Athlete endorsement is nothing new, whether its Nike ownership of the once evergreen Tiger Woods to Kellogg’s deal which saw Bruce Jenner as the face of the cereal through the 1970’s. What is new however is the success which Under Armour is delivering against its more established, been-there-and-done-it, global rivals Adidas & Nike.
Not to be misquoted, it is worth acknowledging that Under Armour also has a cohort of team sponsorships with Wales RFU and Tottenham Hotspur FC, however it is the roster of athlete endorsements which has seen the brand break the sporting apparel duopoly.
One of the most recent acquisitions provides a great case study on the brands strategy and the proliferation of athlete owned platforms, Under Armour’s sponsorship of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
The accomplished actor/sportsman/fitness star/ social media sensation is now an Under Armour Ambassador. With one look at The Rock’s owned Instagram account it is easy for the 51.2m followers to see the brands integration across both gym and lifestyle apparel. In addition, The Rock has worked with Under Armour to design his own exclusive, limited edition range, self-titled ‘Project Rock’. Utilising both the brand and The Rock’s audiences these products have been seeded across multiple channels, with The Rock showcasing the equipment on Instagram prior to its release on the ecommerce area of UA’s website further supporting the hype. Clearly this strategy provided successful returns with the first three released products selling out in minutes of being on sale.
With the signing of The Rock it appears Under Armour have beaten the competition to the next ascending media megastar, with this tactic duplicated with a number of the other Under Armour talents (Jordan Spieth). Perhaps the rise of the brand and the subsequent affiliations are not as surprising as the fact that Nike and Adidas appears to not have provided a significant counter action to this activity.
However, it is worth mentioning that Adidas is now looking to address this having reviewed its strategy (especially around the NBA) where it will opt out of renewing the NBA league sponsorship in favour of individual athlete endorsements, where it hopes to double its NBA athletes by the end of 2017.
This is an area which one would assume brands would have a core focus on, after all there is a well-trodden tale of Nike’s turning point to megabrand when not so long ago the challenger brand secured the signature at all costs of a kid by the name of Michael Jordan beating out the dominant brands at the time, Adidas and Converse.
Some may view this as an archaic model which the dominant brands of today have moved away from, however it might just be the pathway which Under Armour needs to become the next global megabrand.