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CNBC, First in Business Worldwide, was granted exclusive access to two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steph Curry as he embarked on a marketing tour across China and Taiwan as part of an Under Armour sponsorship trip. CNBC's Sara Eisen gets up close and personal with Curry and Under Armour CEO and Chairman Kevin Plank in interviews to air on CNBC throughout Business Day today, Wednesday, September 7.
With the NBA the top-selling league when it comes to merchandise in China, the stakes are high for Baltimore-based Under Armour. After years of rapid growth in the U.S., the company needs to reach the global consumer, especially with competitors Nike and Adidas already finding big success in this region. Eisen reports on how the company plans to do this and why Curry is the key to this mission.
Following are excerpts and videos of the exclusive interviews:
PLANK ON THE OPPORTUNITY IN CHINA
EISEN: What's unique about basketball to this market?
PLANK: It's relevant, the consumer is behind it and the government is behind it. It's a low barrier to entry. It's unique. There's a difference between sort of the way that basketball's played in the U.S. and the way basketball is played in China. You have a 1.3 billion people that are finding fitness and finding athleticism. Here it's really about market expansion, it's about growing the overall pie and the opportunity that's available to us. And I think basketball remains a massive opportunity. I think it's over 300 million Chinese play the sport of basketball or are fans of basketball. If you can figure China out, if you can crack the code on China, it's a massive step forward. It's one I think you will see from the Under Armour brand that we feel pretty positive about getting and gaining momentum with.
EISEN: You were just throwing those numbers out about how your China business has increased. Doesn't bother you that your competitor has about $4 billion worth of China sales?
PLANK: We believe that there are red oceans and blue oceans. I like blue oceans where we can go create new opportunities in these new market. We see the ability for us to do that here in China. And again, expanding the overall pie is really what the opportunity is for us. Everybody is going to win. But there'll be some losers as well. Being a brand is not just – we sign an athlete, we make an athletic product, we build a flagship store and then we just sell things and we're a brand. Like brand begins with so much more. There's two things, in every product there should be a point of view and number two, it's personality. And you know I think that's what comes across with things like have a Stephen Curry tour, having Steph be a part of this, an athlete that has frankly become so iconic and really defining of a persona which is this underdog, I'm going to find a way to win – which is a very Under Armour story. It's something that's a great relationship and a great synergy between the Stephen Curry brand and Under Armour.
EISEN: What do you think is the top concern investors have right now? Because the stock price has stalled and slid this year. What are you hearing from them?
PLANK: You literally have to run your company like for the best interest of the company. So you know, look, stocks go up and stocks go down, but our company hasn't changed. And I think that we continue to underscore the real values of what will propel us. Under Armour, we grew 30% in the first quarter and 28% in the second quarter, as we see the year it will be north of 25% as we finish the full year of 2016. On a scale on building on a $4 billion business. And so these are real numbers and I think from a consumer brand if people are looking to have a growth company, which I think is on a consumer basis, we're a pretty compelling story that's incredibly unique in anyone's portfolio.
PLANK ON CHINA STRATEGY
PLANK: We have built our career on going against established brands and so there is nothing new or different here. And, in addition to the other two other major global players, you know, there's a lot of local Chinese brands that have some, you know, pretty entrenched businesses as well that, you know, we see our position just different. We see our position different from the other global players. We see our position different from the local market as well. So, Under Armour is going to be okay. You know, I think that we have a pretty good reputation, we've got a pretty good playbook that requires its own China nuance to it. But, you know, it's one that we are pretty confident that we can execute and we can win.
CURRY ON DAD SHOES
EISEN: Some people would laugh because they would look at social media backlash against Steph Curry's. Was that painful to watch?
CURRY: That was amazing because I obviously thought the stories and the kind of tag lines behind them were pretty funny.
EISEN: Dad shoe.
CURRY: Yeah, "The Dad Shoe." For me, when you are have people wondering what is next, what is coming out, you are on the right track.
EISEN: So are there going to be more dad shoes?
CURRY: I wouldn't call them that, but there will be more white-based shoes that will be open for interpretation.
CURRY ON CHINA TOUR
EISEN: Why is it so important to connect to your fans here in Southeast Asia?
CURRY: Basketball is booming and it's not just an Under Armour standpoint, it's about the game itself. Kids going out and playing and being inspired by what we do on the court. So to be able to come over here in our short little window and be able to get out and get face-to-face with our fans, it is definitely important.
EISEN: Has that surprised you to see the NBA fever here?
CURRY: This trip has been extremely eye opening. I have been to China three straight summers. And been to different cities. And I think this year, it has just gone over the top with support and turn out and just the passion around what I do personally on the court, but you can tell that the game of basketball is healthy and alive.
EISEN: LeBron, Kevin Durant – they have been in this market – Kobe Bryant – for decades with Nike. Does that drive you to be more aggressive here?
CURRY: Yeah, I mean, we want to create our own story. And that's something that we want to be authentic to who we are as a brand, who I am as a player. And hopefully that is something that can reach a bunch of people. But yeah, they've opened the doors and have allowed basketball to become popular. And so, with my story and kind of how things are going, I want to be able to share that with fans here in Asia as well.
EISEN: What's your story? What makes yours different?
CURRY: Just the creativity and imagination that I try to have on the floor. How much fun I have playing the game. And that none of this was ever planned or guaranteed. A lot of hard work goes into it. A lot of effort from not only just myself, but teammates that I've had along the way to coaches that I've had along the way. And we want to inspire kids to have faith in themselves. To have confidence in themselves no matter what their skill level is, what their physical stature is. That they can do anything that they put their mind to.
EISEN: What's Kevin Plank going to do when he comes out and watches you in the Warriors games? Is he going to cheer for Durant?
CURRY: So he's going to – no – he's going to cheer for me, for our team to win and whatever it takes for that to happen.
CURRY ON PLANK PARTNERSHIP
CURRY: I mean, from three years ago when I first met KP and then the rest of the Under Armour team and they did some selling on me about exactly where the brand was going and how I can be a major part in it, trying to take obviously the basketball brand to the next level and the entire company just trying to do my part. It's been an amazing journey. I would have never thought three years for me - I'm sure you had a grand vision - but coming to Asia and doing our second tour, it's all come together really nicely. So, kind of following KP's vision and his passion for Under Armour to getting it where it is and where it's going. It's been a great partnership and something I take very seriously.
EISEN: Mr. Vision…
PLANK: Stephen made us all look smart, so it's easy when you back it up with performance. I'll never forget before Steph's first MVP run is when he just said to me he just looked and said 'Under Armor basketball…he's like give it to me, I've got this.' And, that's a tough thing when you're saying when we need you to go stare down the likes of Kobe and MJ and Lebron and these guys and say you're going to build a brand basically on your back and, with what you do, and I think the last two years three years performance has been everything that and more.
EISEN: What's been the hardest part?
CURRY: The hardest part? For me, I think when we were talking about building the best product um all the conversations and the all the details that go into making a great shoe, great apparel, I wanna be a part of that - day in and day out. Those conversations have been amazing they have been all constructive in trying to sure what we give to the consumer. We've fought a couple of times….
PLANK: We've had a few of those…
CURRY: Good battles … like good teammates …if you don't get on each other and if you don't try to check each other time to time and…
EISEN: Who wins in this relationship?
PLANK: He wins, he's got the final call. We try to persuade him. so yesterday we had a really productive time we got to go to one of our factories YY UNG MIRACLE. And, it was 18,00 people in this complex. It's the kind of thing you want to believe…that every place something is made - that it looks as good and as well-kept as the people and as happy as they are. But just taking Steph through the process to make a shoe today which where innovation comes in - its anywhere from two to three to four hundred sets of hands will touch a single pair of shoes. So when Steph is like uh I don't know I've been thinking about that tongue logo how the thing works, I'm like - this is like this waterfall crescendo that's about to happen if we do this.
CURRY ON KAEPERNICK
EISEN: Do you have an opinion on Colin Kaepernick? His jerseys are now sold-out across America because people are supporting him.
CURRY: I love that. I love that there's freedom of speech and that he can stands up for what he believes in. There are going to be people who disagree with him, there are going to be people who agree with him. Which is what I think our country stands for, which will hopefully drive the conversation to bettering the equal rights and treatment of African Americans and people of color. So, I applaud him for taking a stand and hopefully the conversation is about what his message was and not the fact - is he going to stand or sit for the national anthem or whoever it is. That the conversation is started and continues. I would also add the fact that he's putting his money where his mouth is and donating what he said a million dollars to finding ways to better or make his message a reality. I hope that all resources and conversations and intellect across the country will be able to figure out a way to make that million dollars as powerful as it can be - which is he's on the right track.
PLANK ON CHINA TAKING TIME
It takes time. Since 2010 we've gone from our first $1Min business to $3M in 2012 to over $150M in revenue this year. We've really just hit that trajectory of growth but it doesn't happen overnight. When you think about China, you can't think about it in terms of what happens this year, next year, the next 3 years. It truly is it's a 5-10-20 year approach and plan. It's got to be a gift it has got to be something that is leaving China with more than you are just walking in and thinking you are just going to pull revenue out of the market.
CURRY ON THE UNDER ARMOUR STORY
There's obviously great examples all across from players that have come before me. And so Kobe has obviously done a great job of keeping a consistent presence in Asia and once again trying to create an authentic story true to him. You know, as a fan of basketball growing up, I obviously took note of that. But even guys run the league they're everybody does it a different way and I want to have something that is unique to me and to the story of Under Armour and Steph Curry.
CURRY ON THREE "I'VE MADE IT" MOMENTS
CURRY'S SECRET TALENT: PIANO PLAYING
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