How Under Armour went from a new hotshot sportswear company taking on Nike to a brand with a wholly uncertain future

The Under Armour logo in a New York City store.

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The Under Armour logo in a New York City store.
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Shoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Under Armour is in trouble.

While similar sports retailers like Nike and Adidas are posting positive sales growth numbers relatively consistently in past years, Under Armour has sputtered. And recently, things have taken another turn for the worse.

A drop in the company’s second-quarter sales in North America announced on Tuesday sent shares down 15%. The company also said it now expects a revenue decline in North America for the whole year.

Read more: We visited Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour to see which store does athletic-wear the best – the winner shocked us

This isn’t Under Armour’s first rough patch. The company has experienced many ups and downs in its over 20-year history. In 2018, the level of the company’s leftover inventory grew 11% to $1.3 billion in the second quarter.

That same year, Under Armour executives were embroiled in a scandal that involved going to strip club on the company’s dime, a practice that was officially banned in February of 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Under Armour announced a turnaround plan to revive the brand in December of 2018 – the plan included using data to drive consumer engagement and growing its women’s offerings. In September, the company announced in a press release that Stephanie Pugliese would take over the role of president of Under Armour North America as part of a strategy to further establish the presence of the brand in the company’s home market.

Under Armour wasn’t always the trouble-stricken brand that it is today – it once seemed poised to overtake the sportswear market in what seemed like a true Cinderella story.

From its rise to a once-$15 billion athletic-apparel empire and its eventual slow decline, here is the complete story of Under Armour so far.


The story begins with Kevin Plank, Under Armour’s founder and CEO. A team captain on the University of Maryland football team, Plank wanted to design athletic-wear that could withstand sweat and intense activity.

Source: Bethesda Magazine


Plank founded Under Armour in 1996 and designed the first prototype that year. It was called “The Shorty” and was tight, soft, and designed as a base layer to wick away sweat to keep athletes dry.

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Under Armour

Source: Under Armour, Business Insider


This performance-enhancing goal is still evident in the Under Armour’s clothing today. A recent visit to Under Armour’s brand house in New York City revealed a display for the brand’s Rush line, which also utilizes special fabric to enhance performance and endurance.

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Shoshy Ciment/Business Insider

In the company’s early days, Plank sold his merchandise from his grandmother’s basement in Washington, D.C. The company also a breakthrough when it made major deals with Georgia Institute of Technology and North Carolina State University.

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J. Meric/Getty Images

Source: Sports Illustrated


Eventually, Plank started sending prototypes to contacts in the NFL to spread the word. Stars like Deion Sanders eventually bought some shirts, The New Yorker reported, and it made the jump from college to professional.

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Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Source: Forbes, The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated


By the early 2000s, Under Armour was soaring. The company was expanding into new merchandise and advertising on television. Sales exceeded $200 million by 2004 and Plank decided to take the company public in 2005. The company raised $157 million in the IPO.

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REUTERS/ Lucas Jackson

Source: The New Yorker, Marketwatch, Biz Journals


Endorsements and media attention were helping the brand solidify among the titans of sport and athletic wear. In 2010, the company signed a personal endorsement deal with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

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Adam Glanzman/Getty

Source: Sports Pro Media


In 2011, Under Armour partnered with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who became one of the company’s most prized endorsers. Below are his Under Armour cleats.

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Grant Halverson / Getty

Source: The New Yorker, Business Insider. CNBC


Under Armour also began to include women in its advertisements and endorsements, representing a stark change from the company’s gruff and tough football beginnings. In 2014, the company signed Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady’s wife, and featured ballerina Misty Copeland in an advertisement that went viral.

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Under Armour

Source: Forbes, Time


Today, Under Armour has a vast selection of women’s clothing offers, including sports bras, leggings, and tank tops.

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Shoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Under Armour bought MapMyFitness in 2013 for $150 million, followed by Endomondo for $85 million and MyFitnessPal for $475 million in 2015. The acquisitions of the fitness and health-focused apps and technology were part of the company’s efforts to expand its digital offerings.

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iTunes

Source: The Wall Street Journal


Under Armour experienced a minor setback in 2014 when the suits it designed for the US speed skating team were blamed by some for slowing down Olympic skaters in 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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Getty Images

Source: The Wall Street Journal


That same year, Under Armour became the second best-selling sportswear brand in the US, surpassing Adidas but still trailing behind Nike by a wide margin.

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BusinessInsider.com

Source: Business Insider


In 2015, Under Armour had another win when it signed a deal with boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

Source: Business Insider


In 2016, Under Armour introduced the UA SpeedForm Gemini 2 Record Equipped, its first smart shoe with a built-in sensor to store and track data.

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Under Amour

Source: Under Armour


In 2016, it was also announced the company would become the official supplier of uniforms for Major League Baseball — its first major league-wide deal.

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Getty/Justin Berl

Source: Business Insider


The next year, the company introduced its sleepwear designed to help speed up the body’s recovery process — we found some merchandise in stores this year.

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Shoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Source: Under Armour


2017 was a turning point for Under Armour. The company’s stock fell more than 40% and it reported its first quarterly loss ever. At least five top executives left the company that year, including footwear chief Peter Ruppe.

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Getty/Brad Barket

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Business Insider


It also became clear the company had missed the boat on the athleisure style trend, with Plank saying the company needed to “become more fashion.”

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FeelGoodLuck/Shutterstock

Earlier that year, Plank upset many customers when he praised President Trump in an interview with CNBC, calling him “a real asset for the country.” The company later clarified the CEO’s comments via multiple statements.

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


Another blow came in 2018, when some athletes at UCLA refused to wear Under Armour’s shoes after complaining that the bottoms were peeling off. Under Armour was the school’s official shoe and apparel sponsor per a $280 million deal in 2016.

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Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


Also in 2018, Dick’s Sporting Goods’ CEO called out Under Armour in an earnings call for broadening its distribution of merchandise in multiple new stores, saying the brand had a “significant weakness.”

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Under Armour selection at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
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Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Source: Business Insider


Suddenly, Under Armour was losing appeal among its former customer base. Most shockingly, teens were abandoning the brand in huge numbers, Piper Jaffray’s “Taking Stock of Teens” survey showed in April of 2018. The survey revealed that Under Armour was the No. 1 most cited “old” brand teens no longer were wearing.

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Boxer Carlos Balderas poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California.
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Facebook/Nike

Source: Business Insider


Under Armour saw some brief success in the July of 2018, when its North American sales jumped for the first time in a year. But the brand still faced issues when it came to differentiating itself from competitors like Adidas and Nike, resulting in a “lack of brand clarity,” according to Neil Saunders, a retail analyst and consultant.

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Tom Conder/Flickr CC

Source: Business Insider


Despite some success, the company was still stuck with $1.3 billion worth of unsold inventory. To make matters worse, it emerged that executives and employees of Under Armour had been charging the company for visits to strip clubs with athletes or co-workers. This practice was put to an end earlier in 2018, but it didn’t help the company’s image.

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Shoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider, The Wall Street Journal


In September of 2018, Under Armour announced a round of layoffs meant to help with growth and restructuring. One month later, the company beat profit expectations for its third-quarter earnings.

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Getty/Spencer Platt

Source: Markets Insider, Markets Insider


Under Armour announced a turnaround plan in December to increase offerings for women and to focus more on the wants of the consumer. For a while, it seemed to be working. Shares rose slightly in May of 2019 in pre-market trading and investors were hopeful for the future of the company.

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Shoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Source: PR Newswire, Business Insider


It was announced in January 2019 that Under Armour backed out of its agreement with MLB to supply uniforms, saving the company a reported $50 million.

Source: Sports Pro Media


The uncertainty quickly returned. Though inventory numbers were down 26%, the company missed sales expectations for the second quarter of 2019 and shares fell 15% following the announcement. The company also updated its full-year guidance for lower sales are expected to continue to decline in North America this year as the company continues to struggle in the athletic-wear game.

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Shoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Source: Markets Insider, CNBC, Under Armour


In September, however, Under Armour announced Stephanie Pugliese as the new North American president. President and COO of Under Armour Patrik Frisk said that Pugliese’s “demonstrated record of leadership and retail expertise significantly strengthens our ability to further amplify Under Armour as the pre-eminent athletic performance brand in our home market.”

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Facebook/Under Armour

Source: Under Armour