He's not Michael Jordan, but Stephen Curry is Under Armour endorsement gold

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, center, dribbles past teammate Andrew Bogut, right and Houston Rockets' Trevor Ariza, left, before his knee injury during the first half in Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series on Sunday.
Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, center, dribbles past teammate Andrew Bogut, right and Houston Rockets' Trevor Ariza, left, before his knee injury during the first half in Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series on Sunday. (David J. Phillip / AP)

Stephen Curry, the NBA's reigning Most Valuable Player, isn't as well known as Nike pitchman Michael Jordan or the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, but he's got something else — something in common with pop singer Taylor Swift and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

When analysts at The Marketing Arm, a Dallas-based agency, examined the depth of Curry's popularity, they noticed that people relate to him in the same way that they do to Swift or Winfrey.


Curry, whose signature shoe line has sales of Under Armour footwear soaring, is not just popular, he's an influencer.

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 Swift, Winfrey, talk-show host Jimmy Fallon and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.


That makes Curry endorsement royalty even if — as The Marketing Arm says — only 58 percent of consumers know who he is.

"That type of company is pretty remarkable," said Matt Fleming, the agency's director. "People appreciate the way he handles things. He's relatable — he looks like an everyday guy. He's not LeBron, he's not 6 foot 7 and 250 pounds. He's an average-looking guy, and he happens to be one of the best players, if not the best player, on the planet."

With the help of the Golden State Warriors' guard, the Baltimore-based Under Armour is trying to make a dent in its footwear competition with Nike. Curry recently hurt an ankle, then sprained his knee Sunday and is expected to be out for at least two weeks of the playoffs.

Jordan played his last NBA game in 2003, but his Nike-trademarked "Jumpman" silhouette still looms over discussion of the Nike-dominated U.S. basketball shoe market.


"There will never be another Michael Jordan," said Matt Powell, sports industry analyst The NPD Group in New York. "When MJ came up, it was a special time. The NBA was in ascension after years of fan disinterest. ESPN was just starting up, giving us national highlights every night. The NBA's cult of personality was just starting. No way to replicate that today."

Other analysts agree.

"Jordan did what he did in a different era for the NBA when it didn't have nearly as much going for it," said Auburn Bell, adjunct professor of marketing at Loyola University Maryland. "Jordan had a much tougher job moving that needle."

Jordan famously appeared in a series of Nike ads with director/actor Spike Lee.

Curry has appeared in spots for State Farm and other companies and recently appeared with President Barack Obama in a public service announcement about mentoring youth.

But "the one area he is not rising above some of his NBA counterparts is going to be in awareness," Fleming said. "LeBron, for comparison, has got over 90 percent awareness."

A recent analysis by digital commerce firm Slice Intelligence listed the top four NBA player shoes by online sales as Nike Air Jordan, with 72 percent of sales; Nike Kobe (Bryant), with a nearly 14 percent share; Nike LeBron, with about 10 percent; and Under Armour Curry One and Curry Two, with more than 4 percent of sales.

Curry broke his own record for 3-pointers during the regular season and is the favorite to win his second straight MVP award.

Under Armour is releasing a new three-second ad featuring Curry for every 3-pointer he makes during the playoffs, which are ongojng. His latest shoes — the Curry 2.5, which he has been wearing in the playoffs, and the Curry Three — are being released globally this summer and fall, respectively.

Footwear is a critical category for Under Armour, which dispatched Curry to China, the world's most populous nation, as a brand ambassador last summer and plans to do so again this year.

"Something has to move them out of the realm of just being an apparel company," Bell said. "Technology can do that to a certain extent. But footwear is retail. It's on the shelves, and product is moving."

Under Armour sales topped $1 billion in the first quarter of 2016, up from $805 million a year earlier. Footwear sales rose more than 60 percent to $264 million, due to the continuing popularity of Curry's shoe line and more styles in running, the brand's biggest footwear category.

"Stephen's phenomenal season has brought unprecedented attention to our overall footwear business, and especially basketball footwear, and is driving both door expansion with our key mall partners and credibility with the hard-core basketball kid," Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said last week during the company's earnings conference call.

Curry signed with Under Armour in 2013 after his initial Nike deal — the one he signed when joining the league — had expired, but before becoming a breakout superstar.

Under Armour has sought 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.

Last September, Curry extended his sponsorship deal with Under Armour through 2024, receiving an equity stake in the company as part of the deal.

At the time, Curry said he looked forward "to being part of the brand's story for the rest of my playing career and beyond."


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