NBA Jersey Rights Look Like a Jump Ball With Nike, Under Armour

Brands Go Head to Head Again

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The battle between Nike and Under Armour could soon be hitting the hardwood in a major way. The two marketers are expected to vie for the rights to become the NBA's official jersey supplier, replacing Adidas, which said Monday that it won't renew its pact after it ends in 2017.

ESPN and The Wall Street Journal reported the word from Adidas on Monday.

The sponsorship seems like a natural fit for Under Armour, which has made recent moves to bolster its basketball presence. But Nike is unlikely to stand by and cede ground to its smaller, but fast-growing, competitor. Last fall, Under Armour seemed poised to bring Kevin Durant into its stable of endorsers, only to see him stick with Nike at the last second.

The NBA declined to comment on negotiations, which are expected to conclude in April.

The NBA is "laser focused on finding the right partner who more than anything has a vision for global growth," D.J. Koeller, a VP at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports and entertainment marketing company that has worked on NBA deals, said in an interview. "Knowing that both Under Armour and Nike have aspirations of making a global brand, as does the NBA, the alignment for those two makes a lot of sense."

Nike declined comment. An Under Armour spokeswoman did not immediately reply to an email request for comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the NBA had growing concerns about Adidas, which has fallen to third place in sports apparel and footwear sales behind Nike and Under Armour. The Adidas deal was struck in 2006 and had an estimated value of $400 million over 11 years, according to the Journal.

While Adidas had at one time seemed like a global fit, circumstances have changed, Mr. Koeller said. When it comes to popularity with millennials, "it is neck-and-neck , Under Armour and Nike," he said.

In a statement cited by ESPN, Adidas said it was "reimagining and reshaping our business and have evolved our strategy to look at new, cutting-edge ways to drive our brand and support our business over the long term. We will invest more in telling stories that matter to our consumer, building category-disrupting innovative products, reinvigorating youth basketball with our new 'Next Generation' programs and doubling our roster of professional athletes to authenticate our brand on-court."

Contributing: Ashley Rodriguez

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