He started as an overlooked prospect from tiny Davidson. Now, Stephen Curry is a marketing superstar with the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Did anyone have a better 2015 than Stephen Curry? The Golden State Warriors guard and reigning MVP has become one of the most marketable players in all of sports after having such an unforgettable year.
It is really remarkable to witness Curry follow up last season’s MVP campaign by putting up video game numbers for a Warriors team that started the year 24–0. What makes this even astouding is that he has done it after the busiest off-season of his life. After leading the Warriors to their first championship since 1975, he spent his summer at photo shoots for magazine covers, playing golf with President Obama, traveling to Asia on a brand marketing tour with Under Armour and welcoming his second daughter, Ryan.
The Curry story is well-documented. After defying odds at Davidson and being overlooked in the NBA draft, his career has been an inspiring underdog tale. Curry is not a 6'9" force of muscle, nor does he have the athleticism of some of his NBA point guard counterparts, but what separates him from others is his ability to connect with fans and NBA consumers. He is one of the most accessible and relatable athletes in the world.
Curry’s agent, Jeff Austin, managing director of Octagon Sports’ basketball division, says the Warriors star has been a huge success because of his humble appeal and average height.
“What makes him unique is that I don't think anyone has ever played like this,” Austin says. “His ability to handle the ball and his skill level is so high for a guy that physically looks like he will be overmatched on a NBA floor, and what he is doing is really something we haven't seen before. His accomplishments are pretty unique, and on top of that he is humble and is just a good guy and it shines through.
“This is what makes him appealing. He was MVP last year and he is getting better this year and he’s still like the underdog. People that look up to him, certainly the young players, they can't all be 6'9", but they could aspire to shoot or handle the ball like Stephen. He is just very inspirational.”
Curry has been one of the hottest names on the endorsement trail as well, locking up partnerships with Under Armour, 2K Sports, Express, State Farm, Degree, Muscle Milk, JBL Headphones and ZAMST. He was also featured in an Apple commercial to promote the iPhone 6s.
The endorsements offers keep coming in, but Austin said Curry only endorses brands if there is a natural connection. So, if a brand wants to hop on the Curry endorsement train, they better hope he is a fan of the product first.
“The quality of the brand, the authenticity to his lifestyle, creative use of him, and, of course, a brand he uses himself is really important in a business relationship,” Austin said. “At this point we are very mindful of his time and his time is becoming really valuable. So we are really careful on how we allocate his time.”
One of Curry’s most valuable partnerships has been with Under Armour. There is a natural fit between the two because of their underdog backgrounds. The brand started as a company solely focused on athletic apparel and developed aspirations to compete with the Nike in footwear sales.
In the midst of a great year, Under Armour is on the verge of a possible sweep throughout every major sport, with MVP winners in Curry, Bryce Harper (MLB) and Carey Price (NHL) and PGA Player of the Year Jordan Spieth. They also endorse two of the NFL’s leading MVP contenders, Tom Brady and Cam Newton.
Curry has played a vital part in Under Armour’s recent success after appearing in two of the brands notable campaigns. He appeared in the “Book of Will” ad alongside Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, who played a Mars Blackmon-esque character as Curry’s hypeman, telling fans how the reigning MVP reached his current perch. He was also featured in the brand’s “Rule Yourself” campaign that preaches the importance of training.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank told investors he plans on building a billion dollar basketball brand revolving around Curry, according to Marketwatch. While the company still has ways to go, Curry’s signature sneaker line has been a huge success, especially with the younger demographic.
“Curry is a terrific PR asset,” says Matt Powell, NPD Group Sports Industry Analyst. “He has a great personality and he is playing at a very high level. Winning the NBA Championship also helped. The Curry shoe was really the first effort by UA to make a ‘street shoe’ as opposed to a ‘gym shoe’. Finally, the shoe was released at the peak of the performance basketball business.”
Following in the footsteps of brands like Nike and Adidas, Under Armour sent Curry to Asia in September on a brand marketing tour, where he visited Tokyo, Philippines, Beijing, Chongqing and Shanghai. China has become a marketing hotbed for athletes because of its large population and fan devotion. Kobe Bryant, who is idolized in China, takes a trip there every summer with Nike on a promotional tour, where thousands of fans fill the streets.
Curry has the potential to be a master influencer and Under Armour is hoping other athletes take notice of how they have marketed him. Powell feels that Curry’s impact at Under Armour will draw other potential athletes to the brand, but he knows it won’t be easy.
“In my opinion, athletes are drawn to brands that can pay the most and who will help market the athlete,” Powell said. “The way UA has handled Curry will be a reassurance to other athletes. However, no brand has unlimited resources, so there will be constraints on how much UA can invest in other athletes.”
Curry’s brand will continue to grow after extending his partnership with Under Armour until 2024 on a deal that includes equity stake, Austin says.
“I think we can grow his brand by adding new people,” says Austin. “There is not a lot of room to add and we are very selective with what brands he associates with because there are too many. But we can increase his brand, particularly with Under Armour.
“That Stephen Curry signature line of shoes and clothes has really just kicked off and we are expected to grow that dramatically over the next eight years with Under Armour. And that we see as a huge growth opportunity for him to expand his brand of signature products with UA. We are also looking to do some equity and some startups and interesting things like that. But I do see the Under Armour potential as huge”
Another thing taking Curry’s marketability over the top is his social media presence. His game is perfect for the social media era. It seems like every play becomes an instant Vine loop fans just can’t seem to get over. His social-media stats are impressive with more than three million followers on Twitter and six million on Instagram. He also got a major boost after soccer star Lionel Messi posted a picture to Instagram holding up an autographed Curry jersey to his 30 million followers.
His popularity has also been beneficial for his wife, Ayesha, who stars in her own cooking show, “Cookin’ with the Currys,” on CSN Bay Area and runs a successful YouTube channel that Stephen appears on at times.
And let’s not forget the real star of the family, Riley, who just made her modeling debut for Freshly Picked, a children’s moccasin company.
The NBA is entering a new phase with guys like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett on their way out of the league. While more established names like LeBron James and Kevin Durant will continue to dominate the marketing game, Curry has the opportunity to carry the torch alongside them for years to come.