Under Amour vs. Nike
UA’s rise to greatness has been driven by a strong blend of product, brand, and market strategy. Led by founder/CEO Kevin Plank, Under Amour’s development has been defined entirely by the company’s mission statement—to make all athletes better through passion, design, and the relentless pursuit of innovation. A commitment to living and breathing core company values has crafted the identity of the UA brand, and today has propelled the underdog to an exciting position to challenge Nike’s sportswear empire.
Although Nike’s modern reign over the sportswear industry seems untouchable, consider the demise of Converse’s longstanding dominance up until the 1980s, when Nike (joined by star athletes Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan) unexpectedly seized the industry throne. Similar to a young Nike, Under Amour is the first company that in product, brand, and momentum, has what it takes to pose a true threat of disrupting the landscape of the industry. It is entirely true that Nike’s amassed size and market share enjoys many of the benefits of a category leader. However, it is also true that a) Nike’s dominance has never been put to the test, and b), that the business landscape is undergoing change like never before— begging the question, could Nike be looking at a reflection of its old self? Is it possible that Under Amour’s outsized ambitions could someday put them in a position to dethrone Nike? Given Nike’s sheer size, I understand that at first thought it may be a difficult question to entertain—however, in fully considering how Under Amour has built itself up in the market, it’s not a question that should be dismissed.
We began by investigating the BAV database to see if our data offers insight below the surface of available financial metrics. The power grid above illustrates Under Amour and Nike’s annual movement in terms of brand strength and brand stature from 2007 up to today. Throughout the past eight years, Nike’s strong leadership position has gone virtually unchanged. Under Amour, however, has made enormous leaps year after year in both Stature and Strength—moving from a mid-level niche brand position to earning a seat amongst the top leadership brands.
We took a deeper look into this momentum by charting Under Amour’s annual scores across the four primary pillars of our model (Energized Differentiation, Relevance, Esteem, and Knowledge) as seen in the bar chart above. Annual growth across all four pillars provides further support for the fact that Under Amour has continued to develop positive movement since 2007. Moreover, in analyzing relative pillar patterns it’s clear UA has always maintained a differentiated position in the market— it’s the respect for the UA brand and relevance in the everyday lives of consumers has really been building up steam in the last few years.
Looking at the attribute chart for Under Amour versus Nike, the attributes most highly associated with UA such as gaining in popularity, unique, different and innovative confirm the strong position they’ve built in the sportswear market relative to Nike, who is seen more as original and fun.
This recent explosion in Under Armour’s popularity has been driven by the incredible success that UA athletes have had this year. In the past year alone, Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl; Jordan Spieth at 21 years old won both the Masters and the U.S. Open; and Steph Curry drove the Golden State Warriors to victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals. These victories tasted even sweeter for Under Amour given the competition included Russell Wilson, Rory McIlroy and LeBron James—all top Nike athletes. From Misty Copeland to Michael Phelps to Lindsey Vonn, UA has built a stacked roster that has elevated the UA brand identity across all sports and driven record sales numbers.
Under Amour is hungry. Just last week, they reported on another quarter of incredible growth, shooting the stock price up by 7.3%. On the earnings call, Kevin Plank was quick to praise the athletes that have played a key role in generating “brand heat” and sold out product lines—stating that the trio of Curry, Spieth and Misty Copland has taught the company an “incredibly valuable lesson of the need to think bigger.” Thinking bigger can really only mean one thing: Nike is in the crosshairs. UA has a remarkable growth story so far and yet they have barely penetrated key global markets—it will be interesting to see how this brand battle plays out in years ahead. When it comes to Kevin Plank and company, it seems that anything is possible.