The Under Armour brand is kicking butt on athlete endorsements

Under_armour_logo.svgFull respect to the Under Armour brand, who have gone from an “under the equipment” materials business to one of the coolest sports businesses.  How did under-shirts ever become cool?

Love the entrepreneurial story: Under Armour, started by Kevin Plank in 1996, ran the first year out of his grandmother’s basement in Baltimore. Plank was a Running Back in College and got tired of his sweat soaked tee shirts. Noticing that his shorts remained dry in practice, he was inspired to make a T-shirt using moisture-wicking synthetic fabric. Like an entrepreneur, he sold the materials directly out of the trunk of his car, up and down the east coast. Hard work. Pretty soon, the best athletes gravitated to the brand and started to wear Under Armour. Everyone began noticing and the tipping point happened quickly.  The authentic sports brand was born.

Under Armour could have stayed small, but instead has jumped into the big arena going up against Nike and Adidas in the sports garment industry. Half the US share of Nike, but on the verge of over-taking Adidas for the #2 slot. And the brand is celebrating year 20.

Capturing athlete endorsements is a big bucks gamble, a bit like signing a top draft pick and hoping they can catch the ball. Look at any draft and half the first round makes it. Under Armour’s first big attempt to land a top dog was their bid for Kevin Durrant, but he ended up with Nike. But now they were in the game.

Most people start deciding what sports brand they want to get behind in High School or College, then stick with it the rest of their life. So, the 15-25 year old is the target of all your athlete endorsement. Whether by good solid scouting, a bit of luck and hard work, let’s look at the amazing roster of Under Armour.

The Under Armour Roster

So which athlete does the 15-25 year olds love? Steph Curry. Under Armour has him, signed at $4 Million a year compared to Kevin Durrant’s $30 Million per or Adidas with James Harden at $20 Million per. As reigning NBA MVP and likely headed for a second straight he is a human-highlight reel every night. His Curry One shoes are selling through the roof.

Who is the best golfer on the planet?  Jordan Speith is 22 years old and just won two majors in 2015. Plus, he’s American. While Nike has Rory McIlroy for 10 years at $25 Million, Under Armour signed Spieth to a 10 year deal that is completely incentive driven, tied to performance. They initially offered him a 25 year contract.

Who is the best football player and certainly the one generating the most press?  Cam Newton. Yes, he’s polarizing and controversial, but only if you’re over 25. He is beloved by the teens. Under Armour has him.

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Who is the best hockey player on the planet? Goalie Carey Price. His injury alone this year has seen the complete collapse of the Montreal Canadiens. Under Armour has him.

Who is the best baseball player?  Bryce Harper. He’s likely the Cam Newton of baseball, high on controversy but an athletic freak at the plate. Under Armour has him. Best baseball pitcher?  Clayton Kershaw with the cool locks flowing with every pitch for the Dodgers.

Add Julio Jones, Dee Gordon, Sloane Stevens and even Misty Copeland in dance.

Speaking of Misty Copeland, here’s a defining brand changing moment TV ad (nearly 10 million views):


No doubt Nike’s roster is impressive. But they would kill to have this roster for the next 5 years. As for Adidas, they are likely scrambling to repair their roster. And maybe trying to hire the Under Armour scouts.

So are you now seeing how an underwear company has become a very cool brand? 


Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter.custom_business_card_pile_15837 We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management.

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution.

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.

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What’s your view on Tiger Woods as a brand? #1 in golf, #1 in endorsements (again)

As they are about to tee off at this year’s US Open, the question remains simply:  Will Tiger Win?   Even if you hate Tiger, you’re probably asking that.  Tiger has had 4 years of no majors.  He’s been a complete collapse in front of our eyes.  He’s been a complete idiot, his wife left him, sponsors fired him.  And yet, now he’s back to #1 in golf and incredibly back to #1 in endorsements.  He’s certainly not as popular as he was before the incident, at least among the masses.  But while there are less Tiger Fans, the depth of love the fans that remain is even more intense.   And for any brand, you’d rather be loved by a few than tolerated by everyone.  

From 1997, Tiger Woods was the media darling.  What a great story.  
  • His dad was a green beret and taught Tiger all the discipline of the green berets, which Tiger then transferred into the world of golf.  
  • The video clips of him as a 3-year-old hitting the driver on the Mike Douglas show.  Cute kid, who knew he’d one day wind up being TIGER WOODS.
  • He was a 3-time US Amateur Champion, a teenager, wearing shorts, skinny, hitting it longer than anyone else.  
  • Run-away winner of the Masters at 21-years old.  With that win, golf got younger, cooler and more urban.  
  • Tiger signed with Nike of all companies.  A cool new line of clothing, cool golf balls and  amazing TV ads.  
  • Every time Tiger was playing in a golf tournament, the TV ratings went through the roof.  tiger-woods-excitementWhat you may not realize is the TV network will show every shot that Tiger takes–and likely even cutaway to him arriving and hitting on the range about 3-4 times.  
  • He was the #1 golfer, indisputably the best ever.  Other superstars (Ernie, Phil, David, Sergio) were intimidated and would collapse in fear.  By 33, Tiger had 14 Majors, and destined to easily destroy Jack’s record of 18.  
  • He had an impeccably clean image.  He was completely wholesome all-american.  He was married to a Swedish Model who was a nanny, he had two darling kids.  He was nearly flawless.   Yes, he was intense on the golf course, but all was forgiven.  

This was a bit like Jack Kennedy, where the writers had suspicions, yet no one knew.  

The Comeback Story

America loves a comeback story.  Tiger’s Comeback wasn’t exactly smooth.  Following his indiscretions that led to the divorce and the sex addiction clinic, Tiger would get far worse before he’d get better.  On the course, he was a disaster, duck-hooking, missing short putts, missing cuts and collapsing when he looked like he might win.  Off the course, Tiger was a first class JERK.  He was rude to fans and reporters.  Temper tantrums.   He fired his long time Caddy.   He fired his swing coach.  The wholesome Tiger, who was the face of golf, was now the rude Tiger.  tiger2

Tiger was a lousy golfer in 2010 and was just OK in 2011.  He kept changing his swing.  Even the naked eye could see what was wrong with it.  At times, it looked like Tiger was done.  Late 30s now, might never catch Jack and looking like he was struggling.  By 2012, there were signs of Tiger was returning to form.  He won a few tournaments, was in contention in the majors. And by 2013, Tiger is back to being Tiger.  He’s won more than anyone this year, looks back to his dominant self.   Yet he still hasn’t won a major.  

Do you think Tiger will win 5 more majors and beat Jack?  Time is ticking.  

And as of 2013, Forbes has just announced that Tiger is now the #1 on Forbes’ annual ranking of the world’s highest-paid athletes.  Forbes estimates that Woods pulled in $78.1 million over the last year from prize money, endorsements, appearance fees and golf course design work.   After the incidents of 2009, he lost five sponsors, $50 million in annual income, his place atop the world golf rankings and his marriage.  His resurgence on the links boosted his prize money over the last 12 months to $13.1 million, double his total from the prior year.  His endorsements include EA sports, Nike, Rolex, Upper Deck, TLC Eye Centers, NetJets, Japan’s Kowa and sports nutrition firm Fuse Science.

Nike was heavily criticized this spring for an ad they took out:  


What’s the Brand Lesson Here?

From 1997 to 2009, Tiger was popular among the masses.  When he was on TV, non-golf fans would grab a beer and watch.  He was liked by nearly everyone.  After 2009, he was an embarrassment and sponsors ran.  No one seemed to like him.  Those that loved Tiger loved him quietly, and were frustrated by his poor on course performance.  

I’m not in the Tiger club.  But i can feel those around me that are.  I can hear and feel the intensity.  And the intensity of those hoping he loses is fading.  

As we’re now in 2013, Tiger is back.  While not everyone likes him now, we can certainly see he has a core base of fans who LOVE him.  Tiger’s brand promise has been simplified to winning golf.  He’s not trying to be a great guy.  He’s trying to be an OK guy.  But the fans of Tiger just want to see him win.  They know he’s personally flawed and they really don’t care.  They are inspired to see the best golfer of all time.  It is always far better as a brand to be loved by a few than liked by everyone.  That love becomes a source of connection with core fans and a source of power for the Tiger brand.   With brand power, Tiger has been able to drive added revenue for himself off the course.  More shirts, more video games and more watches.  If Tiger wins a major and continues to be “an OK guy”, I suspect we’ll see a few main stream endorsement deals for Tiger.  

Tiger 2.0 is Loved by a few not liked by everyone.  

To read more about how the love for a brand creates more power and profits:

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  1. How to Write a Creative Brief.  The creative brief really comes out of two sources, the brand positioning statement and the advertising strategy that should come from the brand plan.  To read how to write a Creative Brief, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write a Creative Brief
  2. How to Write a Brand Plan:  The positioning statement helps frame what the brand is all about.  However, the brand plan starts to make choices on how you’re going to make the most of that promise.  Follow this hyperlink to read more on writing a Brand Plan:  How to Write a Brand Plan
  3. Consumer Insights:  To get richer depth on the consumer, read the following story by clicking on the hyper link:  Everything Starts and Ends with the Consumer in Mind

I run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center

To reach out directly, email me at

About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at so we can stay connected.