Nike’s securing of the NBA apparel contract for eight years may have given them the leg up on the competition, but it didn’t close the door completely for those companies looking to work with the league. FTW’s exclusive announcement that Under Armour will become the presenting partner of the league’s youth basketball program, Jr. NBA, and will also be the title partner of the NBA Draft Combine beginning in 2018 provides the company additional footing in spite of losing out as the official uniform supplier.
For Under Armour, this is a bit of a coup as it has long coveted increased engagement with the league beyond what already existed. The fact that it may allow the company to encroach on Nike’s territory is the cherry on the top of the sundae. With this deal and the Nike deal set to begin in the next couple years, the NBA has heightened engagement with three shoe and apparel companies as their deal with Adidas winds down.
Related: Under Armour’s pursuit of the NBA
With each of these competitors constantly jockeying for position with the major sports leagues, the NBA may have its hands full protecting the interests of one over the other. Nike will assuredly be keeping a watchful eye on how Under Armour works to capitalize on their involvement with these events and programs. While its position in the jersey sponsor vertical is secure, this could pose a direct threat to Nike’s work at the youth level.
This is another step in the ongoing battle between Nike, Adidas and Under Armour to establish brand affinity at the earliest stages of development. Last year, The Fields of Green looked at how brand affiliation at the youth level corresponded with where an athlete attended college and ultimately which shoe company he signed with at the professional level. Nike and Adidas’ sponsorship of AAU programs serve as an early introduction between the rising athlete and shoe companies, which more likely than not pays dividends later on down the road.
Under Armour is going one step further by sponsoring entry level basketball programs for children aged six to fourteen. Whether this was a deliberate effort to build brand affinity as early as possible or just a happy byproduct of an opportunity to further engage the NBA, Under Armour continues to nip at the heels of Nike’s sneakers.
Courtney Brunious is Associate Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Managing Editor of The Fields of Green.