Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Under Armour goes digital

With its proposed $150 million acquisition of digital fitness platform MapMyFitness, announced Thursday, Under Armour is taking the fast track in digital athletic performance monitoring.

The Baltimore-based athletic apparel and footwear company had previously broken into monitoring with its Armour39 device — a chest strap that monitors heart-rate, tracks intensity and counts calories burned during a workout. But the existing technology of MapMyFitness will provide a streamlined process into further monitoring development.

“Buying this saves us years over developing ourselves,” said Chip Adams, chief performing officer at Under Armour. “We’re humble enough to know that we want the best ideas in the world, not just the best ideas in Under Armour.”

After the acquisition is completed, expected by the end of 2013, MapMyFitness will exist as a wholly owned subsidiary, keeping its headquarters in Austin, Texas. Collaboration between the two companies is a key part of the acquisition, said Adams.

MapMyFitness launched as a business in 2007. The first of its sites was MapMyRun.com, which co-founder and Vice President Kevin Callahan created in 2006. It was closely followed by MapMyRide.com, an idea conceived by co-founder and CEO Robin Thurston. Once the business launched, it added MapMyWalk.com and MapMyHike.com.

The digital platform now operates through the websites and mobile applications, providing mapping tools, GPS tracking and social networking capabilities. It has more than 20 million registered users, with about 200,000 new registrations each week. About 700,000 registrants make daily use of the platform.

Under Armour said it initially intends to finance the $150 million acquisition, its first, with borrowings under its existing revolving credit facility, cash on hand or a combination thereof, while it evaluates longer-term funding options for the transaction.

The acquisition makes Under Armour a player in a field in which Nike has long been a leader. The Nike+ social platform that launched in 2006 also has about 20 million users, and incorporates equipment such as the FuelBand and SportWatch, as well as a mobile app. Adidas also has a variety of tracking products on the market under the miCoach brand, including a mobile app.

“The digital monitoring of performance and fitness is where the athletic world is going,” said Adams. “We need to be in digital monitoring to fulfill our mission.”

The company’s mission is centered around helping all athletes to perform better. That attitude of constant improvement is a growing one in the running community, said Josh Levinson, owner of Charm City Run, a specialty running shop with multiple branches in Maryland.

Jogging“People are getting much more serious about training,” he said. “You can see that in the events.”
According to reports from Running USA, the number of running event finishers increased from about 13 million in 2010 to about 15.5 million in 2012. The number of occasional runners (25 to 109 days per year) in 2012 was about 18.6 million, an increase of 3 percent from 2011.

Under Armour happens to be one of the top brands at Charm City Run, especially for apparel, said Levinson. MapMyRun is a top tracking tool among his customers — he estimated that at least three quarters of them use the site or application.

The MapMyFitness acquisition will be yet another way to appeal to the performance athlete and aspiring performance athletes, he said, by capturing their attention with something other than their apparel and footwear products.

“The running specialty customer means a lot more now than a shirt and a pair of shoes,” said Levinson.

Not yet charmed
While MapMyRide is known among cyclists, according to two local cycling retailers, Under Armour has yet to enchant their community.

“There are other companies who have sort of established themselves within the cycling community and UA hasn’t been one of them in the past,” said Alex Ticu, owner of Baltimore Bicycle Works. “A lot of cyclists want cycling-specific stuff because it is a different activity than running or jogging.”

Ticu said that in the commuter cycling community, to which his shop appeals, customers are often looking for products they can wear in multiple settings rather than performance athletic apparel.

But a performance cycling retailer noted a similar trend. Few cycling-specific retailers sell Under Armour, said Kris Auer, co-owner Twenty20 Cycling Co., which has locations in Hamden and Savage. Instead, they opt for brands that market specifically to bicyclers, he said.

“Cyclists are very territorial, I guess,” Auer said. “They find a product and they stick with it. Just buying in and throwing something out there and it’s consumable isn’t enough.”

Auer said that Under Armour approached him in the past, doing research on the cycling market, but hasn’t done so recently.

Under Armour’s Adams acknowledged that the company has less of a market share in cycling than running, but sees the brand winning over cyclists in the future.

“Every sport has its favorites until we prove ourselves to those athletes, that we are helping them perform better,” he said. “We will prove ourselves to the cycling community in the same way through innovation and improving their performance.”