LAS VEGAS — Under Armour is third in line to the athleticwear throne after Nike and Adidas, but in the race to be the leader, it’s competing with Apple and Samsung.
“What if Apple or Samsung started making apparel and footwear? What would they do, and how do we beat them to it?” said company founder and chief executive officer Kevin Plank, who was making his case here in front of a room full of techies attending CES, the annual forward-looking conference that shows the next generation of gadgets.
Plank shared highlights from the company’s history, starting with humble beginnings as a football player’s alternative to the classic cotton T-shirt. Plank said Under Armour belonged at the conference because “CES is about progress, about finding a better way, and that is the same philosophy we have been operating under for 20 years,” he said. “We have always been operating as a tech company.”
Plank, who speaks in quick motivational sound bites that are reminiscent of Under Armour’s award-winning advertising campaigns, said his goal is to create products consumers didn’t know they needed, but that cause them to wonder how they ever lived without them.
He made comparisons to the remote control and to smartphones, and introduced a number of new gadgets of his own.
The first was the next generation of the company’s smart shoe, for which he brought out Michael Phelps to demonstrate its functionality. The sneaker gauges the wearer’s readiness to work out by measuring his or her performance after six jumps. The shoe signals with a green, yellow or red light, which allows the athlete to tailor a workout accordingly; after a night in Las Vegas, Phelps scored a yellow.
Last year, Under Armour unveiled a running sneaker that automatically tracks and measures a workout — as Plank pointed out, a software-enabled shoe can be updated, just like a smartphone.
He also introduced a line of sleepwear that aids in recovery and a corresponding sleep-tracking service called “Rest. Win. Repeat.” Under Armour created both with Tom Brady.
Plank said he was as fired up about these new products as he was about the first T-shirt, in part because no one else was working in this space. Arianna Huffington joined him in introducing the products, calling sleep a non-negotiable performance enhancer.
The sleep app is in addition to Under Armour’s family of apps, including workout tracker Map My Fitness and nutrition tracker My Fitness Pal, which help users quantify their life and provide the company with crucial data. Plank said that the company’s year-old Under Armour Record app had 194 million users, and that there were 2.6 billion workouts and activities logged in 2016.
The My Fitness Pal and Map My Fitness acquisitions brought 300 engineers to Under Armour and Plank said the company is in the process of becoming digitized.
Data is increasingly being seen as crucial for a company to react to a customer’s needs and Plank noted that 40 percent of Amazon’s sales are due to its recommendation engine. “Data is the new oil, and we are putting that concept at the center of the company.”
He said he wanted Under Armour to do for fitness and wellness what Facebook has done for social media, what Amazon has done for Prime and what LinkedIn has done for business.
“Consumer expectations for an athletic brand will change,” he said. “Under Armour is an athletic brand built on innovation.”