Getting physical, getting digital and getting social

Under Armour’s acquisition of MapMyFitness demonstrates the importance of digital tracking to athletic apparel companies. But the increasing digital focus from companies like Under Armour, Nike and Adidas also demonstrates another growing consideration in the world of health and fitness, social media.

In commenting on the acquisition, Josh Levinson, an avid runner and owner of Charm City Run, attributed the popularity of MapMyFitness to two crowds: “über performance athletes,” and “the young crowd that likes to share.”

MapMyFitness and Nike+ each have around 20 million registered users — nowhere near Facebook popularity, but substantial. These platforms allow users to keep track of their routes, workouts and accomplishments for personal use, but they also create the opportunity to make that exercise activity public.

JoggingRunning as an athletic activity has grown in popularity — as cited in Friday’s Daily Record article, an increasing number of individuals classify themselves as occasional or frequent runners. According to the Running USA 2013 State of the Sport, 49.2 million people run 25 or more days per year. Of those, about 9.2 million run at least 110 days per year.

Levinson said this may be attributable in part to the affordability of running and walking as an exercise program. Even after a runner has purchased the shoes and clothing they may need (or want) for the sport, they’re likely saving cash over a gym membership.

But in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece posted Tuesday, writer Chad Stafko aired a slightly different theory — that more people want to run because it is a form of exercise they can easily broadcast to the world, even before they post it to Facebook, Twitter or MapMyRun.

“There is no more visible form of strenuous exercise than running,” he wrote. “These days, people want more than ever to be seen. This is the age of taking a photo selfie and posting it on Facebook with the announcement that you’re bored—in the hope that someone will ‘like’ that information.”

Stafko admits that not all runners are motivated by the “look-at-me desire,” as he calls it. But with increasingly popular apps that allow runners, cyclers, walkers and hikers to flaunt their success, he may have a point.

But sharing ability is great for the health and fitness community, said Levinson. Because what does a person want to do when they’ve seen that their friend was out running? Well, they might want to go for a run.

And every shoe-scuffing, shirt-soaking mile inspired by a social media status, well that’s good news for the athletic apparel industry.

Fourth Under Armour tank could use a feminine touch

As seen in a photo on our front page Thursday, Under Armour officially lit up three Westway Terminals molasses tanks with the images of Baltimore athletic legends.

The three tanks — called “Title Tanks” by the company — are now wrapped with iconic photos of Cal Ripken, Michael Phelps and Ray Lewis. These three were chosen for their contributions to Baltimore, said a spokesperson from Under Armour. Ripken and Phelps are both natives of the region, Ripken and Lewis both held long careers playing for Baltimore teams.

Under Armour Tanks

Under Armour has lit up three Westway Terminals molasses tanks, or “Title Tanks,” with the images of Baltimore athletic legends.

And the three of them have two things in common — they are all beloved athletes … and they are all men.

Under Armour said that it plans to eventually plaster a fourth tank at Westway, but has not disclosed which athlete will claim the title. But it’s only good business sense that this fourth memorial go to a woman.

The athletic apparel company has made clear that it wants to grow its women’s business. Founder and CEO Kevin Plank said in the company’s third quarter earnings call that this part of the business “will be larger than men’s someday in the future.”

Plank said he wants to make the women’s line a $1 billion business by 2016. With a growing collection of women’s products and a new presence in fashion-conscious New York City, the company is taking steps toward making this happen.

But how can a female consumer from Maryland, Plank’s home state, aspire to be one of the Maryland’s glorified iconic athletes donned in Under Armour apparel, if the company itself glorifies only men on its giant display, visible from across the Baltimore Inner Harbor?

At the Network 2000 Women of Excellence Luncheon on Wednesday, female business leaders acknowledged that they have a long way to go to achieve parity in the workplace. Featured speaker Geena Davis explained her institute’s research on women in TV shows and movies — they are rarely depicted at the C-suite level, which can make young girls think that business leadership is a man’s job.

Davis also mentioned that participating in sports dramatically changed her self-image for the better, but she was already an adult.  The first time someone encouraged her to try sports, telling her she had potential, was when she starred in baseball film “A League of Their Own.”

If the lack of female leader characters in the media can affect girls’ career aspirations, it seems logical that a lack of publicized female athletes could do the same for their sports dreams.

It’s not as though Maryland hasn’t seen a few iconic woman athletes.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Maryland native and University of Maryland alumna Dominique Dawes, the first African-American to win Olympic gold in gymnastics, and member of three medal-winning Olympic gymnastic teams.

What about Pam Shriver — a Baltimore native who won more than 130 top tennis titles, including an Olympic Gold for doubles in Seoul, 1988.

Or maybe Jessica Long. This Baltimorean may not have as large a reputation as Michael Phelps, but she has double-digit gold medals. Hers are from the Paralympic games, in which she’s competed since 2004, when she was 12 years old.

If Plank wants to reach more of the female demographic, expanding the women’s clothing options, incorporating high-fashion influences, and securing endorsements with female athletes like Lindsey Vonn and Sloane Stephens are all good moves.

But perhaps he should make an extra effort right here in Maryland — by glorifying some of his home state’s iconic female athletes, right alongside their male counterparts.

When a shirt is more than a shirt

Baltimore half-marathon T-shirt

The 2013 Baltimore Half-Marathon long-sleeved T-shirt

Will I still get my T-shirt?

That was my first thought when I heard Under Armour was bowing out as a sponsor of the Baltimore Marathon. Every October, a few days before the marathon, I eagerly pick up my half-marathon T-shirt and text my parents what color we can add to our collection. (Last year’s purple and 2011′s orange were big hits in the Jacobs households.)

I have shirts that go back to 2006, when I ran the anchor leg of the marathon relay, my first race. The following year, after months of training, I got my first half-marathon T-shirt. I’ve continued collecting shirts to the point where my workout gear some weeks is exclusively from the Baltimore race.

In many ways, the shirts have transformed and evolved much like the company that makes them. The roughness and heaviness of those first few shirts have given way to sleek, shiny garments that are soft to the touch. It’s like running while being swaddled in your baby blanket.

I’ve run a few other half-marathons and the other swag shirts pale in comparison. Plus, the Baltimore shirts are a badge of honor. I like to nod to all runners I see when I’m out, but the nod for someone wearing a Baltimore race shirt is, in a way, a secret handshake of sorts.

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Runners rev up for Baltimore Marathon

RunningFestivalJC5Attention runners of Charm City: If you haven’t already registered for the Baltimore Running Festival, the Oct. 12 event that includes the marathon, you better get to it.

There are 15 percent more runners registered for the race than there were at this time last year, according to Corrigan Sports Enterprises, the sports marketing and event management firm that organizes the festival.

Now in its 13th year, the Baltimore Running Festival was honored earlier this week as one of the top 15 fall marathons in the country by workout website Dailyburn.com.

Additionally, all available vendor booths for the event’s Health & Fitness Expo — which is Oct. 10 and 11 in the Baltimore Convention Center — have sold out. (The news comes on the heels of the city tourism agency’s annual report, which found that tourism continues to rebound and boost the local economy.)

“We’ve worked hard to put on a world-class event in Baltimore, so it’s great to be recognized right alongside other industry giants as a top destination for runners,” Lee Corrigan, president of CSE, said in a statement. “This event offers tremendous value and our sales for both runner registration and expo booths reflect that.”

The Baltimore Running Festival offers something for runners of all walks, including those who don’t have those “26.2” stickers on their cars. There’s the signature event, of course, the Under Armour Baltimore Marathon, but there’s also a half-marathon, a team relay, a 5K and a kids’ fun run.

Registration costs between $90 and $110 for the marathon and between $15 and $100 for the other events.

The 2012 BRF had an economic impact of $38.6 million and raised $1.7 million for charity, according to a study by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

(For a behind-the-scenes look at how a tiny, local firm like Corrigan Sports Enterprises plans the massive event, check out my story leading up to last year’s race and my blog post with anecdotes about the company’s formation and stats about the race)

Boot camp is in session for local entrepreneurs

Kevin Plank

Kevin Plank (File photo)

If Kevin Plank told you to raise your game, you’d do it.

That’s why the CEO of Baltimore-based Under Armour Inc. was the perfect person to lead the first session of Startup Maryland’s “Raise Your Game” boot camp, organizers said. The series, which invites early-stage entrepreneurs to learn the ins-and-outs of managing a company directly from experienced business leaders, kicked off Thursday evening at Betamore, the business incubator and co-working space in Federal Hill.

The session, which was generally focused on how to be a strong CEO, was introduced and moderated by Julie Lenzer Kirk and Mike Binko, co-chairs of Startup Maryland, a chapter of Startup America, a national organization that promotes entrepreneurship. The local group will hold five more monthly sessions through the end of this year on topics including how to run a virtual business and how to raise investor capital. All sessions will be led by other recognizable names in business.

Plank talked about why Baltimore was a great place to start a business and told the attendees they are responsible for launching the next wave of great companies in the region. But Plank didn’t sugarcoat his message; he told the crowd being an entrepreneur is often lonely, sometimes dangerous and always challenging — but that’s OK.

For startup companies, Plank said it’s crucial to zero in on — and perfect — one core product or service rather than go toe-to-toe with established companies in the same industry. Under Armour, for instance, started with one kind of T-shirt; it took years before the company branched out to offer other kinds of clothing and, more recently, footwear.

“I hate to break this to you,” he said. “But your competitors have hundreds of millions of dollars.”

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Under Armour’s ‘will’ power

Once upon a time, Under Armour asked — actually, more like demanded — that we “protect this house.” In its marketing campaign launched this week, the Baltimore-based performance athletic gear manufacturer is saying, “I will.”

Under Armour will debut an “I will” commercial on Saturday during TNT’s NBA All-Star Weekend coverage. The spot features Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker, top 20 women’s tennis player Sloane Stephens and boxing champion Canelo Alvarez.

Here’s the commercial:

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The company is highlighting its Armour39, a digital performance monitoring system that launches next month.

“This is a training product,” Mark Oleson, director of innovation and research for Under Armour, told CNET. “It sets itself apart by measuring athletic performance.”

Armour39 can be linked to Android devices, and it will retail at $149.99.

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More, again, for Corrigan

corrigan sports baltimore running festivalFor the 12th year in a row, Corrigan Sports Enterprises is doing more for its signature event, the Under Armour Baltimore Running Festival.

More runners, more sponsors, more volunteers, more charitable donations, more TV airtime.

About 27,000 runners from the Baltimore area and beyond will flock to downtown streets Saturday morning. The event has become a Charm City staple thanks to the keen business minds of Lee Corrigan and his close-knit team of 13 people.

The festival drew about 6,500 participants in 2001, a number that increased 10-to-20 percent each year. Its estimated economic impact has soared from less than $10 million to about $30.5 million last year, according to a study by Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute.

The festival’s success is even more impressive considering it was the brainchild of a guy whose company was… sort of an accident.

He was in the right place, at the right time, with the right skill set.

Back in the 1980s, Corrigan was working for the athletic department at the University of Maryland, College Park when one of the scoreboard screens “literally exploded.” But the department was still reeling from the media storm surrounding basketball player Len Bias’ death, and couldn’t exactly afford new screens, he said.

So officials worked out a deal with an equipment company that agreed to provide them. Corrigan was asked to find sponsors for the screens. In return, Corrigan said, he’d get 15 percent of ad sales.

By 1991, he’d accumulated enough money on the side that he needed to account for the extra income. Before he knew it, his accountant was inquiring what he’d like to call his new company.

Poof – Corrigan Sports Enterprises was born.

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Terps win game, lose style points

By now everyone has given their opinion about the football uniforms the University of Maryland unveiled Monday night during their season-opening win against Miami.

Paul Lukas, an authority on uniforms, wrote on ESPN.com the Terps were in “court jester” mode and looked like “living chess pieces.” An athletic department spokesman told the New York Daily News the design is a “branding thing,” while an Under Armour spokesman said they were a way to “define Maryland pride and to differentiate.”

“Maryland Pride,” perhaps not-so-coincidentally, is also the title of a one-minute video the Terps were reportedly shown before receiving the uniforms last night. I was ready to put on cleats as a narrator described the Compfit Pride Jersey, “tight where it needs to be, no drag, no grab, more flex.”

You can see the ad below, which Under Amour also posted on YouTube last night. (Lukas and others reported receiving a press release about the uniforms right around kickoff time.)

Love them or hate them, the uniforms “accomplished exactly what they want to do,” Stewart Mandel, a college football writer for SportsIllustrated.com, told the Daily News.

“For three hours last night, everyone was talking about Maryland football,” he said. “When’s the last time anyone talked about Maryland football?”

All of this means one thing to this College Park alum: I can’t wait to see which of the 32 uniform combinations the Terps break out for their next game, Sept. 17 against West Virginia.

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Under Armour takes “Footsteps” with new shoes

To best debut its new footwear line, Under Armour is launching an advertising campaign with the help of Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Georges St-Pierre.

The company is calling this campaign its largest in footwear so far. TV watchers will be able to see 60-second and 30-second commercials featuring the star athletes on MTV, BET and ESPN, and ads will be on Facebook, Yahoo! Sports and STACK Magazine.

Baltimore-based Under Armour hired twofifteenmccann, a San Francisco-based creative agency, and is using “Friday Night Lights” director Peter Berg for the commercials. Berg’s production company, Pony Show Entertainment, executed the shoot.

The big shoe to watch out for is the UA Charge RC, which uses UA’s HeatGear material as well as the Micro G foam for a light and durable shoe.

Under Armour lovers will start seeing the shoe this fall in City Sports and Dick’s Sporting Goods stores, and it will be available to retailers across the U.S. in December.

Maybe Bill Murray could use some these shoes when taking “baby steps.”

Under Armour: Only cover letters in 140 characters

Say you had to tweet your cover letter and file your resume through a Facebook page. Does the idea make you panicky?

Under Armour is looking for two intern candidates to join its “Ultimate Intern Team.” The program is open to undergrad and graduate college students who want to learn more about sports and marketing.

But they have to make their pitch in 140 characters and use Under Armour’s Facebook fan page to submit their resume through May 12. The chosen interns will be working with the digital marketing team at the company, focusing on social media engagement.

The internship sounds like a pretty sweet gig. For five weeks, the interns will work with some of UA’s athlete sponsors, see the technology behind the brand’s innovation and spend some time getting to know CEO Kevin Plank to discuss leadership and entrepreneurship. The students will also work on Facebook posts, Twitter tweets and blog entries on their experiences with the company. Reminds me a bit of when Charlie Bucket gets to take the glass elevator trip with Willy Wonka. If only.

The selected interns will receive a $5,000 scholarship paid directly to his or her school. The final 100 candidates will be announced on May 16, then the top 10 will conduct a Skype interview on May 23 with UA officials. Airfare, travel and housing will all be covered as part of the internship, which lasts June 13 to July 15.