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How Stephen Curry’s big season is — and isn’t — reshaping the sneaker wars

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriers wears Under Armour sneakers during a game April 13.
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriers wears Under Armour sneakers during a game April 13.
(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

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 although 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?

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Last week, Under Armour Inc. reported that its first-quarter footwear revenue soared to $264 million, up 64% from a year earlier, in large part thanks to the Curry line. Chief Executive Kevin Plank said that the Curry Two was the bestselling item in the company’s e-commerce channel, and, according to the company, it has been the bestselling signature basketball shoe on the market in recent weeks.

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The sales data is for the period that ended March 31, meaning it doesn’t reflect any sales the line might have scored after that record-setting win, which the Warriors notched April 13.

A report released this month by consumer research firm Slice Intelligence also detected momentum in the Curry line: It found that in the last six months, online sales of Curry shoes have been up 170% compared with 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 analyzed digital sales of Jordan’s and Curry’s shoe lines — as well as those of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — from January 2015 to March 2016. Curry sneakers accounted for just 4.2% of those sales, compared with 9.7% for James’ shoes and 13.6% for Bryant’s. Jordan’s line clobbered the others, accounting for 72.4% of the online revenue of player-branded sneakers.

Part of the Air Jordans’ haul has to do with the relative breadth of the product lines. Slice spokeswoman Jaimee Minney said there are many more styles of Air Jordans than Curry Ones or Twos, which gives shoppers more choices and gives serious sneakerheads incentive to scoop up multiple pairs.

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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. Nike Inc.'s footwear revenue topped $2 billion last quarter in North America alone.

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, which executives said helped spur sales in that growing market. In the U.S., it will soon 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 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%. And in Curry, she said, “they banked on the right star.”

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Halzack writes for the Washington Post.

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