How Under Armour plans to become the world’s biggest sports brand

Having overtaken Adidas in the North American sportswear market, only Nike now stands ahead of Under Armour. And its VP of direct-to-consumer and omnichannel digital Sid Jatia is confident the brand, which now houses high-profile athletes including Andy Murray, can replicate its success this side of the Atlantic.

It’s fair to say Jatia is a confident man. Within minutes of sitting down with Marketing Week, he boasts about President Obama rocking Under Armour sportswear and his confidence Under Armour can hit a $10bn (£6.8bn) valuation by 2020 (it is currently worth almost $4bn).

But his confidence is more than merited. The sports brand has been disrupting the market for sports apparel with 23 consecutive quarters of growth. Most recently sales were up by 31% to $1.17bn (£800m) in its fourth quarter.

And in the US market, Jatia claims there has been a “changing of the guard”.

“The younger generation is super enthusiastic about the brand. You go into schools and everyone is wearing us so that gives us a lot of confidence about the future. Nobody wants to wear Nike anymore because it isn’t cool – it’s in the discount houses, it’s everywhere. People like the underdog and engage with our story,” he explains.

READ MORE: Under Armour expects Apple to come calling as sports apparel and tech worlds collide

Adopting a ‘patient’ sponsorship strategy

Central to Under Armour’s growth has been signing up athletes before they hit superstardom. Rather than go straight for the big names, Jatia says it is reaping the rewards of a “more patient” strategy.

He also claims big-name athletes no longer want to be associated with Nike or Adidas and prefer to align with sports brands that stand purely for performance. Andy Murray, for example, left Adidas to sign a four-year sponsorship deal with Under Armour.

“We do a tonne of scientific research over how an athlete can perform over the next five to 10 years, there’s a team dedicated to it,” Jatia reveals. “We then make a judgement call. Tottenham were like sixth when we signed them up, now they are second in the Premier League. Golfer Jordan Spieth was ranked number seven in the world and he’s now the champion. Nike passed on [basketball player] Stephen Curry and went for Kevin Durant as he was the obvious posterboy. We got Curry and now he’s the hottest thing in the NBA.”

The growth journey of Under Armour athletes is also reflected in its marketing. Its ‘Rule Yourself’ campaign features the slogan ‘It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light’ and shows young footballer Memphis Depay.

Jatia explains: “We are firm believers in athletes overcoming the odds and we only sign up stars who can fit into that messaging. They have to reflect the journey the brand is going on. Being the underdog and growing to be the best.”

Building a fitness community

Under Armour is making big strides in the sports wearables market

Under Armour has a fitness community of 165 million users, following high profile acquisitions of sports-focused tech brands such as MapMyFitness and MyFitnessPal, and one in four Americans now uses one of its fitness apps. Last year, Under Armour also inked a partnership with HTC resulting in a family of fitness wearable devices developed under a new sub-brand, Healthbox.

Jatia says the community is a “social channel” in itself that the brand will make increasing use of. The focus is on linking engagement with commerce so that when users reach fitness goals the brand can notify them of purchase opportunities to aide their progress.

“Most of the time when we are on those wearable platforms, you are in a lean forward position. You put your sneakers on and go out. The challenge is creating moments that are more lean back. Can I engage them when they crush their personal best, can I send a follow up email saying ‘Here is a reward’,” he asks.

While devices offer an opportunity to engage with consumers, Jatia says they can also be profit drivers, although he admits the margin for consumer electronics is less than for apparel or shoes. “It’s all about scale. If we sell enough hardware, we can make up the margin.”

Jatia believes tying the two businesses together through connected shirts and shoes are the future of sports brands. He says the apparel and tech worlds will inevitably collide, and when they do he expects Apple to come calling.

“Why can’t you have a shirt with a temperature control built in? You can put in a thermostat warmer or cooler to aide a workout. It would mean you don’t need to run an expensive heating system in the home either; you’re wearing it!” he explains. “Apple recently came out with the Health Kit for developers so it is clearly becoming a big part of their strategy. It could make good sense for them to work together with Under Armour, or to combine.”

Taking a localised approach

As it looks to grow its presence in the UK market, Under Armour has aligned with the Welsh Rugby Union

While Under Armour has seen success in its home market, Europe and China are still relatively small for the brand. The UK, in particular, is a “work in progress” according to Jatia. But rather than just recycle its US strategy, he says Under Armour will adopt a localised approach.

Pointing to recent contracts such as its new sponsorship with Southampton FC and its work with the Welsh rugby team, Jatia claims Under Armour is moving in the right direction. He also says sports leisurewear, particularly for women, will also be “central” to its growth plans.

He explains: “There is a different sensibility in Europe about what they care for than in the US. As we evolve in other countries, the vernacular has to be extremely laser focused around that country. It can’t be just about marketing the US clothes in Europe or China.

“We need to look at local assets and tap into the fervour of that particular country. The Welsh rugby team is a classic example as while it isn’t super visible, it is one of the most emotionally charged teams in UK sport.”

Jatia also is not concerned about a resurgence from Adidas. This despite the fact that Andy Murray was pictured wearing Adidas shoes at the US Open last year, promoting Adidas to tweet a picture featuring the words “You can choose armour or you can choose a weapon’.

“As we continue to overtake them in the US, Adidas feel like they are spiralling out of control.”

Sid Jatia, VP of omnichannel at Under Armour

He adds: “We have this big fitness community and are building great products so Adidas is desperately copying us. They just went and acquired Run Keeper. But it won’t work. We’re not trying to get Kanye or have our hands in too many pots, that creates confusion. The number one brand message for us is simply being health conscious and that is why we matter.

“We might be in our infancy in the UK, but it is a market that has the same hunger for health and fitness that we’ve seen in the US. We know how to build an engaged fitness community and there’s the potential to mirror our US growth in Europe and China.”

With confidence like that, don’t expect the Under Armour train to derail anytime soon.

Hide Comments1 Show Comment
  • fourpennyguy 21 Aug 2016 at 9:17 pm

    The goal should not to be the biggest brand, but one that provides the best service. History is littered with failed big brands who lost their way for the sake of size. The important question is whether Under Armour has quality products, and also, are they relevant. i think they are a fad, nothing more, and at some point will be a merger or buyout candidate.

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