Kevin Plank is the son of a former land developer and spent his early life in Kensington, Maryland. His mother, Jayne Harper was the Mayor of the region before going on to roles within more senior government.
At school Kevins main sport was football – playing for the Maplewood Maple Leads. His focus on sport caused a lacklustre performance at school. Kevin moved from his prep school but carried on with his education and furthered his football ability at the Fork Union Military Academy.
After taking his academics slightly more seriously Kevin managed to secure a place at the University of Maryland to study business administration. Here, in 1995 he would become the special teams captain on the football program. He was notoriously hard in training and would lead the team through workouts twice per day.
During these times Kevin became frustrated at having to change his sweat drenched cotton t-shirts multiple times throughout the day. Because of this he birthed the idea that would later go on to underpin Under Armour – Athletics gear that removed sweat, kept players dry, cool and used material that is light and inhibitive.
Whilst still in university, Plank highlighted his entrepreneurial ability with many small businesses. Most notably was “Cupids Valentine”. A seasonal business which sold roses. From this venture, Plank was able to put away $17,000, a sum that would later go on to seed a company we all now know.
Other businesses he started included
- Parking cars
- Flower selling
- He even sold t-shirts an bracelets at Grateful Dead concerts
Under Armours Inception
After completing his time at university, Plank began his hunt for these perfect materials to explore whether his business was viable. Many materials were tested during this experimental phase. And benefitting from his football stint, he still had good relationships with coaches and players on the university team. These players would test his many iterations of material, fit and design with Plank claiming it would benefit them on the field.
These initial material prototypes were discovered in New York’s garment district. And through refining his designs from players feedback he finally created his product – A microfiber t-shirt that keeps athlete dry and flexes with the body.
Now was the time to launch. Despite having wealth, well connected parents, they did not fund this part of the plan. Plank maxed out every credit card he could enabling him to raise around $40k. At this time Plank’s headquarters was in the basement of his grandmother’s house!
For the next year he travelled up and down the East Coast selling his finished product, still operating out of his grandmother’s house. At the end of this year, he finally caught a break – Georgia Technology University agreed to buy his shirts. Soon other big universities followed suit. Like a domino effect all the big teams began following suit and soon after, even NFL teams got involved.
Since this time Under Armour has expanded into just about every other sports clothing market. With this quickly expanding model, in less than 20 years since living in his grandmothers basement, Plank has made Under Armour the second largest sportswear brand in the USA. Only Nike currently have a greater market share.
Under Armours Lesser Known Facts
- Plank initially tried to call his brand both Heart and Body Armor but couldn’t get the trademark. When his brother asked him how is company, “Under Armour” was going, he thought he was joking but the name stuck.
- As yet, it was undecided whether to use the American or British spelling of Armor (Armour). Plank made up his mind when choosing the companies phone number. He thought 888-4ARMOUR was more memorable than 888-44ARMOR.
- Under Armour has featured many movies. In Any Given Sunday, the directors wanted to give an authentic feel to the film. This is why the kit appears in so many scenes.
- Stock in the company suddenly dropped over 2% in 2014. The cause? The American speed skating team wore Under Armour’s speed suits at the Winter Olympics and had a dismal showing. Even after switching kit the team still lost.
- Under Armour also positions itself as a tech company. Since its inception it has acquired major fitness apps – including MyFitnessPal. Spending over half a billion dollars in the process.
Part of Under Armour’s growth was due to the fact that in sporting apparel there were only a handful of reputable sources. Plank provided a freshness factor that seems to have given his company an edge. It was seen as a cool alternative brand.
At the time, Under Armour had a brand policy of not paying for endorsements. Despite this many athletes would promote the gear for free when it was sent to them.
Other majors were quick to catch on to the new brand’s success. Very quickly both Nike and Adidas began working on their own breathable compression kit. Nike launched the Nike Pro range and Adidas their Clima tech apparel. This also rightly showed that Under Armour posed a threat.
Until this stage Under Armour had focused on ankles and above. Now it was time to enter the shoe game and use the influence it had created in virtually every sport.
2006 was the year in which decided to launch into the sports shoes market. By 2008 Under Armour had managed to gain a 23% market share in football shoes. 14 years after the brands inception and the same year annual revenues surpassed the $1 billion mark.
Rise in this fashion was unheard of in the industry. Under Armour was hungry and far from full yet. They were on the hunt and the next meal would come in the form of basketball shoes.
Steph Curry was born in 1988 to former NBA player Dell Curry in Ohio. For an NBA player he wasn’t big. Standing at 6ft 3in and weighing just over 70kg, his build wasn’t typical for the big leagues.
Curry began his career at Virginia Tech University. Coaches here failed to see the depth of his talent so decided not offer him a scholarship.
It took the eye of Davidson College’s head coach Bob McKillop to understand his real potential. Within his first season on the team Curry became top scorer – averaging 21.5 points per game. By the time he left college he had earned the player of the year award.
Pre-draft, here are some of the criticisms scouting reports made about Curry:
- Not a true point guard
- Shot selection
- Limited upside
- Average size
- Backup/Fringe starter?
- Relies too heavily on outside shot
- Frail frame
Curry started his career with the Golden State Warriors as 7th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Over the next 4 years he began to earn a reputation for scoring three-pointers – from anywhere. At the end of his injury prone 2011-12 season Curry finished off the year with the highest number of three pointers scored in a single season.
Nike had been his shoe sponsor to this point. They were the brand he had grown up wearing and Curry had an affinity for them. When the time came to renegotiate contracts however, Nike seemed borderline disinterested.
Curry and his father went to meet with the Nike basketball branch and the senior director of the sport failed to show. To add to this, during the presentation Kevin Durant’s name appeared where it should have been his own. Curry saw it as important to pass a legacy onto the next generation – so when Nike failed to offer him a players training camp he was less than impressed. It was a clear Nike were not seeing him for what he would become.
Curry decided to turn to his daughter – who was a toddler at the time. He placed three shoes on the floor next to her, Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. After quickly discarding of the other two – Curry had made up his mind.
When Nike passed on the chance to match Under Armour’s offer, Nike’s attitude toward him was clear in his mind. Between 2012 and 2015 revenue for Under Armour over doubled, from $1.84 billion to $3.96 billion. Revenue seemed to follow his talent. In the 2014-15 season Curry earned the MVP honour as well as leading the Warriors to win the NBA championship. The same season in which he broke virtually every three-point record.
Curry proved that he and his team were not just lucky that season. The following year he again earned MVP by unanimous vote (the first person ever to do so) but also led the Warriors to the NBA finals with a record of 73-9. Breaking even Michael Jordan’s 72-10 record with the Chicago Bulls.
Curry’s success also correlated with the explosion of Under Armour. In 2016 the company surpassed Adidas to become the second largest sports footwear and apparel brand in the US.
Under Armour has a growing list of MVP’s wearing their kit – Steph Curry, Cam Newton (NFL), Carey Price (NHL), Bryce Harper (MLB) and Jordan Spieth (PGA). Where the company lacks the heritages of brands in their league they make up for it in stars. Under Armour are a company on the rise and next in their sights is Nike.