On the basketball court, Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry's playing style has been described as "flashy." But his new shoes released Thursday aren't getting the same reviews. The "bland" or "vanilla" style of Under Armour's Curry Two Low shoes (with the "Chef" colorway) have become a growing topic on social media, as sneakerheads have blasted them to the point that the poor fashion reception may do more for sales than no reception at all.
The tonal white shoes have been described as “something a nurse or dad” might wear and ESPN's Darren Rovell confirmed on Twitter that the "shoes are getting ripped beyond belief." Unfazed by all the chatter, reigning NBA MVP Curry wore the shoes to a recent media session with "Straight [fire emoji]" on the right shoe, and said he would have considered wearing them for Game 4 of the NBA Finals to "show you how fire they are."
It's still too soon to know what the memes and negative reception will mean for Under Armour's sales, as the shoes, which sell for roughly $120 online, have yet to hit major retailers. Still, some reactions were equal parts scathing and hilarious.
— Phil E. Juice (@itsjimmyfootbal) June 10, 2016
— Will Thompson (@thrillis4) June 10, 2016
On the surface, comical and clever reviews like those could be interpreted as hurtful to Under Armour as well as Curry’s brand, but over time neither should be greatly affected. This is just one of roughly 60 versions Under Armour has released since debuting Curry's first shoe in January 2015.
Rick Burton, a sports management professor at Syracuse University, who previously worked closely with Nike in the shoe giant's expansion into China, stresses that any design issues won't matter in the long run despite the bashing on social media.
“All that really matters is that Steph is happy with the shoes,” Burton told International Business Times in a phone interview.
“I think sometimes bad media is bad media ... I don’t think there’s any doubting that basketball shoes make a fashion statement with an audience that is generally not thought to spend a lot of time looking at fashion. This isn’t like Paris and couture dresses. Basketball shoes would tend to be pretty functional. But guys who play basketball, that’s one of the few things they probably watch and follow.”
Placing a high level of importance on negative buzz seems based on the perception that certain consumers set the standard for what's cool. Some may also believe that if Under Armour is going to compete with the likes of Nike and Adidas, the growing apparel company will need to be ahead of the fashion curve.
Curry, among professional basketball's fastest-growing marketing figures, has enough star power to help his shoe sponsor overcome a flap over one style, according to Joe Pederson, assistant professor of sports administration at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.
"As I think about the people who are going to buy the shoe, and the people Under Armour wants to buy the shoe, I don't think what the world has to say about the shoe on social media is going to end up impacting the success of that relationship and the success of the sales of the shoes as much as the people who follow or are obsessed with social media would like to think."
Last year, Under Armour saw its footwear sales increase 57 percent to $677.7 million in 2015, which does pale in comparison with Nike’s dominating $18.3 billion foothold, yet it did lead the Baltimore-based company to think bigger and plan a casual line it intends to roll out in the fall. One style of shoe won't make or break the company, even in a competitive market.
"Under Armour has got a solid brand reputation and brand name," Burton said. "They obviously want to get into the shoe business, which means they have to take Nike on. No one who makes shoes — Adidas, Nike, Puma — is probably anxious to see another competitor come into the game."
Besides the fact that Under Armour has numerous high-top versions and colorways that have already been given the approval by fans and customers, Curry and the apparel company have almost a full decade to find the right mix of style to cut into Nike’s market share.
Curry signed an extension in September that will keep him in the Under Armour stable until 2024, and the deal includes royalties and an ownership stake, so the 28-year-old shooting virtuoso does have a ton financially to gain or lose if the shoes sell or tank. According to Forbes, Curry was the No. 69 highest-earning athlete for 2016 with $23.6 million, $12 million of which came from endorsements, compared with the $11.6 million Golden State paid him.