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Breaking into the Sports Business Industry: A Note from my 30-Year-Old Self to my 20-Year-Old Self

Everyone loves sports.

Our culture is predicated around them for better or for worse. Sport has served as humanity’s greatest form of unwritten entertainment from it’s very beginning. And since then, sport has transcended humanity, snowballing into a captivating phenomenon over the centuries into what we know it to be today.

I am one of those people who became unequivocally enthralled by the power of sport from the very beginning. At 5, I was religiously reading the Sports Section of the Boston Globe. By 10, I was tapping my toes and fidgeting with my batting gloves in the Little League batter’s box emulating my favorite Boston Red Sox, Nomar Garciaparra.  When I was 15, my all-boys catholic prep school gave us the day off school so students could attend the parade and celebrate the New England Patriots winning their 2nd Super Bowl, which has now turned into 6 (and counting).  And at 20, I accepted a summer internship to work at Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, OR … marking the day I officially transformed my passionate fandom into making it a career and launching my path into the sports business industry.

As a young, eager junior at Georgetown University, the sports business industry was something I dove into passionately, yet somewhat by chance. And now, after having just turned 30 this past year, it has caused me to think back on everything I’ve learned in my] career as a sports business professional. I will get approached from time to time by college students or recent college grads asking for advice about the industry … and so I figured I would reflect on a few things (many of which I failed miserably at and others that I did okay with) that I wish I could tell my 20 year old-self who had just accepted that first sports business internship.

Be Opportunistic. It may sound like a cliché, it may even sound blatantly obvious … but I believe it’s the single greatest factor that distinguishes people who succeed in this industry versus people who don’t. That first Nike internship I got was somewhat of an odd happening. I received an email from a Georgetown email domain that looked identical to the hundreds of other spam emails I receive … however for some reason I opened it.

Nike was a company that I resonated with from being an athlete … it was the company I chose when my dad told me I could pick any one stock to invest in as just a little kid (it turned out to be an ok pick). Needless to say, I followed through with the application process and sure enough became the one Georgetown student-athlete that Nike chose that year to be part of their Summer Internship Program. It was only until after I was out in Beaverton, OR that I realized how lucky I had gotten. Nike received about 10,000 applications for their Summer Internship Program that year and only 90 were selected (45 student-athletes from Nike sponsored universities and 45 “at-large” candidates).  After doing the math and realizing that was a 0.09% acceptance rate, my sense of opportunity heightened.

While I had been opportunistic to have secured that internship, I look back at that experience and realize I could’ve been more opportunistic in my time at Nike. While I was definitely doing some cool things like playing hoops with LeBron James and showing Manchester City around the Nike campus, I underestimated how valuable an opportunity that was to network and build more meaningful relationships with key people within the company. Several people in that intern class with me (many of whom I’m still friends with today) have advanced through the ranks at Nike over the last 10 years and are in various Senior Director roles, due in large part to the networking and relationship-building they did during the course of their two months on the Nike campus that summer.

nike-campus-1
Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, OR. 

Never underestimate the power of your current situations (no matter what it might be) and take advantage of the resources you have at your disposal.

 

Be Patient. The sports industry is an interesting one given the discrepancy between earnings of athletes and everyone else in the industry. Manny Machado signs a $300 million deal yesterday in becoming the San Diego Padres newest shortstop and simultaneously you have an extremely competitive application process to get selected to be one of the San Diego Padres unpaid summer interns. Because its sports, people are willing to work for next to nothing to be in the industry. Consequentially, entry level salaries fall below many other industries.

When I had graduated from Georgetown in 2012 (after having gotten both my BA in English and my MS in Sports Management), I had a good majority of friends go straight into Finance. Meanwhile, I chose to head down to sunny (yet somewhat desolate) Bradenton, FL to work at IMG Academy … making a fraction of what my friends were making at any of the big banks or consulting firms.

IMGAcademy.jpg
IMG Academy is one of the world’s biggest and most renown sports academies in Bradenton, FL. The campus is over 500 acreas, costs over $80,000/yr to attend and hosts many of the world’s top professional athletes throughout the course of the year. 

I occasionally had fleeting thoughts of whether I had made the right decision with my career, but my day-to-day work of being at one of the world’s best sports academies and largest global sports companies made it worth it.  And while that was certainly a humble beginning, I very quickly got promoted within 6 months from running the Academy’s Soccer camp/team business to overseeing their brand-new Lacrosse program. In growing the program from 15 Floridians to 50 boys from all over North America and becoming a nationally ranked lacrosse program, my experience at IMG Academy was incredibly rewarding.

The sports business industry is not a race, especially at the beginning given the nature of the industry. Find the right environment, with a path for growth and your patience will pay dividends sooner rather than later.

 

Find a Mentor. Most people want to help other people … it’s human nature. This is a concept that extends far beyond just the sports industry; however, it was something I didn’t fully grasp early on. I think I had a do-it-yourself mentality for much of my early career, perhaps due to my competitive nature of being a former athlete or perhaps simply due to lack of experience.

I would encourage all people new to the sports business industry to try to find one (or a few) people whose careers they regard highly and whose footsteps they want to follow. Get to know that person or people and build a relationship with them.

For me, these mentors I developed during my earlier years In the industry introduced me to key people, gave me advise on important career steps I was considering, and ultimately opened doors to more opportunity within the industry. Just like sales, people buy from people … and when a well-regarded person in the industry can endorse your own abilities and character, more doors will quickly open up.

Surround yourself with the right people and find the one or two you really connect with on a personal level, whose career path you identify with, and cultivate those relationships.

 

Put Yourself Out There. The sports and entertainment industry is perhaps more of a people industry than any other industry in business. And while yes, there are some technical-based jobs within sport, the very nature of the industry is predicated on people. The cliché holds true: “It’s who you know, not necessarily what you know.” People are often the commodity within sports business, whether it be an athlete you’re trying to sign, a sponsor you’re trying to land, or an audience you’re trying to market to.

CatapultWorkshop
Catapult hosts workshops throughout the world for coaches and users to learn and better utilize their wearable technology. 

This has never been truer for me than in my most recent endeavor with Catapult Sports. When I transitioned over to the sports technology field about a year and a half ago, I had lots to learn quickly about the industry while simultaneously trying to hit my number and do my job as a Business Development Manager. Much of my time was spent early on attending conferences and conventions, meeting with the major players in the space (both externally and internally at Catapult). Sometimes it would mean staying up late and having a drink with an expert Catapult client/user after a long day at a convention, another time it might be listening to a panelist speaker at a workshop and being compelled to engage with that person in deep conversation afterwards.

You can’t be afraid to swing and miss … that’s part of being a professional. Roll up your sleeves, talk to people, go to conferences, and put yourself out there to not only listen but also to be heard.

Under Armour No Longer the Underdog

19 years ago, a 23-year-old former special teams captain from the University of Maryland football team began a business from his grandmother’s basement in Washington, D.C. Kevin Plank was tired of having to change out of the sweat-soaked T-shirts worn under his jersey. Yet he noticed that his compression shorts always stayed dry during practice. This observation inspired Plank to develop his first prototype of a moisture-wicking synthetic fabric t-shirt. He gave the shirt to his Maryland teammates and past teammates who had gone on to the NFL. The recent college grad perfected the design that effectively wicked moisture and kept athletes cool, dry, and light … and the company that we now know as Under Armour was launched.

Kevin Plank, the Founder and CEO of Under Armour, started the business 19 years ago in his grandmother's basement in Washington D.C.
Kevin Plank, the Founder and CEO of Under Armour, started the business 19 years ago in his grandmother’s basement in Washington D.C.

The first major team sale came with Georgia Tech football requesting 10 shirts from Plank. This led to contracts with other Division 1 football teams totaling $17,000 in revenue in year one. In 1999, Warner Brothers used Under Armour in two major films, Any Given Sunday and The Replacements, which coupled with an ad in the ESPN The Magazine, generated about $750,000 in sales. In 2003, the company launched its first television commercial centering on the motto “Protect this house” which played into the company’s notion of being the underdog. Four years later, in 2007, Under Armour opened its first full line full-price retail location in Annapolis, Maryland. On January 21, 2014, Under Armour announced their official apparel and equipment partnership with Notre Dame, making it the largest of its kind in the history of college athletics. The company has maintained an operating profit of more than 30% since its inception and soared to over $3 billion in revenue this past year and over 8,000 employees. And this past year, Under Armour passed Adidas as the second-largest sportswear company in the US.

Under Armour has marketed its underdog story through the slogan "Protect This House."
Under Armour has marketed its underdog story through the slogan “Protect This House.”

Last month, Under Armour reported a 29% growth in revenues over the same period last year, leading to a 7.3% jump in the company’s stock price. And so this begs the question, how does the company continue to grow at such a rapid place?

 

The biggest growth  categories for Under Armour recently have been golf-related items, women’s products, and basketball shoes and apparel. Not coincidently, Plank attributes much of the company’s recent success to that of Jordan Spieth, Misty Copeland, and Stephen Curry.

 

In today’s market, athletes are one of the most sought after groups of professionals for endorsements of products across a wide range of industries and categories. Being able to leverage an athlete’s appeal, recognition, and following within the general public in order to create a strong, positive association between a fan favorite and a brand, is a company’s dream. When you are dealing with a brand that happens to be a sports apparel brand, the value of endorsement is that much more amplified. This is not by any means a “new” marketing technique in the industry, however Under Armour has proven to be consistently good at identifying target areas of growth and then moreover, getting the right athletes in those areas.

Stephen Curry was one of Under Armour's most lucrative endorsement deals after bowing out of the negotiation for Kevin Durant.
Stephen Curry was one of Under Armour’s most lucrative endorsement deals after bowing out of the negotiation for Kevin Durant.

Let’s start with Stephen Curry. One of Under Armour’s recent initiatives has been in basketball apparel and more specifically shoes. Under Armour’s global basketball e-commerce traffic has been up more than 300% year-over-year. The basketball-shoe business is dominated by Nike, with brands affiliated with Michael Jordan and Lebron James drawing massive revenues. However, in signing Stephen Curry, Under Armour has put a huge dent into Nike’s basketball market dominance. After Curry’s MVP season and winning the NBA Finals (over Lebron), the Curry One shoe has been a huge success especially with Under Armour’s e-commerce site. The revenue for the footwear business increased 40% compared to the same quarter last year, to $154 million.

Ballerina, Misty Copeland, has proven to be a huge marketing success for Under Armour as they've seen a huge spike in their women apparel.
Ballerina, Misty Copeland, has proven to be a huge marketing success for Under Armour as they’ve seen a huge spike in their women apparel.

Misty Copeland recently became the first black woman to be named principal ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theater. Her face and image has significantly contributed to the growth of capris, shorts, sports bras, and running footwear.

Jordan Speith, however, may be the single largest contributor to the company’s ongoing rapid growth. Plank said this about the company’s golf platform:

In just the sport of golf in the last two years our revenues have more than doubled. We’re seeing key category growth throughout the rest of the year — things like on our website — our playoff polos are a number one item at our Brand House and our e-commerce site. The business is basically up everywhere. Having the right asset in Jordan … has been a home run for us.

Jordan Spieth was the youngest golfer to win the Masters since 1923 and did so with a record tying score this April ... Under Armour's stock prices increased 2% the following morning.
Jordan Spieth was the youngest golfer to win the Masters since 1923 and did so with a record tying score this April … Under Armour’s stock prices increased 2% the following morning.

Back in April, the 21 year old Spieth, epitomizing the company’s underdog story, won his first Master’s championship, while Rory McIlroy (Nike’s golden boy) finished fourth and Tiger Woods, a longtime Nike athlete, tied for 17th. Since then, he won the U.S. Open championship, becoming the youngest golfer since Bobby Jones to win the tournament in 1923. Soon thereafter, Spieth nearly won the British Open as well. Spieth’s Masters win caused Under Armour shares to spike 2 percent in trading the following morning.

 

You see, Under Armour invests in athletes the way value investors pick stocks. The company does not fear spending vast amounts of money, and yet Under Armour will typically bid up a top prospect before walking away from the negotiating table. This marketing strategy often causes the Swoosh to pay more than what they wanted for the top prospect, while Under Armour positions itself for a cheaper talent.

 

This gamesmanship played out in their approach of forcing Nike to resign Kevin Durant for about $275 million, while being able to capitalize on getting Stephen Curry in 2013 for a much lower price. In golf, Under Armour took a run at McIlroy, who at the time was the youngest player to amass $10 million in PGA Tour winnings. When Nike signed McIlroy in 2013, Under Armour turned around and signed the 19-year-old Spieth who had just turned pro.

 

Everyone likes a good underdog story. Under Armour’s origins and history is exactly that, an underdog story. Their unprecedented rate of growth have garnered the question from industry experts as to where the finish line might be for the company. And while they certainly are the underdog once again, that 4-lettered company on the other coast is starting to look in its rearview mirror.

 

 

 

Adidas Loves the Beard – Rockets’ Harden Inks $200 Million Endorsement Deal

Adidas has lured Houston Rockets guard James Harden away from the Swoosh with a 13-year, $200 million offer that was announced yesterday.

 

Right now, Harden will average $16.78 million on the final three years of his deal with the Rockets and $15.38 million annually. However, if Harden reaches certain benchmarks, it’s entirely possible that he will earn from Adidas than he will from the Rockets.

 

Adidas was in significant need of signing a marquee player. Under Armour has Stephen Curry, Nike has LeBron James and now Adidas has James Harden … all 2014-15 All-NBA first team selections. Nike claims approximately 95% of the U.S. basketball sneakers, while Under Armour is very quickly expanding its own line of products and passed Adidas last year as the second-largest seller behind Nike. In the first six months of this year, Adidas sold fewer shows in the U.S. than Skechers and New Balance. Part of Adidas’ underwhelming basketball brand performance can be attributed to big injuries to two of their main stars, John Wall and Derrick Rose.

Adidas' new superstar James Harden faces off against the face Under Armour's brand, Steph Curry.
Adidas’ new superstar James Harden faces off against the face Under Armour’s brand, Stephen Curry in last year’s NBA Playoffs.

Earlier this year, Adidas chose not to renew a deal with the NBA that had established it as the official outfitter of the league and in came Nike with an 8-year partnership that is worth roughly $1 billion. Moreover, Under Armour announced its own global marketing partnership with the NBA, which positions the brand as a title partner and outfitter of the NBA Draft Combine, presenting partner of the Junior NBA program in the U.S. and allows Under Armour to work with the league to launch an NBA FIT mobile app.

Nike and the NBA agreed on a league wide partnership worth about $1 billion last month that will make Nike the official jersey provider.
Nike and the NBA agreed on a league wide partnership worth about $1 billion last month that will make Nike the official jersey provider.

Adidas foresees Harden making a big splash in China, as the Rockets have remained a fan favorite in the Far East since the days of Yao Ming. The deal will feature a signature Harden shoe, his own apparel line, as well as Harden traveling on extensive brand tours in Europe and Asia. Additionally, Harden has started dating Khloe Khardashian who is a marketing machine herself and will undoubtedly raise his visibility into other demographics. Nonetheless, Harden’s jersey sales were only 14th in the league last year behind players like Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzski and Chris Paul. Adidas is expecting the deal to help move his merchandise sales upwards.

James Harden and TV personality, Khloe Kardashian, have started dating.
James Harden and TV personality, Khloe Kardashian, have started dating.

Harden’s endorsement deal with Adidas, which will officially begin on October 1st of this year, speaks to the increased value placed in brand marketing. Harden, who was not that long ago a sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder, will now be making more money from this deal than what seven-time NBA All Star Tracy McGrady and eleven-time NBA All Star Allen Iverson made throughout their respective careers from on-court earnings. In basketball and major U.S. sports in general, a highly marketable player and personality like a James Harden can earn more money by pushing a brand than his performance on the court. While on court performance and off-court marketability are highly correlative, Harden’s Adidas deal speaks to how marketability is valued more so now than ever.

James Harden will earn more money in his new deal with Adidas than either Tracy McGrady or Allen Iverson earned for their on-court performance in their entire careers.
Harden will earn more money in his new deal with Adidas than either Tracy McGrady or Allen Iverson earned for their on-court performance in their entire careers.

One thing remains the same, Nike is still firmly established as the dominant shoe and apparel company in basketball, as they hold long-running endorsement deals with the three most globally popular (active or former) players in the world in LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan. And so they have the luxury of being able to allow MVP runner-up and All-NBA mainstay James Harden bolt to their three-stripe rival without much fuss. Nike had the option to match Adidas’ offer but chose not to, perhaps because of their recent large investment in getting the NBA league wide deal.

Nike Inks Michigan to Largest School Deal Worth $169 Million

On Wednesday, Nike officially announced a shoe and apparel deal with the University of Michigan that was worth $169 million. The contract begins in the 2016-17 fall season and will run for 11 years through 2027, with an option to extend through 2031. The cash and equipment part of the deal over the guaranteed 11 years is worth $122.3 million, with $65.5 million in cash and $56.8 million in apparel and equipment. There will be another $46.6 million in cash and apparel through the four-year option. The only larger school and apparel deal in the country is Notre Dame’s deal with Under Armour that was worth in the neighborhood of $90 million over 10 years.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank (right) announces the deal worth $90 million over the span of 10 years with University of Notre Dame with the school's athletics director, Jack Swarbrick.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank (right) announces the deal worth $90 million over the span of 10 years with University of Notre Dame with the school’s athletics director, Jack Swarbrick.

Michigan’s current deal with Adidas was worth $8.2 million a year in cash and equipment and was the most lucrative among public schools in the country. The new deal struck with Nike will be worth $11.26 million per year over the course of the next 15 years.

University of Michigan Athletic Director Jim Hackett opted to partner with Nike over Adidas despite a higher offer made from Adidas.
University of Michigan Athletic Director Jim Hackett opted to partner with Nike over Adidas despite a higher offer made from Adidas.

According to reports, Nike was in fact the lowest bidder for the Wolverines new deal. However, given the angst over the much-criticized Adidas deal, Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett felt making the right deal with the right partner was important:

 

After careful consideration, the right partner for the University of Michigan was Nike. This decision is about more than Michigan athletics; at the core, it is about our University community and it is about two great names reuniting for an opportunity that speaks to more than uniforms and apparel.

 

This deal dwarfs Nike’s next largest shoe and apparel deal with a public school (Florida State) by two and a half times. Nike gives the Seminoles $4.4 million a year in cash and gear.

 

Comparatively to other Big Ten Schools, the deal doesn’t even come close to the next largest deals. Ohio State has the next largest deal that is worth about $4.16 million per year in cash and gear with Nike, followed by Wisconsin’s $3.5 million per year contract with Adidas and then Nebraska’s $3 million per year contract with Adidas.

Ohio State

Despite Michigan’s relatively weak performance in both basketball and football over the past few years, the shoe and apparel titan went to the mat for the Wolverines.

Nike’s Latest Win

It was just announced on Wednesday that Nike and the NBA have agreed to an 8 year, $1 billion jersey deal that will begin in the 2017-18 season.

This deal will represent approximately a 245 percent annual increase from the previous deal that the NBA had held with Adidas. In 2006, the NBA announced an 11-year, $400 million deal with Adidas, who at the time had taken over for Reebok (a brand which it now owns). It was reported that Adam Silver and the NBA had become unhappy with Adidas after they fell to third in the United States in shoe and apparel sales, behind Nike and Under Armour. This past March, Adidas announced that they would not seek to extend its jersey deal with the league.

Nike has produced replica NBA jerseys through their Swingman brand line and produced official NBA jerseys in the 1990s.
Nike has produced replica NBA jerseys through their Swingman brand line and produced official NBA jerseys in the 1990s.

You might wonder why the NBA announced this so early in advance, as their current deal with Adidas is good through the 2016-17 season. The simple answer is that both sides have already mutually agreed to part ways at the end of the deal. Adidas still wants a return on their investment, so don’t expect to see any letdown from them in the coming years. They have done some new things, such as jerseys with sleeves and their special Christmas Day branded jerseys. With Adidas and the NBA coming to this decision to split early, there was no reason for the NBA to not go ahead and search for their next official jersey supplier.

Mark Parker, the CEO of Nike, is extremely excited about the new jersey deal with the NBA.
Mark Parker, the CEO of Nike, is extremely excited about the new jersey deal with the NBA.

A major win in this jersey deal for Nike is that the Nike Swoosh will appear on all NBA jerseys, a first for the league. Nike President and CEO, Mark Parker, is extremely excited about the deal, “In Nike, Jordan and Converse, we have three of the most connected brands in the world, and look forward to making the global growth of the game a successful strategy for both the NBA and Nike.” Since 1992, Nike has been a marketing partner of the NBA. At retail, they have been able to successfully produce replica NBA jerseys under their Swingman line. Furthermore, Nike and its affiliated brands, control more than 90% of the U.S. basketball shoe market at retail. The company holds endorsement deals with many of the league’s top stars: Lebron James, Kevin Duran, Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook to name just a few.

Lebron James is one of several big stars that Nike has large brand endorsement deals with.
Lebron James is one of several big stars that Nike has large brand endorsement deals with.

In 2012, Nike was able to win the bidding war for the official uniform deal of the NFL, and they have extended those rights until the end of the 2019 season. Most industry experts would agree that Nike has been relatively conservative with their NFL jersey designs, excluding a few franchises like the Jaguars, Buccaneers and the Seahawks. NFL owners tend to be more conservative businessman compared to those owners of NBA franchises. It is expected that Nike may have a little more creative freedom with these NBA jerseys. Having said that, with the limitation of space on the NBA jersey canvas (no sleeves, shorts and not pants, no high socks, required number on the front of the jersey), Nike’s design team will have to be resourceful to create a groundbreaking design.

One issue of debate with the new Nike NBA jerseys is whether or not there will be advertising on the jerseys. That question may largely be tied to the television deal with Turner Sports. ESPN Sports Business Reporter, Darren Rovell, says, “With such a large and lucrative ESPN/Turner deal getting done, it brought into question the worry that there might be some companies who might try to cannibalize the business of TV and not buy television advertisements. I think that’s enough of a concern to keep advertisements off jerseys until the end of the TV deal and maybe forever.”

Adam Silver (left), the NBA's current commissioner, and David Stern (right), the NBA's former commissioner, have two different views on the league's jerseys.
Adam Silver (left), the NBA’s current commissioner, and David Stern (right), the NBA’s former commissioner, have two different views on the league’s jerseys.

Now, Adam Silver shares a much different opinion on the NBA’s jerseys than former commissioner David Stern maintained. Stern felt strongly that there should be no other competing brands on the NBA jerseys besides the team brands, which is what negated Adidas putting their trademark logo on the jerseys. Silver, however, not only feels strongly about putting the supplier’s brand on the jerseys, but is also pushing for corporate advertising on the jerseys.

This new deal will have no impact on a few teams who have new uniform designs coming out. The Philadelphia 76ers will be unveiling new uniforms next week; while the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks will be announcing new uniform designs later this summer as well.

Regardless, this is a huge win for Nike. Nike will now have the official jersey deals for the two US professional sports leagues with the widest global marketing reach.

James vs. Curry: Magical Marketing Matchup

The NBA Finals this year features perhaps the most entertaining matchup since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980’s. LeBron James, the 4-time NBA MVP and the 2-time NBA Finals MVP is considered the best basketball player on the planet and certainly has the personality to back up his game. His polarizing presence has made him hated by many and a villain looking to dethrone MJ as the best ever. On the other side of the court is Stephen Curry. The humble, soft-spoken kid who got passed over by all the top college programs, to later prove everyone wrong and become the best shooter of the game’s generation, and perhaps of all-time.

While Cleveland and Golden State are not exactly big market basketball cities, the matchup of James vs. Curry is making this Final one of the more hyped matchups in recent years. It is good versus evil. Two kids both born in Akron, Ohio; one of whom exploded as a youth, was a can’t miss athletic specimen, went from the preps to the pros, and was taken #1 in the NBA draft, while the other was a skinny lanky kid who struggled to make his High School basketball team, was overlooked by almost all big college basketball programs, surprised everyone in the NCAA tourney at Davidson, and then exploded to win the 2014-15 NBA MVP.

Lebron James (left) at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and Steph Curry (right) at Charlotte Christian High School.
Lebron James (left) at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and Steph Curry (right) at Charlotte Christian High School.

The story of these two could not be any more different. One is a pure athlete, the other is a pure shooter. Many dislike one, while the other seems to be loved by all. One is supposed to win everything, whereas the other wasn’t supposed to win anything. And yet both were born in the very same town of Akron, Ohio and they meet for the first time in the NBA Finals.

The NBA, as a whole, does an extremely good job at marketing. Their International Global Marketing division has greatly contributed to the league expanding to Latin America, Europe and Asia through various exhibition events, leveraging marquee foreign players, and developing key strategic global partners.

Moreover, the League tends to be opportunistic with moments like this one. Golden State and Cleveland are not exactly huge markets, and yet they have already strategically branded this Final as “James versus Curry.” James and Curry are 1-2 in jersey sales this season, while Curry edged James for the most All-Star votes. Between the two of them, they have been mentioned 28.8 million times since October on Twitter.

Steph Curry has endorsement deals with Under Armour, Degree and Muscle Milk to only name a few.
Steph Curry has endorsement deals with Under Armour, Degree and Muscle Milk to only name a few.

Both are marketing machines, as James has deals with Nike, Kia, Samsung, among several others, and has his own TV production company. Meanwhile Curry has become one of the most sought-after endorsers in the game today, as he has deals with Under Armour, Muscle Milk and Degree. The baby-faced 25-year-old has about a dozen endorsements that he didn’t have when he was left off last year’s All-Star team and is pulling in about $3.5 million a year off the court.

Simply put, LeBron James and Stephen Curry are the two best in the game today. For that reason alone, the NBA Finals matchup this year is special. On the surface, they are polar opposites: personality, playing style, their paths to this point. And yet here they are, pitted against each other on the game’s largest stage.

The NBA Finals Game 1 is on tonight … and you better believe, people will be watching.

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