The company’s line of Air Jordan shoes have been perennial best sellers as Nike moved beyond its track-and-field roots. With Woods, Nike opened a line of golf equipment including clubs, balls, and, oh yes, shoes.
Today, it’s performance apparel maker Under Armour that might think it’s gone to sports marketing heaven.
Two of its signature athlete endorsers lifted big trophies in recent days. Stephen Curry led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA title, and Jordan Spieth captured the second leg of golf’s Grand Slam with his US Open victory on Sunday. Also on Under Armour’s roster is Tom Brady, whose New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in February (Deflate Gate notwithstanding), and Lindsey Vonn, a leading US alpine skier.
Spieth, 21, and Curry, 27, have produced not only championships early in their careers, they projected positive images for Under Armour’s brand.
Spieth sported a cap and shirt with the Under Armour logo during the US Open. Curry wore an Under Armour shirt when the Warriors paraded in Oakland with the NBA’s Larry O’Brien championship trophy.
Starting as a maker of performance apparel, Baltimore-based Under Armour has branched out to offer athletic shoes and digital fitness tracking apps. Its sales reached $3 billion in 2014 (76% from apparel), a 32% increase over 2013, and its profit jumped 28% to $208 million. Still, that’s just about a tenth of the size of Nike, which had $27 billion in sales and $2.7 billion in profit in 2014.
Under Armour placed its bet on Spieth early, signing him to a 10-year deal in January 2015 before he won the Master’s tournament in April. The value of the deal is not known, but it’s certainly costing Under Armour less than it would after Spieth’s first major win.
In July Spieth tees off in Scotland at The Open, the third leg of golf’s Grand Slam (Denny’s is an obvious sponsor if Spieth achieves the slam), giving Under Armour exposure in Europe (just 10% of its sales are from outside North America).
Nike still has plenty in its locker, however, for its battles with Under Armour, which range across the athletic landscape. It still counts LeBron James and Rory McIlroy as its marquee athletes in basketball and golf.
But Under Armour might still have another high-profile endorser headed for a career milestone.
The company sponsors Misty Copeland, a soloist ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre. She’s in line to be lifted to principal dancer this summer. She would be the first African-American woman to achieve the highest rank at the ABT, according to The Wall Street Journal.
That would give Under Armour an unlikely triple crown of high-achieving endorsers. Well played, Under Armour.
Tim Green has covered business, technology and science at newspapers and in higher education. At Hoover’s he covers computers and telecommunications.
Photo courtesy of Under Armour.