Ryan Drew on NBA and UA Basketball.
The NBA lockout doesn’t just affect players and the League, but also the extended network of major athletic footwear and apparel companies that gain nightly exposure from having their athletes exhibiting a fresh seasonal rotation of sneakers and gear to a largely style-driven basketball consumer market. So how will Under Armour deal with an extended NBA lockout and what does the near term future of the category hold for the Baltimore-based brand? We talk with Under Armour’s Director of Basketball Ryan Drew, or “Drewsy” as he’s known around the office, on exactly that…
CounterKicks: Do you expect a prolonged NBA lockout to impact Under Armour’s basketball category going into next season? Why or Why Not?
Ryan Drew: Our presence in basketball is rooted in a comprehensive approach that starts in grassroots and extends into college and the NBA. Without question, the NBA provides amazing exposure for brands. Having the UA logo on our athletes during NBA games helps put our basketball products in front of a global audience of basketball fans. All brands that are invested in the NBA will have to deal with missed opportunities if the lockout continues into the season. We’re confident that our commitment to being part of the game year-round through Under Armour skills camps, high school and AAU tournaments, and college partnerships will keep the brand front and center with key basketball audiences.
CK: Even without an NBA season, what are some opportunities for Under Armour in basketball next year?
Drew: We have less exposure from the NBA simply because we have a smaller roster of NBA athletes. It’s probably the only time in this business that I would say that it’s an advantage. We have a strong grassroots division, with over 30 Elite High School programs that give our brand a lot of exposure with our target consumers. We outfit 16 Division 1 college programs across the country, whose games are broadcast on regional and national television. Our AAU programs that run from April through July are introducing our brand to the elite ballplayer in an authentic way, and events like the Elite 24, the Best of the Best in Atlanta, and the Brandon Jennings Invitational provide us with strong platforms to tell brand stories in print, online, and on the court. Through our Team and grassroots programs Under Armour will receive a significant amount of exposure all year.
In addition, a lot of our products target the performance ballplayer, and are sold through our strongest team dealer networks and retail partners. 300 NBA players might be locked out for the season, but thousands of basketball players will be playing all year at every other level. Basketball players still need hoop shoes!
CK: How can the brand continue to grow and define itself in the basketball category, despite not having an NBA season?
Drew: We’ve taken a long-term approach to growing the basketball category at Under Armour. We have a fantastic roster of NBA players, but they are just a part of our growth plan and point of view in the category.
We will launch our product through a targeted Team Dealer network this Fall. We have strong footwear programs during the back to school timeframe with our best retail partners that have their own dealer networks and service a lot of team programs through their retail locations. We also have great products that are inspired by the life and game of our NBA athletes. The “Bloodline”, a shoe developed for Brandon Jennings, will also be featured on our best College, High School, and AAU programs over the course of the year.
CK: What are some ways that Under Armour can still leverage its basketball endorsers like Brandon Jennings?
Drew: With the exception of the exposure he received after he scored 55 against Golden State his rookie season, Brandon spent a year in Italy, and plays in Milwaukee, which hasn’t been a regular on the NBA’s nationally televised schedule. Even though he was in a small market and coming off a year abroad we’ve always been aggressive about using Brandon in our brand marketing since we signed him, featuring him in our print campaigns, using his image on our website, developing his own blog to interact directly with consumers, featuring him on billboards during All Star weekend, or providing updates on what he’s doing through our own Twitter and Facebook platforms. Additionally, Brandon has also been a great partner in that he is a tremendous marketer of himself through his own social media platforms. His followers have become our followers. His personality and marketing savvy along with our brand marketing approach allowed us to identify new ways to leverage an athlete partnerregardless of their name recognition or size of the market where they play.
We’ve never really been that dependent on the NBA to drive Brandon’s exposure to the consumer. Do I want that to change…absolutely. I’d like to see him playing on national TV on a weekly basis. But in a lockout year, when nobody is on-court or TV, we’ll be doing the same things that we’ve done for the last 3 years to drive exposure for our athletes and our products. It’s business as usual for us.
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