America at large: Under Armour celebrating Spieth’s Major achievements

Sportswear company benefiting hugely from the Texan golfer’s spectacular rise

Jordan Spieth: added the US Open to his Masters title last weekend. His performance at Augusta was reckoned to be worth almost $34 million in exposure to Under Armour.

Jordan Spieth: added the US Open to his Masters title last weekend. His performance at Augusta was reckoned to be worth almost $34 million in exposure to Under Armour.

 

Kevin Plank started Under Armour in the basement of his grandmother’s house in Washington, DC in 1996.

With $15,000 in cash, a crazy notion to create a better class of undershirt to absorb the excess sweat of athletes, and the bulletproof mien of a 23-year-old former college linebacker, he grew a $3 billion a year corporation by being hands-on.

When the company’s tiny golf division wanted to sign Jordan Spieth, a rookie pro who didn’t even have a Tour card, to a four-year endorsement contract in January, 2013, Plank asked one simple question. “Is he the real deal?”

Twenty-four months into their initial arrangement, Spieth had won the John Deere Classic, notched five second places and 17 top 10s. So, they invited him back to the negotiating table and asked the 21-year-old to wear their clothes and shoes for the next decade. Within a matter of weeks, the green jacket he was putting his arms through at Augusta National was the only visible item on his body bereft of the UA logo.

Today he stands halfway to the Grand Slam and an upstart sportswear company that doesn’t even manufacture clubs or balls is suddenly the talk of golf.

Within days of Spieth’s triumph at the US Masters earlier this year, the navy shirt and white pants combo he wore for his final round had sold out in stores across America. This sort of thing happens when a player has 10 of the brand’s logos on him at any given time during a tournament.

Second Captains

Indeed, one industry analyst reckoned his performance that week alone was worth almost $34 million in exposure to Under Armour.

Full flight

“The whole atmosphere there, seeing the headquarters, I loved the attitude there,” said Spieth. “It kind of reflected my own attitude. I was in the underdog role. I looked at myself as the underdog, I still do. Rory (McIlroy) set the bar, and I’m the underdog trying to chase them. Under Armour, that’s kind of been their grit, being the underdog, finding out-of-the-box ways to innovate, to get things done . . . They showed so much trust in me.”

Spieth’s subsequent rise has been so meteoric that in the build-up to Chambers Bay, Under Armour admitted to being unsure whether they’d be launching any national advertising campaigns with him as the centre-piece. Now that the golf world is, perhaps prematurely, envisaging Spieth-McIlroy as a Nicklaus-Palmer rivalry for the 21st century, and the Texan is evincing the precocity of a young Tiger Woods and the “aw shucks” charm of Phil Mickelson, that’s likely to change.

The fact the Ulsterman is Nike’s flagship player adds one more fascinating layer to the intrigue.

Perhaps more than any other, golf is a game where those who play for fun are determined to look like those who play for pay, no matter what the price. Last summer, the Flex-Fit hat and polo shirt with pocket worn by Rory on his way to victory at the British Open were instantly the most coveted items in the pro shops of America. Given that Nike are paying him an estimated $20 million a year (a number much larger than Spieth’s deal) to impact exactly like that, the competition going forward is likely to be as keenly contested by the marketeers in the retail outlets as it is by the players on the course.

Nose bloodied

Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors

During a season that established the 26-year-old as the best pure shooter of his generation, and maybe ever, sales of his Curry Ones quadrupled. While Nike traditionally dominate on the court (90 per cent of the market according to one estimate), Curry, as with Spieth on the fairways, has given Under Armour instant cachet and a platform on which to build.

With a roster of blue chip clients that already includes New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, Andy Murray, and the Notre Dame college grid-iron team, and annual sales that have seen them overtake Adidas to become number two in the American apparel market, it’s seriously stretching things to continue to style Under Armour as the little company that could. Still, Plank would protest that they retain some of the imaginative flair and left-field thinking of a start-up.

Last year, they signed Misty Copeland, a ballerina most people had never heard of. A video of her training in their gear has garnered over eight million views on YouTube, and this week, there is speculation Copeland will be the first African-American to be promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. Another real deal. Like Curry. Like Spieth.

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