Two years ago, Under Armour was headed towards catastrophe. The company’s stock, which hit a high of almost $52 in 2015 had fallen to $20. Reports painted Under Armour as a frat house where executives charged strip club expenses to company cards and invited women to events “based on their attractiveness to appeal to male guests,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Plus, the brand was on the verge of losing its biggest and most important ambassador: Steph Curry.
Curry was reportedly unhappy with the sales of his Curry 3 sneakers, as well as founder and former CEO Kevin Plank’s decision to endorse Donald Trump, according to the New York Times. So team Under Armour scheduled a meeting with Curry and prepared to make a Godfather offer. They gave Curry something that few other professional athletes can claim: a completely separate sub-brand built completely around him, not unlike Nike’s arrangement with Michael Jordan.
Two years later, it seems the sub-brand’s moment is finally arriving. A first look at Curry’s new shoes, reportedly dubbed the Curry8 Flow, seemed to be accidentally leaked by the Warriors earlier this week. The team quickly deleted the offending video, but it was picked up by other accounts. In the post, Curry is wearing plain black-and-white sneakers with a puffy, marshmallow-like midsole. Under Armour has smartly not claimed its territory with these shoes, switching out its logo for a new Curry insignia that looks like an “8” (presumably a reference to Curry’s eighth signature shoe) with spiky hair. The “Let’s Go Warriors” newsletter has been hot on the case throughout the development of these shoes: according to the outlet’s posts, we should expect to see versions of this shoe in white-and-gold as well as one that pays tribute to coach Steve Kerr. Leaked marketing materials boast the new Curry8 Flow is “the greatest performance improvement in basketball footwear. Ever.” Asked about the new shoes, an Under Armour representative told GQ, “Under Armour is excited about our ongoing partnership plans with Stephen Curry and together, we will continue to focus on positively impacting communities and operating with purpose in all that we do.”
When the news of the rumored Curry brand resurfaced via a Bleacher Report Instagram post, Dwyane Wade commented, “Welcome to the ‘own’ brand club.” That club is extraordinarily tiny: Wade has a lifetime deal with Chinese brand Li-Ning to make his Way of Wade brand, which counts D’Angelo Russell as a signee; the Brooklyn Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie produces his own brand K8iros; and both the Ball family and Stephon Marbury have both tried unsuccessfully to go out on their own. And then, of course, there’s Michael Jordan—whose brand, in structure and in corporate support, seems to have the most in common with what UA is planning for Curry.
It’s no secret why Under Armour is keen to put Curry on the same path as Jordan: MJ’s shingle does billions of dollars in sales every year. And UA is going to serious lengths to support its star: the brand brought on a former unnamed executive who helped create the Jordan Brand, according to the Times report, and has given Curry more say in the design of his shoes.