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Under Armour Broadening Global Presence Through Professional Athletes

September 15, 2015

With the signings of athletes like Jordan Spieth, Steph Curry and Andy Murray, Under Armour has shown that it not only wants to continue its appeal with the younger set, but that it also wants to broaden its global presence.

Under Armour signed Spieth, 22, to his first endorsement deal in January 2013, and then two years later ripped that contract up and replaced it with a 10-year deal. All Spieth did in the following five months is win the Masters and the U.S. Open.

Curry, 27, signed his endorsement deal with Under Armour in 2013, after Nike decided not to sign the Golden State Warriors guard to a new contract. All Curry has done in the meantime is win the NBA's MVP award while leading his team to its first league title in 40 years.

Tennis star Murray, the old man of the group at 28, signed with Under Armour in December. Before the U.S. Open started, he was the third-ranked tennis player in the world.

"The thing they've done with Spieth and Curry and Murray, they're getting global visibility that they weren't getting before," said Howe Burch, president of Baltimore-based TBC Advertising.

Burch also was vice president of U.S. marketing for Reebok International and senior vice president for marketing communications and sports marketing at Fila, so he clearly knows his stuff when it comes to global sports marketing.

"The NBA is wildly popular in Asia," Burch said. "Golf and tennis are wildly popular all over the world."

In fact, Under Armour and Curry traveled to China, Japan and the Philippines in September to launch his new shoe, the Curry Two.

While Under Armour has been an amazing success story and has passed Adidas as the No. 2 sports apparel brand in America, it still trails Nike -- and not by a little. The Baltimore-based company reported revenue of $3 billion in 2014, but Nike had revenue of $27 billion. In basketball, Nike's grasp is even stronger, as it controls 90 percent of the U.S. market.

Under Armour is making up some ground, though. During the first half of the year, sales of its basketball shoes have more than quadrupled compared with 2014, according to SportsOneSource, which tracks the industry.

In 2014, the company nearly doubled its international sales, but that amounted to less than $300 million, not even 10 percent. Nike, by comparison, gets more than half its revenue internationally. Under Armour has improved on that -- 11 percent of its sales came from outside the U.S. in the second quarter of this year.

The company did not make any of its marketing executives available to comment for this article.

Under Armour made a medium-sized splash in January, when it ripped up the final two years of Spieth's original endorsement deal and replaced it with a 10-year contract. But Spieth turned that medium-sized splash into a tsunami when he won both the Masters and the U.S. Open, covered from head to toe with that Under Armour logo.

"They (Under Armour) are smart and lucky," Burch said. "That's a good combination to have. ... They have signed athletes who have performed beyond what they had been.

"I think there's some trial and error [involved in picking which athletes to sign to endorsement contracts]. This is not an exact science. Before Spieth and Curry, they had Hunter Mahan and Brandon Jennings. They bet that both of them would be superstars in their categories. They performed well, but neither have had the success of Spieth or Curry. Jennings, they hoped would be a Derrick Rose or a Kevin Durant. They didn't pan out."

And at 25, Jennings is actually two years younger than Curry. Mahan, the first golfer signed by Under Armour back in 2003, is 11 years older than Spieth.

And even though it may seem like its endorsers skew younger, probably because of the massive publicity hit the company got with Spieth's success this golf season, Under Armour's endorsers actually span the athletic age spectrum.

For every 22-year-old Bryce Harper, there's a 30-year-old Ryan Zimmerman -- or even a 32-year-old Jose Reyes. The tag team of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his wife, Gisele Bundchen, are 38 and 35, respectively. Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is 26, but former Ravens hero and current San Francisco 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin is 34. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is 26, and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is 35. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey are 29 and 28, respectively.

"Remember, these are the same guys who invested in Tom Brady and Ray Lewis, who were not up-and-coming guys," Burch said.

Issue 213: September 2015