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Round Robin: How 3 Top Sports Brands Compete for Coolness

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Round Robin: How 3 Top Sports Brands Compete for Coolness

The role of sport in consumer culture is to invoke emotion and inspiration.

Sports are not a mere pastime, but rather a symbol of and outlet for life’s hardships, struggles and triumphs. We love sports because they remind us that anything is possible, and that obstacles are built to be overcome. Every court and field has its boundaries, but sport itself has none. As a business, the global sports market was valued at roughly $146 billion in 2014. But with each World Cup, World Series, Olympics, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, NBA Finals, NCAA Tournament and College Football Playoff, we’re reminded that passion is the true currency of sport.

Competitive Branding

Athletic apparel (fan gear included) has transcended from functional to hyper-functional and fashionable, bridging fans and casual athletes with the professional icons they admire.

What was once the basketball shoe is now the basketball shoe with “Nike Zoom technology.” The conventional running shoe is equipped with the “Adidas Bounce” platform that looks like it could fly you to the moon. And a glance at any Under Armour tag will reveal everything from a “Moisture Transport System” to anti-odor technology and “HeatGear” compression. All of this is to gain an edge – symbiotically for customer and brand – over the competition. For these brands, marketing is in essence a sport.

It’s no coincidence that Nike, Adidas and Under Armour come first to mind in this discussion; they rank 1, 3 and 7 respectively on Forbes’ 40 Most Valuable Sports Brands. They are kings of cool in sports, with messaging that is innovative, memorable and even provocative. Let’s take a glance at how these three giants compete for coolness, particularly in New York City.

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In 2012, Nike replaced Reebok as the NFL’s licensed apparel maker, helping to push the brand’s value to $15 billion, according to Forbes. Nike had long been reimagining the design and technology of football uniforms with the University of Oregon serving as its prime canvas, and the NFL was quite simply due for a makeover.

Nike’s presence, however, is more deeply rooted in basketball, primarily with the success of its Air Jordan line. And so while taking on a massive new account with the NFL, Nike remains in a full-court press on the basketball court. But without the actual NBA account (that belongs to Adidas), they instead turn their focus to basketball culture.

In 2013, Nike held its Tournament of Champions at the Duggal Greenhouse. The annual streetball festival draws a frenzied crowd and brings fans closer to the game itself. If you have any appreciation for basketball, this event will evoke intense nostalgia and appreciation for the sport. Nike holds similar tournaments pretty consistently (most recently the Zoom City Classic during NBA All-Star Week), always with an appearance from a Nike NBA star or two (Kevin Durant and James Harden at the Greenhouse, Harden again with Anthony Davis at the Zoom Arena).

In the basketball world, Nike is a leader and innovator of the ultimate brand experience.

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In most countries around the world, soccer is the sport. And in comparison, Americans are historically disinterested. That’s beginning to change, though. In 2014, with the U.S. long ousted from the World Cup, the final between Germany and Argentina set a U.S. TV record with approximately 26.5 million viewers.

As the official sponsor of World Cup soccer, Adidas led a fever-pitch global campaign in stores and on social media. Its flagship SoHo NYC store was a centerpiece, attracting fans with towering displays of soccer stars on the outside and an apparel gallery of every competing nation on the inside. There’s no way Adidas isn’t in part responsible for the spike in U.S. interest, if not the driving force behind it.

Adidas uses the NYC flagship exterior as a visual display case of what’s hot, with Duggal serving as their graphics consultant and provider. In addition to the World Cup, we helped Adidas decorate here for the holidays, and most recently for NBA All-Star Weekend.


Under Armour

The pride of Maryland, Under Armour is one of the fastest-growing brands in sports. UA has grown out of the basement of a former University of Maryland football player into a global symbol of high-performance sportswear, exceeding its mission to “make all athletes better through passion, design and the relentless pursuit of innovation.”

In 2014, Under Armour opened its largest global “Brand House” – 10,000 square feet in the heart of SoHo. Lined with vivid, illuminated imagery of UA athletes in training, the flagship store reflects UA’s commitment to heightening our expectations for sports gear. Immediately upon walking into the NYC Brand House, you know that Under Armour came to compete with the likes of Nike and Adidas, both of which have been around for decades longer.


Betterment All Around

It’s fun to watch these brands embody the competitive nature of sport at the highest level and help execute their respective game plans. Their fearless creativity makes for healthy commerce. What’s best is that there are no cheap shots. There is mutual respect all around as each brand focuses on elevating its own performance. And there’s certainly no dogging it, ever.