CEO Kevin Plank started Under Armour in 1996 when he was 23 years old. The former Special Teams Captain for the University of Maryland Football team founded the company with the simple goal to develop a better option for athletic under apparel than sweat drenched cotton t-shirts.
Under Armour’s first headquarters was located in his grandmothers Washington, D.C. basement. The revolutionary apparel company has grown from its humble roots to a publicly traded juggernaut. Now it competes with established industry heavyweights like Nike and Adidas.
Today, Under Armour boasts a stable of superstar endorsers, including NBA league MVP Steph Curry, MLB National League MVP Bryce Harper, NFL MVP Cam Newton, and 4-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. Under Armour’s apparel deals with major collegiate athletics programs have also contributed to its rapid growth and visibility.
Today, Plank joined The Herd to exclusively announce a 15 year, $280 million athletic apparel deal between Under Armour and UCLA athletics. It is the largest collegiate athletic apparel deal ever. Plank said the deal allows Under Armour to create a significant presence in California, as it continues to expand its footprint.
“Geographically, it was incredibly important for us to take advantage of the fifth (or seventh) largest economy in the world.”
Plank also discussed the modest beginnings of Under Armour. When he started the company in 1996, he identified his network of former football teammates as a substantial asset for his brand.
“The college kids I knew were playing in the NFL. From my high school, where we won the city championship and 11 guys played Division I football. Four went on to play in the NFL. From the prep school I went to, Fork Union Military Academy. There were 23 guys from my Fork Union Military team that signed Division I-A scholarships. 13 of them winded up getting drafted to the NFL. 4 of them were first round draft picks. And one guy won the Heisman trophy, in a guy named Eddie George.”
Plank used this network of teammates to grow the company, mostly by word of mouth.
“At 23, I know 50 to 60 guys that have this window of three to four years of playing at the highest level. And what’s something other than just calling them and borrowing money, but saying I could access them and say ‘I’m gonna send you three t-shirts. Try one. And if you like it, wear it. And if you really like it, give one to each guy in the locker next to you. And if you want more, tell your equipment guy. Tell him to call me. And he’s gotta pay for ‘em.”
The company got its big break in 1999, when Under Armour was used to outfit the cast in the Oliver Stone football movie “Any Given Sunday”. After learning about the movie through a friend who was an extra, Plank sent boxes of Under Armour to the production office.
Several days later, he received a call from the costume designer for the film. She told him Oliver Stone wanted to use Under Armour to outfit the cast of the movie. Under Armour’s visibility in the movie proved to be a springboard into the public mainstream for the company.
As Under Armour continues to grow, Plank says the company needs to continue to expand smartly and strategically.
“We can do anything we want. But we can’t do everything. We’ve gotten to a size and a scale, we can sign any athlete we want, but we can’t sign ‘em all. We’ve gotta be thoughtful. We’ve gotta be selective. We’ve gotta be creative.”