Beyond the Numbers // The Curry 3 & Changing Times for Basketball Sneakers

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Recently in an article published by ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank gave some very candid commentary on the lackluster sales of the Curry 3, which follow up the sensational seasons and upward wave created by Steph and his play in the Curry 1 and 2, respectively. The commentary from Plank came from Under Armour’s company earnings call, with the company reporting its first quarterly loss as a public company.

“Our success in basketball hasn’t been without its learning,” Plank expressed in the call. “As we launched the Curry 3 late last year, our expectations continued to run high. And while the 3 played very well on court for Stephen Curry and our athletes, a sluggish signature market and a warm consumer reception led to softer-than-expected results.”

While Plank is attempting to ease the anxieties of likely worried investors, what he’s saying is far from a fib. Though no longer the talk of the town as he shares the spotlight, Steph is still putting up incredibly strong numbers and his fair share of highlights. On top of that, anybody who’s hooped in the Curry 3 can attest that they play well — this writer and many of his peers included both in real life and online.

True, the Curry 3 hasn’t made waves at retail, but in reality, it’s overall sales volume has been near that of the Curry 2 — they just made way more pairs of the 3. Around the way, many of the other signature basketball shoes on the market have been far quieter than years priors. How so? This season, Nike dropped the starting retail prices drastically on LeBron, KD and Kobe models, forecasting a shift that had already affected them and the rest of the market. Though critically accepted, the KD 9 would still see discounts, while the LeBron 14 would receive the least amount of marketing or push seen on a King James signature ever. Just the same, the typically tech savvy Kobe line would trim performance features and price, also getting discounted not long after launch.

True, the Curry 3 hasn’t made waves at retail, but in reality, it’s overall sales volume has been near that of the Curry 2 — they just made way more pairs of the 3.

What’s this mean? Not much really, as performance basketball shoes have always been made for the masses and even the most coveted colorways in retro life were once discounted in OG life form.

photo via Eastbay Blog/The Shoe Game

While MVP candidate-backed shoes like the adidas Harden Vol 1 and Air Jordan XXX1 (worn mostly by Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard) are performing reasonably well at retail, the price of the product is still a big factor in retail performance despite MVP-like performances on the court.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway on today’s basketball market in regards to sales is that the Kyrie 2 was the only modern hoop shoe that cracked 2016’s Top 10 Best Sellers List. That was likely much in part because it retailed for less than that of Curry, Kobe, Kyrie or LeBron — though crossover appeal (no pun intended) and strong storytelling and ‘newness’ certainly helped. Kyrie was also top of mind from a moment standpoint, nailing the most memorable shot from this past spring’s NBA Finals.

While the energy Nike created with launches like the “South Beach” LeBron 8, “Grinch” Kobe 6 and countless other colorways after shifted the market to making modern basketball shoes into more lifestyle shoes, this was never quite sustainable. As we’ve seen in recent years, the colorways really have become endless.

What did shift over that same time, however, was consumer response to a shoe going on sale. A price drop — which was once awesome — suddenly made some shoes undesirable. That’s somewhat fair, everyone wants to want they can’t have, and don’t want what they easily can have. More on the mark though when speaking to a mass market product like a basketball shoe, it’s hard to be limited cool and commercially viable at the same time. Somehow though, Nike mastered it for the better part of this for almost over a decade, and Under Armour struck gold adopting this same format during sensational seasons for Steph.

As performance basketball shoes continue to become less desirable in the lifestyle market and running takes the cake, it’s clear Nike and Jordan have already started shifting their pricing policy. Plank notes that Under Amour will do the same, as the Curry 3ZER0 retails at $120, compared to the $140 mark of the Curry 3. Stephen’s latest shoe is already well outpacing the 3 in sell-thru percentages.

In addition, Plank also stated that Under Armour will be sharper regarding future shoe launches, “with respect to the number of color offerings, scarcity, exclusivity, and cadence of launches to drive more consistent engagement and results,” as reported by ESPN. The article also notes that “nearly 80 percent of the people who wear basketball shoes do so for fashion” and addresses the trend that lower-profile shoes are more popular, which we would translate both on the court and off. You can attribute this to Kobe, you can attribute this to running models reigning in sneaker culture, or you can attribute it to joggers shifting fashion. Either way, times change and so do trends.

Like any trend though, the upcoming result could be good for a core consumer that isn’t swayed by sales — the actual hoopers. While signature shoes built for basketball have somewhat suffered due to chasing denim and gaining weight, it may be time for a new wave of performance product that’s all about play. If there’s one thing Under Armour is good at, it’s focusing on competition and caring less about crossover. If there’s one thing Nike reigns at, it’s innovation.

As adidas and Jordan Brand duke it out for MVP honors this summer, here’s to hoping the Curry 4, Harden Vol 2, LeBron 15 and AJ XXX2 are all hoop and no hype.

Lead image by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images via Zimbio

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