Ask any American football fan what their favourite movie on the sport is and most of the time you’ll be told that it is Oliver Stone’s iconic Any Given Sunday (probably thanks to Al Pacino’s spine tingling speech at the end of the film).
What most fans probably aren’t aware of, is that the movie gave Under Armour, the American sports brand, its first big break on a global stage and actually helped the company’s sales to grow nearly five times faster than the previous year, to $5 million. Despite the film not being able to use official NFL names for teams and players (during a chaotic shoot), Under Armour were the official apparel providers for the fictional “Miami Sharks” in the 1999 movie.
As Plank tells it, a good friend let him know he was working on the film and he got directly in touch with the costume designer and sent a samples pack. Stone’s team requested roughly $44,000 worth of clothing, with Plank demand that they pay “for every shirt that went there.”
From there, the Maryland-based company launched its first U.S. national advertising campaign off the back of the movie (which grossing over $100 million worldwide) by spending $25,000 on a half-page ad in ESPN magazine, which had a circulation of roughly 800,000 back in 1999. This one, solitary advert, delivered an astonishing 8,000 direct response calls resulting in $800,000 of sales in just three weeks. Plank said of the huge response: “We only made $1.3 million the year before,”. By the end of 2000, the company had revenues topping a record $5 million.
From such humble beginnings, in just over 21 years its revenues are nearly topping $5.5 billion and its list of athletes are the envy of rivals, with a stable including Tom Brady, Stephen Curry and Michael Phelps. Plank’s own back story is quite interesting and I’d advise you to read this great ESPN feature and also this Washington Post piece on him.
In recent years it seems the brand has skyrocketed (along with its revenues) for it to become, amazingly enough, the fourth biggest sports clothing brand in the world.
What’s behind this meteoric rise? Well, a few key factors include:
- A very selective approach to brand ambassadors & teams: Looking at the brand’s list of sponsorships, it seems especially light when compared to nearest competitors Nike and Adidas. However, it is a case of quality over quantity and also a knack for backing the next big thing, such as Stephen Curry and English boxer Anthony Joshua. However, it has also had the financial punch to get five time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady on board and Notre Dame’s NCAA American football team.
- International expansion: With key apparel deals with English Premier League teams like Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton it has seen its revenues overseas grow to 14% of the business, which, as of 2016, is up 56% year-over-year.
- Investment in technology: “Data is the new oil,” according to Plank, and under his stewardship it has acquired: MyFitnessPal, Endomondo and MapMyFitness, spending a cool $710 million. Fortune has even floated the idea that Under Armour is actually a technology company. Its own technology suite, Healthbox, it says is “the world’s first Connected Fitness system created specifically to measure, monitor, and manage the factors that determine HOW YOU FEEL.” It is especially aided by this jump into the sports tech space, by Nike’s own exit in 2014, when it discontinued its FuelBand brand. All hyperbole from the Healthbox aside, thanks to this significant investment it has amassed what Inc calls the “world’s largest digital health-and-fitness community,” with 150 million users. Under Armour’s latest Spring & Summer collection for 2017 is another example of this investment in technology, the SpeedForm Gemini 3 (as seen above) has a built-in GPS fitness tracker that syncs to a suite of mobile apps via Bluetooth, which Under Armour says is “an industry first.”
- It doesn’t just focus on men: Linked to its selective choice of brand ambassadors has been its targeted approach of female ambassadors (and also ads), with ballerina Misty Copeland and supermodel Gisele Bündchen fronting the Under Armour brand. The focus has paid off, with a significant proportion of revenue being generated by female apparel, with some estimates that it could overtake Lululemon this year. The brand has also repeatedly said how important women are for its growth.
- It doesn’t just focus on sports stars: Its roster of ambassadors includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, arguably the number one box office star at the moment, and as mentioned above, Gisele, and Copeland.
Under Armour has experienced huge growth in a very short space of time, so much so that, as detailed in a previous blog, it has even signed an exclusive deal with Major League Baseball (MLB) to become its official apparel provider. On the evidence of this, the scrappy underdog has finally grown up, where it goes to next, will be interesting to see.