Nike’s newest sneaker war strategy: Fly high school basketball players to the Bahamas

Nike’s secret weapon.
Nike’s secret weapon.
Image: Trish Hartmann/Creative Commons/Flickr
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Nike is the undisputed king of sportswear in the US, and it wants to stay that way—apparently enough that it’s employing a sneaky strategy to undermine one of its most threatening competitors.

As CBS Sports reported, Nike appears to have hastily created an event for the country’s top high-school basketball talent, set to take place in the Bahamas over three days later this month. It just so happens those are the same three days during which Under Armour will be holding its annual Elite 24 tournament in New York, also for the country’s top high-school players. (Quartz has reached out to Nike for comment and will update this post with any response.)

That leaves these sought-after teenagers with a tough decision to make: Head for the concrete jungle of the Big Apple, or take a trip to the Bahamas, a top vacation destination known for its stunning beaches.

Nike’s cunning plan seems to be working. Nick Blatchford, who is Under Armour’s director of grassroots and college basketball, said two top prospects—Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles—won’t be taking part in Under Armour’s tournament this year, even though they did last year. ”So we have to assume they’ll be going to the Bahamas,” he told CBS Sports.

Why does Nike care so much about high-school players going to Under Armour’s event? Particularly as Under Armour isn’t even one of the top five sneaker brands in the US? Clearly it wants to ensure its dominance in the years ahead, and is beginning to view Under Armour as a genuine adversary in the sneaker wars.

Under Armour recently passed Adidas to become the number two sportswear brand (paywall) in the US. It has also made a huge splash in the past few months with its great roster of sponsored athletes—notably Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors player who took home the NBA MVP award this year, led his team to a victory in the finals over LeBron James and the Cavaliers, and even supplanted James as the player with the most popular jersey in the league. Curry’s signature sneaker for the brand has been selling out too.

Meanwhile, the Under Armour tournament has grown in popularity since its launch back in 2006. It is broadcast on ESPN, and shows off players that will likely become big names in the NBA one day. Kyrie Irving and John Wall both played in it, and it offers Under Armour a way to make connections with future stars, not to mention more media exposure as it builds its brand.

Under Armour has been planting the seeds that could make it a real competitor to Nike—not in the next year, perhaps, but in the next ten. Nike is trying to stamp those seeds out with some tickets to the Bahamas.

Photo by Trish Hartmann on Flickr, used under CC-by-2.0. The photo has been cropped.