Top 10 Innovative Brands 2014: #10 Under Armour

The fast-growing company is using fitness-focused events to build its credibility with athletes.

By Beth Kormanik June 17, 2014, 7:05 AM EDT

The 2013 Elite 24 tournament was played in an open-air court set up in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Photo: Kelly Kline/Under Armour

Founded in 1996, Baltimore-based Under Armour has grown from an upstart T-shirt company to a multibillion-dollar athletic apparel business with partnerships that have a global presence.

The brand hosts or participates in more than 200 events a year, including SXSW, where this year it promoted the newly acquired MapMyFitness app. It’s also considering attending International C.E.S. in January 2015—not an event where you’d typically find a sports brand. But the moves reflect the company’s growth as well as its use of events to build its brand. In 2013, Under Armour saw net revenues of $2.3 billion, up from $1.8 billion in 2012. Its marketing spend increased to $246.5 million in 2013 from $205.4 million in 2012.

Under Armour’s biggest annual event is its All-America Series, a collation of tournaments for top high school athletes. The largest, for football, is broadcast on ESPN and this year attracted about 15,000 spectators. Last year, the company staged its Elite 24 basketball tournament on the Brooklyn waterfront by the Brooklyn Bridge.

For this year’s Super Bowl, Under Armour held a four-day activation that spanned 12,000 square feet of Grand Central Terminal in New York. More than two million people passed through to hear “chalk talks” from athletes such as Deion Sanders and Lindsey Vonn or to purchase merchandise. Trainers led high-intensity workouts, including a Captain America-theme session in a partnership with Marvel and DC Comics. The brand also used the activation to launch a new shoe.

This summer’s World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil presents a huge marketing opportunity for Under Armour. To launch the brand there, the company is taking a grassroots approach through pop-up events at local gyms, on rooftops, and in public spaces where local celebrity trainers will lead intense cross-training workouts that target all athletes, not just soccer players. Invites will go out through social media and local partners, which Steve Sommers, vice president of global brand marketing, said is intended to create a “groundswell” of support for the brand.

“It’s in our D.N.A. to be authentic, to let the athlete touch and feel your product and experience you on an emotional level,” Sommers says. “That, from our perspective, is where events play into the marketing mix in a way that many other marketing vehicles cannot.”

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