CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander spent July on the road talking to college coaches at multiple major NCAA-sanctioned recruiting events. In the weeks since, they've followed up with more than 110 coaches at all levels of Division I for our annual Candid Coaches series. As always, the series features a fun array of questions about college basketball, but also touches on broader issues in society. Throughout August we'll be posting the results of the poll questions posed to coaches.
The mega influence of shoe companies on the world of basketball is undeniable. From the NBA on down, there is an everlasting battle between brands in order to gain relevance in an effort to attain dominance. Nike has essentially owned hoops since Michael Jordan changed that company forever in the late 1980s. But in college hoops and in recruiting, who is second? For years and years, there was no doubt. Adidas was a clear-cut No. 2.
Over the past half-decade, the standard has changed and Under Armour has become prevalent in a way no one outside of that company saw coming. UA has made huge strides thanks in part to landing big-time endorsement deals with then-fledgling athletes who've since become superstars in their sports: Steph Curry, Jordan Spieth, Bryce Harper and Cam Newton. You throw in guys like Tom Brady and Michael Phelps, and now Under Armour is seen across the landscape as the chic brand and a legitimate competitor.
This has an undeniable impact on the grassroots basketball level. Young athletes can be influenced by pros and what company's gear they were. Among coaches, influence plays a part as well in terms of how a shoe company endorses, promotes and lifts a school through affiliation. On the prep level, Under Armour is hosting multiple, high-profile amateur basketball events. Adidas has one of the best events of the summer, too, with its championship in Las Vegas. NBA stars continually show up to that event to support their AAU teams and Adidas in general.
But it's become a real competition between the two. So with that in mind, we asked coaches:
If Nike is still No. 1, who is No. 2 on the shoe-company totem pole now: Adidas or Under Armour?
|UNDER ARMOUR||76 percent|
QUOTES THAT STOOD OUT
Coaches who responded with Under Armour said ...
Coaches who responded with Adidas said ...
You should know that, in regard to coaches I polled, some who are coaching at schools with an Adidas deal gave me Under Armour as their answer. Only one coach working at an Under Armour school told me Adidas was the bigger shoe company in college basketball as of today.
Under Armour is also considered to be the most fervently loyal to its affiliates, even when including Nike. There is a sense that Under Armour is at once an inner circle, us-against-the-world company but also a brand that's used its inner momentum to punch up and sway a lot of schools away from Adidas and/or Nike. You see coaches at Under Armour schools consistently citing their UA sponsorship as a major inspiration for success.
What was interesting was to see how many coaches at Nike schools saw the race unfolding. They see Nike as streets ahead of both -- most of them, anyway -- but realize that Under Armour has done so much in such a little amount of time. The belief is Under Armour is more fully invested in their schools, and that Under Armour has more presence right now, and will soon have more national prospects -- than Adidas.
Nike is still absolutely No. 1, though. It still has no true rival in youth and college basketball.
Remember, all of these companies are invested in sports across the globe. College and AAU basketball is only a small fraction of their holdings. But investing at these levels can pay off on a huge scale down the road. Look at Steph Curry, who is a global sensation already and has done so much to boost Under Armour's name. Three coaches mentioned to me how often they see everyday people wearing Under Armour gear all over the place now. It simply wasn't like that five years ago. That speaks to the company's massive growth.
In college hoops, Adidas is still powerful enough to fight with Under Armour thanks to its longevity, the amount of stars it still endorses (the biggest names being James Harden, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Andrew Wiggins, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry and Harrison Barnes) and how prevalent it still is with college program affiliation. Plus, a couple of coaches mentioned Kanye West's ties to Adidas, and how something like that still carries social currency.
Nike sponsors more schools than anyone, but Adidas still outpaces Under Armour by a good amount. That gap is closing fast, though, and many coaches I spoke with believe we're on the precipice -- say, the next one to three years -- of seeing the shoe wars get as interesting, competitive and aggressive as they've been a long time.