Stephen Curry and his killer three-pointers have already propelled the Golden State Warriors into the record books this year, giving the team more wins than the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls notched in its championship 1995-96 season.
Curry’s gangbusters performance has propelled blazing sales of his Under Armour Curry One and Curry Two sneakers. And while a knee sprain has sidelined Curry for two weeks and dealt a blow to his team’s chances in the playoffs, his monster season still raises a provocative retailing question: Does Curry pose a serious threat to Jordan as the king of sports merchandising?
Let’s start with what we learned last week about the Curry sneakers when Under Armour reported quarterly earnings. The athletic apparel brand reported that its footwear revenue soared to $264 million, up 64 percent from the previous year, in large part thanks to the Curry line. Chief executive Kevin Plank said that the Curry Two was the best-selling item in the e-commerce channel for Under Armour this quarter, and, according to the company, it has been the best-selling signature basketball shoe on the market in recent weeks.
This sales data is for a quarter that ended March 31, meaning it doesn’t reflect any sales the line might have scored after that record-setting win.
A report released this month by Slice Intelligence, a consumer research firm, also detected momentum in the Curry line: That analysis found that in the past six months, online sales of Curry shoes have been up 170 percent compared to the half-year prior.
And yet, at least in the e-commerce world, sales of Curry sneakers aren’t even in the same league as sales of Air Jordans. Slice Intelligence analyzed digital sales of Jordan’s and Curry’s shoe lines — as well as those of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — between January 2015 and March 2016. Curry sneakers accounted for just 4.2 percent of those sales, compared to 9.7 percent for James’s shoes and 13.6 percent for Bryant’s. Jordan’s line clobbered the others, accounting for 72.4 percent of the online revenue of player-branded sneakers.
Part of the comparatively mammoth dollar haul for Jordans has to do with the relative breadth of the product lines: Jaimee Minney, a spokeswoman for Slice, says that there are many more styles of Air Jordans than Curry Ones or Twos, which gives average shoppers more selection and gives serious sneakerheads incentive to scoop up multiple pairs.
Plus, Minney said, the Air Jordan has come to be something of fashion statement: It’s been around so long, it has almost taken on a life of its own that is separate from celebrating its legendary namesake.
It’s also worth noting that Under Armour is relatively new to the footwear category, so perhaps it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the Nike-backed Air Jordan would have a more loyal and broad following. For some perspective, consider that the $264 million that Under Armour just posted in footwear revenue is a fraction of Nike’s, which, in North America alone, topped $2 billion in the most recent quarter.
Under Armour has launched a full-court press to grab a bigger share of the sneaker category with the Curry line: It has sent Curry to visit China, a move which executives said helped spur sales in that growing market. And back at home, it is soon to roll out the Curry 2.5, a style that is just like the pair the NBA star wore during his record-setting game.
Minney said Under Armour has reason to be optimistic about future growth of the sneaker line. The company has generally been on a tear, with six straight years of posting quarterly sales growth of more than 20 percent. And in Curry, she said, “They banked on the right star.”
And yet another piece of Slice’s analysis underscores just how great a challenge Under Armour has ahead in competing with Nike on player-branded shoes.
As you can see in the chart below, Nike was easily the top destination online for sneaker sales, meaning it raked in more dollars on these products than e-commerce juggernaut Amazon.com. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)
“Anytime you see Amazon in the number two position, you take another look at the data,” Minney said, because it’s so unusual for the site not to be the top seller of a given item.
It’s been estimated, for example, that of every dollar spent online in 2015, 51 cents went to Amazon.
Nike’s strength on this metric shows that a large share of shoppers are seeking out its brand. That is likely a solid indicator of loyalty, and more importantly, is perhaps a sign that Nike has created an appealing digital experience — something that many of its old-school retailing counterparts have struggled with mightily.
Meanwhile, Under Armour’s web site accounts for just a sliver of online sneaker sales, suggesting it has a ways to go before shoppers even think of it as a destination for these goods.