Last week in New York City, our friends at Under Armour held an exclusive event to preview their new campaign, and to see the latest collection of UA Basketball footwear and apparel. In addition to catching up with Brandon Jennings and Derrick Williams to talk about everything from kicks to the NBA lockout, I got the chance to speak with Ryan Drew, UA’s Director of Basketball Footwear, about the past, the present and future of the brand.
*** *** ***
Dime: What made Under Armour initially decide to branch out and get involved with basketball?
Ryan Drew: I kind of feel like it was a natural extension. I’m going to get a little researchy on you here for a second, but there was a study that came out that was put out by SGMA (Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association), which is a sporting goods company that tracks participation levels. So they went out and evaluated all of the sports. They surveyed kids across the globe asking what their favorite sport was to play, to watch, etc. Under Armour’s known for football, that’s where our foundation lies. So when they asked football players what their second favorite sport was, 60% of them said basketball. So it felt like for a company like UA, versus going into golf, tennis, or even running, basketball was like a natural extension.
UA is strictly a performance brand. Today, basketball shoes are sort of evolving from being worn casually, to being more utility. Basketball shoes are really worn to play ball now, and given that we’re viewed as really a performance brand, I think it just made sense.
Dime: What made you decide to go after Brandon Jennings to be the first member of the UA team? How big was his role in helping develop the brand?
RD: We really just liked his story, and Kris Stone had a relationship with Brandon from the Elite 24. Brandon has swagger, and he’s a good-looking kid. We like how he has a combination of on-court and off-court appeal. Even though we’re building performance product for him, the fact that he just looks good in what he wears I think brought a little extra flavor to what we were doing. At the time, Brandon was going through a really funky situation. He had pulled out of Arizona, he was going to Italy, so I think people were kind of off of him for a little; they didn’t really know what to think of him. We just really believed in him.
Truthfully, if he would have gone and really exploded at Arizona, there’s probably no shot we would’ve gotten him. But the fact that his path was a little bit different gave us an in to really go after him, so we jumped on it. Having Brandon gave us the opportunity to get Kemba and Derrick, because you know Brandon was that pioneer. I can’t even tell you how many things we screwed up in our first year in terms of product with him with all the different prototypes we tried out and all that, but we learned from it all and I feel we’re better because of it. He’s been a fantastic partner, we couldn’t ask for a better endorser.
Dime: Do you think his year overseas helped increase awareness of the brand globally?
RD: Yeah, absolutely. Some of our best-selling product sells in Europe, and Italy is a big market, but he played in the Euroleague, and the Euroleague has sort of made basketball a big deal out there. Basketball has grown into a massive sport, it’s played in basically every country over there now. So the fact that the popularity of the sport has really boomed over there helped us out a lot. The TV deals that they have in place with the Euroleague give you a lot of visibility. So he probably had exposure to about 50 million people just through those basketball games by playing in all of these different cities, and I think it gave us a lot of exposure. UA is just growing overseas right now.
Dime: It seems you’ve assembled a team of extremely young players. Why haven’t you chosen any veterans or older guys to represent the brand?
RD: We’re a young brand. I think we’re the brand of this generation. We needed to cater to younger guys to validate what we’re doing. Kids look to younger players now. There’s a lot of great veterans in the League, but the kids that are coming up now follow what the young guys are doing. Guys like Kemba and Derrick who spent a couple years in college, they had a little bit more of a reputation when they came out – obviously with Kemba winning the championship and Derrick just for that damn dunk over that kid from Duke – so we just feel young as a brand.
I don’t think you’ll ever see us sign guys that have been in the League 10-plus years – except maybe Jason Kidd because his best friend works for us. He was a Cal guy and I played at Cal, so you know when J’s deal is done with PEAK we’re going to definitely have him laced up in some UAs. But I think we feel like a young brand. We feel like the brand that isn’t scared to take risks on guys, and I think that’s appropriate for us. I think that’s something we’ll continue to do. It’s a little more risky because they haven’t played a minute in the NBA, but we feel confident we’ve got the right guys.