Curry didn't finish how he wanted but his Under Armour shoes came out ahead

Curry's 'straight fire' shoe overcame, but his Warriors didn't.

Ten days ago, Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors were prohibitive favorites to defend their NBA title, leading the final series 3-1 over the Cleveland Cavaliers. At the same time, the player's latest signature Under Armour shoe was being roundly lampooned in social media.

But — go figure — it turns out that Curry's vanilla-looking sneaker, which inspired such snarky nicknames as "Dad shoes" and "mall walkers," made out better than his basketball team.

The wave of Twitter-fueled derision about the Curry Two Low "Chef" model might have been embarrasing initially, but analysts say the Baltimore-based athletic apparel brand not only survived the full-court press of criticism but scored popularity points and profits, if somewhat accidentally.

What Under Armour might have lost in style points, it more than made up for with the sort of mainstream attention that comes when national talk-show hosts Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert are discussing your products.

"In this case, there is no such thing as bad publicity," said T.J. Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in Bel Air and Sonoma, Calif. "Curry could wear white trash bags on his feet and still have street cred with his fans."

While the Warriors blew their commanding lead to lose to the Cavaliers, the shoes were getting so much attention that Curry was asked about them during media sessions. He wore the white sneakers during practice and interviews, putting a "fire" emoji on one of the toes.

So much heed was paid to the shoe line that sales appeared brisk for the sneakers selling for $119.99 on Under Armour's website. The most popular sizes are sold out.

"In our channel checks and discussion with industry contacts, the Chef shoe has actually sold better than some of its predecessor colorways, likely due to all the attention paid to it," Camilio Lyon, an analyst for Canaccord Genuity Inc., wrote last week.

The sneakers had become so well known by last weekend that industry experts speculated people were buying them because the kicks were so famous — or to wear something so uncool that it was cool.

Under Armour, which declined interview requests about the shoe's sales or social media criticism, released a statement saying that Curry's line "has been a key driver of our brand's overall footwear success."

But Under Armour took advantage of the publicity. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady — a fellow Under Armour endorser — was wearing them and tweeting about it. On Sunday, before the final round of golf's U.S. Open, fellow Under Armour ambassador Jordan Spieth tweeted a photo of himself and his caddie holding boxes of the shoes.

The sneakers are part of a line designed for the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player by Under Armour, which has credited the player with bringing "unprecedented" attention to the company's footwear as it battles the still-dominant Nike brand.

On Saturday, Under Armour unveiled a newer Curry shoe honoring the Warriors' 73-9 regular-season record, best in league history.

It's already receiving a more favorable reception than the "Chef" shoes, which Fallon said "look like the shoes my dad would wear to mow the lawn. They should come with grass stains on the bottom."

Fallon's comments ricocheted around social media, "but you have to put the lampooning in perspective," said Matt Powell, global sports industry analyst for The NPD Group in New York. "The echo chamber of the Internet makes things seem larger than they are."

Powell predicted the "Chef" shoes — the name is derived from a Curry nickname — "could be one of the best-selling shoes in the Curry stable if they could figure out a way to make the shoe less expensive."

With it, Powell said, Under Armour might be able to match the success that Nike enjoyed with the Air Monarch IV, also a plain white casual training shoe.

"Nike sells millions of pairs," Powell said.

To sell shoes, Under Armour seeks to engage fans by telling Curry's story. Two different shoes designed for Curry reference Bible verses for the deeply religious star, while another displays a color pattern that is a nod to his father, a former NBA player. Another shoe variation is the bright yellow, green and red "Candy Reign," hinting at the player's love of Sour Patch Kids.

Curry "is pretty much loved by everybody, from from urban kids to suburban parents," said Matt Saler, director of sports marketing for Baltimore advertising and marketing firm IMRE.

Since Curry is popularly regarded as a trend setter, there was risk for Under Armour that the "Chef' shoe could affect the brand. The Marketing Arm's Celebrity DBI — an index that measures public awareness and impressions of newsmakers — ranks Curry among the top five in "influence" along with Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, Fallon and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.

At the same time, "you could speculate that the publicity could potentially provide exposure to consumers who perhaps have never considered purchasing the brand before and it could end up being a wash when you consider multiple target audiences," said Jonathan Jensen, a sports marketing consultant and assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Footwear is an increasingly critical category for Under Armour, with shoe sales accounting for $264 million of its $1.05 billion in sales in 2016's first quarter.

"With Steph Curry's signature line, this might be the first dud," said George Kiel III, former editor-in-chief of NiceKicks.com, a sneaker blog. "The consumers eat that line up."

Even Curry had some fun with the shoes during the NBA finals, which ended Sunday night.

"If I had them in the road bag I definitely would have worn them and showed 'em how fire they are," the player said after the fourth game of the series. "I love the nicknames that they came up with."

Bob Dorfman, executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco, suggested Under Armour could do some marketing around the hubbub.

"It always helps when you are able to make fun of your own product a little bit," he said. "Maybe you put Steph in a retirement center dribbling rings around fans and walkers."

jebarker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

 

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