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Stephen Curry and the long tail of brand affinity on social

There are things about NBA MVP Stephen Curry that are certain. On the court? Wow. It’s hard not to be impressed with the array of tools that he has at his disposal. Off the court? Model citizen, doting father, proud son of Dell Curry, a solid NBA player in his own right.

Marketing darling? Absolutely.

According to Forbes, Curry’s current endorsement haul puts him at number six on the highest-paid in the NBA list behind Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers, retired), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder) and LeBron James, who reportedly makes around $48m per year.

Those non-playing earnings are around $12m a year with brands such as Degree, Kaiser Permanante, JBL, JPMorgan Chase and Brita.

Oh, and Under Armour — where Curry, according to Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, has lifted the band’s overall footwear business, growing 64 per cent in Q1 2016. Additionally, Morgan Stanley analyst Jay Sole said that Curry could account for an additional $14bn impact in value to Under Armour if he makes a major impact on sales.

Cue the subplot music as James, long a Nike athlete, and Curry, with Under Armour, battle for the NBA title. As of today, Curry and his squad look unstoppable once again — as they took a 2-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. It’s far from over, but one will hoist the trophy with their team.

Off the court, the brand vs. brand will continue its intrigue, with reigning MVP Curry and Under Armour still playing the underdog — though the sales numbers may belie that status. According to Inc., Curry’s signature shoe sales are up 350 per cent since the start of 2016, higher than any Nike signature shoe, except Michael Jordan’s. However, Fortune pointed out that James’ shoe, head-to-head with Curry, snagged the top spot in the first three months of the year.

One interesting twist to the Nike vs. Under Armour story is on social and, specifically, Twitter. Based on data from Seattle-based analytics company Affinio, Nike is still enjoying the “long tail” benefit from Curry. Based on two specific metrics, affinity and relevance, Nike and Adidas, the NBA’s current apparel sponsor (until 2017, when Nike takes over), appear to have a major edge over Under Armour in overall presence.

Affinio takes data to create “tribes,” specific subsets of audiences, to give bands a more granular view as to where their strengths lie and where they have the opportunity to improve. In the overall report of people following Seth Curry, the Jordan Brand sits at the #46 top interest of this audience. Nike is #64, Nike Basketball is #67, Adidas is #269 and Under Armour sits at #841.

Tim Burke, chief executive for Affinio, part of Microsoft's incubator, points out that there is some legacy and compounding at play that may explain the numbers.

“Curry was a Nike athlete until 2013,” said Burke. “Additionally, the brand itself is very powerful on social — so we’re likely seeing some ‘long tail’ effect due to time and audience. It’s also likely that since Nike accounts for a vast majority of sales in basketball, people on Twitter automatically assume Curry is a Nike guy, though its pretty obvious he isn’t. Also, if you think about it, Curry is just one athlete leading the charge for one brand. Others, like Nike and Adidas, have the cumulative effect of more athletes with large audiences — that may have something to do with it as well.”

Though the larger brand story on social tips the scales for Nike, there are several bright spots. Like Curry, Under Armour can play the long game and set themselves up for success, and continued opportunity, on social.

“We’ve found that, on Twitter, it takes time to move the needle of affinity from one brand to the next when it’s a situation like this,” said Burke. “It is true that social moves fast, but in this case, time will be helpful to Under Armour. Curry has the audience, as does Under Armour — but there are opportunities, based on the data we’ve seen, to gain more affinity and relevance.”

Affinio’s methodology unearths some interesting insights, when comparing James and Curry, focusing on 12 “tribes” — defined as a specific subset of a cumulative audience. For the “basketball fans” tribe, Nike far outpaces Under Armour on both the affinity and relevance scale. However, Under Armour’s basketball account does very well on affinity but lags on relevance.

“What we’re seeing there is that Under Armour’s hoop account is pacing well,” noted Burke, “In this case, people inside this tribe are 194 times more likely to have a strong affinity for the brand. Where the opportunity lies is in the relevance. In this example, most people are following Brand Jordan, Nike and Nike Basketball. The Under Armour score is low, but the relevance score is a good harbinger for the brand because they can leverage that and, over time, make bigger inroads. Adidas is in the same boat — and the may change as Nike takes over the apparel business.”

Geography can play a role as well. Bay Area fans appear to have a stronger affinity for Curry, especially in the head-to-head comparison. Another Under Armour athlete sees similar uptick.

“Bryce Harper (of the Washington Nationals) indexes very high in the Washington DC-area,” said . “We tend to see that with athletes in home markets and that does make sense that the brands would benefit from the geography.”

With all of the data swirling about and changing constantly, the overall view provides a baseline indicator of how brands and their connection to superstar athletes perform on social. Granted, sales are the king of all data but this look into other data gleans some intriguing insight as to where brands and the effect of Curry could lead.

“Nike is definitely the social incumbent in the category, and Adidas is as well,” said Burke. “It will be interesting to see, over time, how this could change as either Under Armour adds athletes to their basketball roster or how Curry’s popularity continues to rise. We’ve seen his popularity and affinity head-to-head with LeBron James in the Bay Area — and they could continue to creep up the ladder.”


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