“Find” and “Replace” would have saved millions for a particular group of Nike executives.
From time to time, I comment upon instances when companies botch their messages in the marketplace. I call them “Mangled Messages,” the unfortunate product of poor strategy and/or execution. A recent report from ESPN uncovered a real doozy. It is the amazing story of how the most powerful sports apparel company in the world (Nike) let the most electric player in the NBA (Stephen Curry) out of its grasp—and allowed Under Armour to pull off one of the most valuable marketing switcheroos in history. It came down to a small, easily avoidable mistake in a face-to-face meeting. Anyone who has ever used the wrong version of a PowerPoint will find this particularly cringe-worthy
Steph Curry was the unanimous Most Valuable Player in the NBA this past season. Even though his Golden State Warriors ultimately fell to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals, Curry is the league’s best shooter and probably its most popular player as well.
Curry is not a physically dominant player like James, nor was he a can’t-miss prospect as a young man. He played at Davidson College after the college basketball powerhouses passed on recruiting him. He made a name for himself at Davidson, began his NBA career in the 2009-10 season and started his first All-Star Game four years later. It took a few years for Curry to ascend the basketball ladder.
The real money for pro basketball players comes in shoe deals and other endorsements. Nike is the dominant force; it has signed more than two-thirds of current NBA players. Curry had been on the Nike roster during his early years in the league (his godfather even works for Nike), so the expectation was that he would extend his relationship. He was, however, willing to listen to Under Armour—an upstart in the shoe game—and the prospect of being that brand’s marquee name.
The stakes can be enormous, even beyond a star’s playing days. According to Forbes, Michael Jordan earned $100 million from Nike in 2014. He made less than that (nearly $94 million) from NBA contracts during his 15-season playing career.
The initial pitch meeting from Nike included several Nike executives along with Steph Curry’s father Dell (himself a former NBA player). One Nike official stumbled early in the meeting by mispronouncing Curry’s first name. According to ESPN, things only got worse: “A PowerPoint slide featured Kevin Durant’s name, presumably left on by accident, presumably residue from repurposed materials.” (In case you didn’t know, Kevin Durant is a star on the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.) The elder Curry told ESPN, “I stopped paying attention after that.”
Thanks in large part to Nike’s mangled pitch, Under Armour gained the inside track. Curry signed with Under Armour in 2013, and it has been a raging marketing success. According to Fortune magazine, Curry gets much of the credit for Under Armour’s 57% increase in footwear sales last year. Curry was featured at the company’s investor presentation last fall—and Under Armour has extended his contract through 2024.
In March 2016 Business Insider quoted a note from Morgan Stanley analyst Jay Sole. In that note, Sole estimated Curry’s potential long-term worth to Under Armour at more than $14 billion.
Consider that a measure of the potential power of one conversation.