Paying Attention: When Jordan Spieth came within a stroke of moving into a playoff for the The (British) Open Championship, most eyes were on the piece of history he was trying to make: become the first player since Ben Hogan to win three majors in a year (Hogan won the Masters, the U.S. Open and The Open in 1953; Spieth was already one of only 5 players to win The Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year), and the only player to win all four majors in the same calendar year.
Other, sharper eyes–most likely those in the performance athletic wear and gear world–were focused on an equally important fact: that Jordan Spieth was sponsored not by Nike (they already sponsor former world Number 1 golfer Tiger Woods and current world Number 1 Rory McIlroy ) but by the young, very-fast-growing company Under Armour. A changing of the guard was taking place at St. Andrews and it wasn’t just on the course but in the boardroom.
Quietly, Under Armour has begun to amass a roster of top athletic names as endorsers of their product. They have been surprisingly adept at picking off both established sports superstars along with some of the hottest young names in sports. Here’s an (incomplete) list of Under Armour’s endorsers:
The company also has deals with two SEC schools, The University of South Carolina and Auburn University. And, in a very sharp move, Under Armour supplied all the workout gear for this year’s NFL Combine, a multi- day affair in which NFL hopefuls try out for NFL scouts and executives. That event was televised and watched by the football faithful. In short, they have both absolutely top tier all-time great athletes (Brady, Vonn, Phelps) and a roster of some of the best new athletes in sports (Spieth, Curry, Harper, Mahan). Thee moves along with innovative product has allowed Under Armour to grow from a sportswear cult-classic into a very major brand repped by players you’ve heard of. To speed things along, Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour, has “de-positioned” Nike in basketball, with the signing of players like Currey (star of this year’s NBA playoffs) and in golf, with the signing of Spieth( the hottest young player in golf). Under Armour also took a major cultural leap forward and signed Misty Copeland, the new, black, principal Ballerina for the American Ballet Company. It was an unexpected signing, but it was also a warning shot: the company is approaching the promotional side of their business with a totally clean slate.
From a basement operation to a multinational sports powerhouse in approximately 20 years is quite a story but we have seen this type of growth before, particularly in the form of Nike.
There are some amazing similarities between Nike and Under Armour. Both companies started by selling merchandise out of the founder’s trunk. In Nike’s case, it was founder Phil Knight, a former college runner, selling running shoes at track meets; for Kevin Plank, it was selling his special workout gear (the type of shirt made from synthetic material that “wicks” moisture away), from the trunk of his car. Nike’s initial product advantage was the “waffle trainer”, developed by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, a world class track coach. For Under Armour, it was the moisture wicking shirt, developed by Plank, a former University of Maryland football player. Each company had one product that got traction in the marketplace; from there, product lines expanded into other areas of sport, where perhaps there was not enough innovation in terms of design and materials. When Nike entered the marketplace, it was competiting against Adidas and Puma; for Under Armour, Nike is now the “establishment” with which they must compete.
Growing an international company at the speed that first Nike and now Under Armour have grown is no easy task. The marketplace is fickle, the competition is brutal, and one missed opportunity can push a company from near the front of the line to the back. Is Under Armour the new sports brand of our time? Only time and product will tell, but based on the very prescient moves they have made in building their endorsement roster, they are making the right moves at the right time.
A ClickPak on Under Armour.
Under Armour’s Advantage Over Nike (Source: Business Insider)
How to leverage celebrity endorsements (Source: Harvard Business Review)
Skin In The Game (Source: New Yorker)
Why Under Armour Will Grow (Source: Investopedia)
A Stock Split at Under Armour Is Not Without Critics (Source: The Baltimore Sun)
Getting Social: Under Armour Moves Into Social Fitness (Source: Fortune)
The Jordan Spieth Deal (Source: Forbes)
The Marketing Strategies of Under Armour (Source: Industry Leaders.net)
The Fine Print: The Under Armour logo is a trademark of Under Armour Inc. which reserves all rights.