors ($12.1 million). With more money to be paid out, Under Armour is testing how much consumers are willing to pay.
For the third version of Curry's shoe, which debuts in Warriors colors nationwide Tuesday, Under Armour is charging $140 a pair -- up from $120 for the Curry 1, $130 for the Curry 2 and $135 for the Curry 2.5.
What consumers will get for that money is not only a shoe worn by Curry, but also one made out of parachute fibers. It even has a trademarked name, Threadborne.
Under Armour also wants to position these shoes to have an appeal beyond basketball. That's somewhat of a challenge with Curry. Because Curry has ankle issues, he has to wear high-top shoes. High-top shoes are fine to play basketball in, but low- and mid-top shoes tend to sell better these days. It's the people who don't play basketball but buy the shoes that make or break a business.
The solution is to do two things. First, market the low-top version of the shoes by having Curry wear them during warmups, since playing in them has long been ruled out.
"With my ankle history, that's not something that would make me feel that secure on the floor but I love wearing lows," Curry said. "I feel really free in the lows. It's a cool way to switch it up and have a different look."
After the scrutiny on Curry for the plain white Curry 2 low-tops called the "Chef," Curry wanted to wear them for Game 4 of last year's NBA Finals. But no dice, and Curry said there's no shot in the future, either, as Warriors executives and his agent Jeff Austin "will shackle me to the locker room."
The other thing Under Armour needs to do is figure out the ratio of those who prefer to play in their shoes versus those who simply want to walk around in them.
Fans and sneakerheads alike will notice that the Curry 3 does not have big Under Armour logos on the side as the previous versions did, leading some to wonder if the brand is following Adidas, which hasn't been afraid to minimize the three stripes on its shoes.
Adrienne Lofton, senior vice president of global brand marketing, said it has more to do with the contour of the shoe. But a lack of branding could pay dividends in a space where Under Armour isn't the biggest player.
The bottom line? Curry is no longer an underdog and neither is Under Armour, which should do slightly less than $5 billion in business in 2016. Now comes the hardest part, for both of them.