This holiday season looks like it could be the most profitable for companies and investors in years. Job growth has been higher in 2014 than in any of the last seven years, and consumer confidence continues to rise. Even though wage growth in the U.S. has been a little slow this year, lowered gas prices and a strengthened dollar internationally are helping relative income levels to rise. These factors support that this coming holiday season could be a season of strong sales growth for consumer brands. Screenshot

For consumer brands in the athletic wear space, this could be an especially big year as sales of athletic wear in the U.S. were up 9% from Q3 2013 to Q3 2014 and this year's holiday season looks primed to be good. Two athletic apparel brands, Under Armour (NYSE:UAA) and Nike (NYSE:NKE), continue to go head-to-head in this space. With a bullish holiday season coming up, which of these two athletic brands is set for a blowout season? Let's take a look.

Under Armour ramps up growth rates
During the third quarter, Under Armour increased revenues 30% year over year, while income rose 22%. This follows YOY revenue growth in the mid-30% range in Q1 and Q2, ahead of what was still strong growth in 2013 with full year revenue growth of 27% in the last fiscal year.

Image: Under Armour

The holiday season was a highlight of Under Armour's 2013 fiscal year, with 2013 fourth-quarter revenues rising by 35% year over year, ahead of the 27% reported for all of 2013.

Investors should expect Under Armor to gain even more this season.

During the recent quarterly earnings release, Under Armour's management raised guidance for the fourth quarter to a 30% increase in revenue and a 31% increase in income above Q4 2013. These guided figures put Q4 revenue at the same level as Q3 revenue, but if the last few years of holiday season growth are any indication, beating those expectations wouldn't be very surprising.

Nike isn't likely to impress during the holidays as much as the rest of the year
Nike also posted huge growth during the most recent quarter, even if its growth rates weren't quite as impressive as Under Armour's. The reason for this is that Nike is a much older and more established international brand, having already grown to be the market leader in most of its segments.

During the most recent quarter, Nike's fiscal year Q1, Nike reported revenue growth of 15% year over year.  For the next quarter (the holiday season, but Nike's fiscal Q2), Nike will likely see a rise in revenue and income benefiting from the holiday season, but YOY growth again won't reach the growth rates Under Armour will be able to post. 

Nike is just bigger than Under Armour. Nike had net sales of $8 billion during the quarter, more than eight times as large as the quarterly revenues for Under Armour. Additionally, Nike's quarterly income growth of 23% year over year was actually higher than that of Under Armour at 22% growth year over year.

But the reason Nike won't be the winner on a truly blowout holiday season is that this season isn't Nike's big game. Nike's bet for its largest growth month isn't December, it's actually May. With summer sports beginning and many Nike-sponsored events happening during the summer (like the World Cup last year), it's calendar Q2 and Q3 that are consistently Nike's higher revenue growth periods. Look at the two charts below. Nike's revenue growth spikes during the summer and falls in the winter, though year-over-year growth remains strong. Meanwhile, Under Armour spikes during the winter holiday season and slows in the summer.

NKE Revenue (Quarterly) Chart

NKE Revenue (Quarterly) data by YCharts

UA Revenue (Quarterly) Chart

UA Revenue (Quarterly) data by YCharts

Best holiday play?
Both of these companies are likely to have a great holiday season with overall consumer confidence and spending up, and high sales trends in the athletic wear segment.

As for an actual "blowout season," look to Under Armour to beat expectations and post higher revenue and profit growth than management guided, which was already high. While Nike will likely still be posting growth this season, it won't be the blowout season that it will be for Under Armour in terms of year-over-year growth.

Also, real size matters, too, not just year-over-year growth. While Under Armour is posting higher growth rates, total revenue is still much higher for Nike, and the company has a much longer history of proving why it is the industry leader. Additionally, Nike's stock is much cheaper and pays a  dividend. Furthermore, while Nike will still see some growth this holiday season, investors can expect Nike to post even better numbers in later quarters, While the long term for Under Armour looks like a great play still, those looking for a valuable play that will still get a holiday bump but is also a long term valuable play might look to Nike instead.

Bradley Seth McNew has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nike and Under Armour. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike and Under Armour. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.